ANAHEIM, Calif.—Messengers to the 2022 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Anaheim overwhelmingly approved two recommendations presented by the Sexual Abuse Task Force on June 14.
The vote clears the way for the formation of an Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force (ARITF) and the creation of a database that will allow church and ministry leaders to track, in the words of the recommendation, “pastors, denominational workers, ministry employees, and volunteers who have at any time been credibly accused of sexual abuse with present or past associations with a cooperating Southern Baptist church or entity.”
The messengers’ actions represent the next step in an ongoing effort to prevent sexual abuse, protect those who have already been abused, and to respond to future allegations of abuse in SBC churches and entities. In May, the SBC released the results of an independent investigation conducted by Guidepost Solutions that identified failures in the area of sexual abuse care and prevention on the part of the SBC Executive Committee.
Bruce Frank, pastor of Biltmore Church in Arden, N.C. and chairman of the Sexual Abuse Task Force, told messengers before their vote that there could be “no more business as usual” regarding the handling of charges of abuse in SBC churches and organizations. Frank reminded messengers they had commissioned the task force at last year’s SBC Annual Meeting in Nashville, thanking them for “showing the resolve of Christ-followers.” He praised the task force itself—calling its members “Southern Baptist through and through”—along with entity heads, state Baptist executives, state sexual abuse task forces, and the Great Commission Council for their assistance.
“Most of all, I want to say thank you to the survivors of sexual abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention,” he said, including both survivors listed in the Guidepost report and the “countless anonymous ones” sitting in the auditorium. “You are the heroes in this hall.”
Frank went on to urge messengers to choose “humility over hubris,” genuine repentance over passivity, and the “glory of God” over “business as usual,” noting that much of the abuse that has been brought to light occurred on “our watch.”
“This is our denomination that closed our eyes and our hearts to survivors … to sexual abuse reform initiatives … in some cases allowing serial predators to quietly move from church to church,” he said. “Either we humble ourselves or God humbles us … by humiliating us and putting us in humiliating circumstances.”
ARITF will be ‘priority,’ exist as long as needed
The ARITF, members of which will be appointed by newly elected convention president Bart Barber, is authorized to operate for one year and is renewable by messengers at subsequent annual meetings as needed. Barber said in his first press conference as SBC president-elect on Wednesday that seating the ARITF would be his first priority.
Initially, the Executive Committee had pledged funds to support the ARITF work, upon approval by messengers. Send Relief’s June 8 announcement of its intent to give $3 million to fund the task force’s recommendations for sexual abuse reform and an additional $1 million to establish a survivor care fund to provide trauma care for survivors and trauma training for pastors rendered EC funding unnecessary.
The ARITF is also tasked with working collaboratively with entity heads to recommend funding mechanisms for future reforms. The ARITF will report to each SBC annual meeting while the task force is in existence.
The idea of a task force is not new to the SBC, Frank said. The ARITF will assist entities advising Baptist churches and organizations seeking help. It will also consult with the executive and credentials committees regarding cooperating churches that fail to uphold SBC standards in addressing sexual abuse and caring for survivors.
Creation of database is ‘nothing new’ to SBC
The creation of such a database has been discussed for more than 15 years in SBC circles, Frank said, beginning in 2007 when a motion was made for the EC to study its feasibility. The database would be created as soon as possible, Frank said in a press conference after the vote, adding that the specifics would be determined by the ARITF.
“There is an 80% recidivism rate among sexual abusers,” Frank earlier told messengers, noting that the database will provide churches with the resources to prevent predators from victimizing people from church to church. “It respects local church autonomy while acknowledging the reality that churches need resourcing and will provide a safe space for survivors,” he said.
Dealing with cases of abuse is a matter of when, not if, Frank told pastors.
“That’s not a word of prophecy. That’s just math,” he said. “ … When you look out on your congregation, you will see survivors, but make no mistake, you will get the phone call and what you do right there sets the direction of almost everything else.”
In a resolution passed before the close of business Wednesday, messengers offered a formal apology and asked for forgiveness from those who have been victimized in churches. “We prayerfully endeavor to eliminate all instances of sexual abuse among our churches,” messengers said.
With their actions this week, the SBC is closer to making that a reality.
Information from Baptist Press was used in this article.