SBC messengers approve ARITF recommendations; questions remain


INDIANAPOLIS — Southern Baptist messengers approved recommendations presented by the Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force on Tuesday, June 11.

The first recommendation included affirming the expansion of the Sexual Abuse Toolkit, efforts to complete the Ministry Check website and the “creation of a permanent home for abuse prevention and response.” The second recommendation involved referring these objectives back to the SBC Executive Committee to finalize a plan and structure, and securing needed funds to implement and support these objectives. The EC will report back to messengers during the 2025 SBC Annual Meeting.

Before messengers approved the recommendations, the task force did accept a friendly amendment noting in the first recommendation that the “convention does not require the use of any particular organization outside the convention entities or the missions to accomplish these objectives.”

The newly released toolkit is a free resource — entitled Essentials: Sexual Abuse Prevention and Response — that involves a five-step program to combat sexual abuse in churches, the task force announced. It revolves around five key words: train, screen, protect, report and care. To read more about this resource, click here.

“It’s not just a benefit to Southern Baptists,” noted Josh Wester, task force chair. “The online version is available to anyone, but to our Southern Baptist family, we’ve got the print copies. We’ve got it on USB Drives. We wanted to make it as accessible as possible.”

He added, “It’s already been road tested, beta tested in real churches. … It is absolutely ready to go.”

The next key objective involves the Ministry Check website, designed to be a database of known sexual offenders connected to Southern Baptist churches. For more than 12 months, the task force noted in its report, they have worked to clear legal, logistical, technological and insurance hurdles related to the website.

“This undoubtedly has been the most difficult part of our work as a task force,” Wester told messengers.

“I wish that standing before you today I could say that the Ministry Check website is now online, but I can’t do that,” he said. “What I can tell you is that even though we have encountered unbelievable obstacles in the process and the course of trying to establish the Ministry Check website, we are closer than we’ve ever been.”

Right now, Wester said, there are roughly 100 names that have been vetted that are ready to be released publicly — but he added the task force continues to work with the Executive Committee to “clear some remaining insurance hurdles so that the Ministry Check website can go live.”

The initial version of the Ministry Check website, the report noted, will include two categories of sexual offenders associated with Southern Baptist churches or entities, individuals:

  • Convicted of sexual abuse in criminal court.
  • Found liable for sexual abuse in civil court.

The release of the website, Wester said, “will not suddenly make all of our churches safe, but we are confident that the moment it is launched, it will suddenly make all of our churches safer. That is why we must remain resolved and keep working on this task.”

One of the biggest questions that remains unanswered, according to the task force, involves finding a permanent home for abuse reform.

Wester noted, “Here is the truth: this work is too large, our convention has 50,000 churches that have needs that are greater than what a task force is able to do or deliver for them.”

“We need more help than a task force can give,” he noted.

In February, the ARITF announced plans to launch a “new independent nonprofit organization to help Southern Baptist churches and entities prevent and respond to sexual abuse.” Wester said at that time, the creation of an independent organization would have “more credibility with survivors, more flexibility to help our churches and more success in accomplishing the mandate given to us by the messengers.”

But how the nonprofit will be funded remains a big question mark.

The task force and messengers have now referred this challenge back to the EC to answer these questions.


This story first appeared in The Baptist Paper.