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Heads of SBC Mission Boards Say They Will Not Fund New Abuse Reform Nonprofit

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Paul Chitwood, from left, president of the International Mission Board, Bryant Wright, president of Send Relief, and Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board, present during the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in New Orleans, La., on June 13, 2023. (RNS photo/Emily Kask)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (RNS) — Leaders of two major Southern Baptist mission boards said they will not help fund a proposed independent nonprofit meant to implement the denomination’s abuse reforms.

Plans for the nonprofit were announced on Monday night (Feb. 19) during a meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee.

Leaders of the SBC’s Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force said the new nonprofit is needed to make those reforms a reality.

“Given the current legal and financial challenges facing the SBC and the Executive Committee, the formation of a new, independent organization is the only viable path that will allow progress toward abuse reform to continue unencumbered and without delay,” Josh Wester, the North Carolina pastor who chairs the ARITF, told members of the SBC’s Executive Committee. “To do this, we have to do this together.”

Wester said he hoped leaders of the SBC’s entities, including its North American Mission Board, International Mission Board and seminaries, along with SBC President Bart Barber, would help find funding for the proposed nonprofit, known as the Abuse Response Commission.

North Carolina pastor Joshua Wester, chair of the SBC’s Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force, with fellow members of the task force, speaks at the SBC Executive Committee’s meeting in Nashville, Tenn., Feb. 19, 2024. (RNS photo/Bob Smietana)

Currently, the work of the Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force has been paid for out of $3 million set aside by Send Relief, a humanitarian effort run by the two mission boards, to get abuse reforms off the ground.

RELATED: SBC task force plans to start nonprofit to oversee abuse database and reforms

On Wednesday, Send Relief said those funds cannot be used for the new nonprofit.

“While Send Relief has been privileged to make funds available to the ARITF to help care for survivors and assist churches in efforts to prevent abuse, those funds have never been committed to help form a separate organization outside the SBC, such as the proposed Abuse Response Commission,” Send Relief President Bryant Wright, IMB President Paul Chitwood and NAMB President Kevin Ezell said in a statement Wednesday.

The three leaders said many questions remain about the structure and leadership of the proposed nonprofit. They did say the Send Relief funds can still be used by the task force.

“Though Send Relief funds are not available for a non-SBC organization, they do remain available to the ARITF for its assigned work within the SBC,” they wrote.

In a follow-up response, a spokesperson for the IMB said the statement addressed the original intent of the Send Relief funds.