The job of the Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force seems difficult. SBC President Bart Barber appointed nine people, seven men and two women, to the group. In what looks like a wisely and carefully crafted statement, Barber said:
“The purpose of this task force is to assist the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention in our efforts to shut the doors of our churches to those who would act as sexual predators and to wrap our arms around survivors and those who love them,” Barber said.
Note the word “assist” in describing the job of this task force. No task force, no SBC entity, no SBC leader tells churches what to do. The Executive Committee doesn’t direct the churches, nor any subcommittee of the EC, nor any state convention, nor local association directs even the smallest SBC church. But I’m perfectly OK with being assisted as a pastor of a local church by people who can and want to help.
As the pastor (not the senior, lead, vision, or other modifier-type pastor, just “the pastor,”) of three local SBC churches of average size, I never checked with Nashville in calling staff when the church had need for full or part time clergy staff. I would almost always have conversations with the local Associational Missionary or Director of Missions (never served where there was an “Associational Mission Strategist,” an aspirational job title if there ever was one in the SBC).
The ARITF is supposed to make a way for churches to find a list of convicted, confessed, or credibly accused sex abusers. The end product is to be a website called “Ministry Check.” It will be handled by an “independent, qualified firm” selected by a committee of the SBC Executive Committee “in consultation with the ARITF.” The EC will pay for it.
On the Ministry Check list will be “pastors, denominational workers, ministry employees, or volunteers who have at any time been credibly accused of sexual abuse and who have been or are associated with a cooperating Southern Baptist Church or entity.” The list will include those who have been so “convicted” or had a “civil judgment against them for sexual abuse.”
The ARITF has a lot of smart people on it. I’m sure they have or will have addressed all of my questions along with others. So, here’s a few to start with:
- The ARITF will have “a few consultants,” said President Barber, to be named later. How many of these? Will they be paid? If so, how much will they be paid? If we are going to be transparent, lets start here. The SATF consultants were not paid.
- This is an SBC website. The eligible population of churches and individuals are only those who “are or have been” associated with a cooperating SBC church. An abuse case which occurred in a non-SBC church that later became SBC would or would not qualify that abuser for the list? Conversely, the church was SBC when abuse occurred but left twenty years ago would still qualify the abuser for the list?
- People subject to being put on the Ministry Check list include church and entity clergy staff, employees, and volunteers. It’s not an idle question to ask that if a member of an SBC church who was none of these (not staff, volunteer, employee) commits sexual abuse they would not be put on the list?
- Is there a way for names to be removed from the list after they are added? Death? Appeal? Some restorative protocol? To be clear, I think child sex abuse is a permanent disqualifier. “Consensual” affairs between adults is, I think, legal in some jurisdictions but I favor disqualifying the adulterous clergy member. Most SBC pastors (I believe this has been the subject of a survey) believe there should be a path to restoration for the latter.
- The independent firm handling the list and handling the investigation of abuse reports will not make recommendations for the abuse list. The EC committee will review findings and make that decision. Will the records of abuse investigations made by the independent firm which are NOT accepted by the EC committee for inclusion on the list be public, or private?
- Related to the above. Will the EC maintain a record of credible abuse reports not found to be sufficiently credible for future reference? Will these be public, or private?
- “Sex abuse” is defined as “any sexual act that could result in criminal charges or civil liability in the jurisdiction where it occurred.” So called “consensual” sexual acts between adults, (say, the pastor or a staff member and one of the church members) is legal in some places, illegal in others, I think. How will the TF handle these?
- What steps will the ARITF recommend to get Podunk Crossroads Baptist Church to check the website? Will such be required in some way? Background checks are mainstream in SBC churches these days, for staff and volunteers.
- Gentlemen and ladies of the ARITF, you are going to recognize and be consistent with Baptist autonomy, aren’t you?
If I ever am in a position to be involved in hiring staff I would use the Ministry Check website. It will be complicated and expensive. I’m not clear if it will ultimately provide more protection against abuse in our churches.
The road here is long, hard, and in some ways complicated. Get the miscreants out. Protect the children.