NASHVILLE (BP) — The work of a yet-to-be-appointed Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force (ARITF) is likely to take years, with an initial report ordered to be given at the 2023 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting in New Orleans next June.
Marshall Blalock, vice chairman of the Sex Abuse Task Force (SATF) that recommended the new group, said guidelines are in place to allow as long as three years for some of the work.
“We anticipated it would take the implementation task force at least one year, maybe two years, and on the outside maybe three years,” Blalock said. “We’re hoping this next year is extremely productive and that (SBC) president (Bart) Barber is able to have a task force that’s ready to go to work and understands its responsibilities and can see some of these things move at a good pace.”
Barber expects to name the members of the task force by the end of July after a debriefing by the SATF, he tweeted from his Farmersville, Texas, farm June 22.
“After that’s all finished, then I’m going to be moving forward quickly to name the members of this task force and get them started. I expect that I’ll have that done before the end of July, because it’s just going to take some time to process through what the task force tells me and to turn that into recommendations for people to serve,” Barber said. “Pray for me, because this is going to be one of the most important things I do this year.”
The new implementation task force, as approved by messengers, is authorized to work for one year, with the term renewable annually as needed.
“We originally were thinking that it was going to take longer than a year because we’ve had nine months, and we just got started in some respects. But we don’t know how long it will take,” said Blalock, senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Charleston, S.C. “And one of the good things that we’ve already learned is that many of our state conventions are already acting on some of the (challenges and requests) we have made. And the local church and the local associations and the local Baptist conventions, that is the state convention, (have) a more grassroots ability to help affect things at the local level.”
The SATF hopes, Blalock said, that local associations, churches and state conventions will help create a culture that enables people to prevent sex abuse, policies that prevent the crime, a system that provides care and help for abuse survivors, and a society where sex abuse is no longer tolerated.
“We hope that happens at a grassroots level,” he said. “There’s no way to know how long that part will take, but what we’re seeing so far is really good progress.”
The implementation task force is charged with work the SATF clearly delineated in its two recommendations approved by messengers to the 2022 SBC Annual Meeting in Anaheim, with the added stipulation that the new task force adheres to “best practices in keeping with Southern Baptist church polity.”
The implementation task force is to:
— Study the Guidepost recommendations for feasibility and bring an initial report to the 2023 annual meeting on which reforms could be adopted by the convention and how they should be implemented, including Guidepost’s recommendations for a survivor care fund and a memorial, auditing the Caring Well curriculum, and the possible creation of a permanent committee or entity.
— Assist SBC entities in studying the recommendations from Guidepost and provide advice on voluntary implementation of reforms relevant to each entity’s ministry assignment.