FARMERSVILLE, Texas (BP) – Diverse experiences and opinions related to the SBC and sexual abuse among members of the recently-named Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force (ARITF) will enhance that group’s ability to present recommendations at next year’s annual meeting, said SBC President Bart Barber in a video release.
Sexual abuse reform could very well be a constant point of discussion on the floor of SBC annual meetings for years to come. As such, Barber said the makeup of the ARITF needed to reflect those differences of opinion as seen each June.
“The investigation is over. And so, this group is going to be deciding how to make implementation of best practices for the Southern Baptist Convention and [for] our member churches to have all the tools that we need to be able to work to prevent and respond well to sexual abuse,” he said. “When we make decisions and … try to implement things, that’s something that our Southern Baptist churches do together.”
The task force is expected to bring a report to messengers at next year’s annual meeting in New Orleans, but periodic updates are also expected.
Barber said a “deliberate diversity” among the task force members came about due to the current polarized environment and “probably” means there is someone on the task force “to make you uncomfortable.”
And he believes that’s okay.
“The measure of this task force is not how many people on it I like or how much I like them or dislike them,” he said. “[It’s] whether they bring good recommendations to New Orleans …[and] whether those recommendations, when implemented, actually reduce and prevent sexual abuse in our churches and improve our responses within our churches to sexual abuse.”
In the video, Barber also addressed public complaints surrounding the appointment of Indiana pastor Todd Benkert and allegations by Texas pastor Tom Buck and his wife, Jennifer, that Benkert was involved in the mishandling of a story revealing Jennifer’s past abuse.
However, Barber went on to cite Benkert’s work related to supporting sexual abuse survivors and reform efforts. That included a booth at this year’s SBC Pastors’ Conference in Anaheim, a breakout session during the annual meeting on teaching trauma-informed ministry and consistently building relationships with abuse survivors. In addition, Benkert can provide his own perspective as someone who has survived a false accusation of abuse.
The task force “needs to have good ideas about preventing and responding to clergy sexual abuse,” said Barber. “Todd has demonstrated that he’s thinking about those ideas and he’s working to try and implement them.”
Barber had never experienced an in-person conversation with many of the task force members and needed to introduce himself on his initial phone call with several of them. Backgrounds range from serving at the national SBC level regarding sexual abuse, as is the case with Marshall Blalock and Mike Keahbone, as well as on the state level like Melissa Bowen, Brad Eubank and Jon Nelson.