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Southern Baptists to Launch New Org to Oversee Abuse Database

After years of holdups, a task force says the work of abuse reform is too much for volunteers alone.
Southern Baptists to Launch New Org to Oversee Abuse Database
Image: Bob Smietana / RNS
Joshua Wester, chair of the SBC's Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force, speaks at the SBC Executive Committee's meeting in Nashville.

Leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention’s abuse reform task force announced plans Monday to launch a new, independent nonprofit to host a database of abuse pastors and to implement other reforms.

They still need the money to run it.

The new nonprofit will oversee a proposed Ministry Check website listing abusive pastors, which has stalled since a website for the abuse reforms was launched last year. Currently, no names of pastors are included on the website, sbcabuseprevention.com.

Josh Wester, a North Carolina pastor who chairs the SBC’s abuse reform implementation task force, said the new nonprofit, which he called an abuse response commission, will be independent of the SBC’s current structure.

He said the job of abuse reform was too big for a task force of volunteers to accomplish on their own. That led to the plan to launch a new organization.

“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,” Wester told members of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee during a regularly scheduled meeting on Monday night. “To do this, we have to do this together.”

Wester said the Ministry Check website will include the names of Southern Baptists convicted of abuse and those who have had civil judgments against them. The task force has run into legal and financial delays in getting those names published, Wester said in his report.

The commission will also create an expanded “Ministry Toolkit” designed to help churches prevent abuse and to deal with cases of abuse when they happen. That toolkit will give a step-by-step plan for churches to address abuse, members of the task force said at Monday’s meeting. They plan to have video-based training materials for churches available in time for the SBC’s annual meeting.

“We really believe this could be a watershed moment for the SBC,” said task force member Brad Eubank.

During his remarks, Wester recounted the recent history of the SBC’s abuse crisis, including the 2019 “Abuse of Faith” investigation by the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News, a follow-up investigation and report from Guidepost Solutions, and a series of reforms passed in 2022 aimed to help prevent abuse and to care for survivors.

He said the reforms might lose momentum if Southern Baptists try to move on from the abuse crisis too quickly.

“But after some time passes from these events, we’re tempted to move on,” he said. “We grow fatigued and weary of the issue. In extreme cases, some of us like to pretend like we never really had a problem at all.”

Wester mentioned two recent high-profile cases that show the scope of the problem—the settlement of a lawsuit against legendary SBC leader Paul Pressler, who was accused of decades of alleged abuse, and the recent story of megachurch worship pastor and author Aaron Ivey, who was fired for allegedly exchanging inappropriate texts with men and, in one case, a teenager.

Abuse is not a big church or a small church problem—and not a theology problem, he said.

“It’s heroes from the past like Paul Pressler,” he said. “It’s heroes from the present like Aaron Ivey.”

Wester’s report did not include any plan to permanently fund the new nonprofit. Currently, the task force’s work is being paid for by funds set aside by the SBC’s two mission boards. He did say that Brent Leatherwood, president of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, plans to ask ERLC’s trustees to contribute to the new group.

He also said SBC president Bart Barber and leaders of the SBC’s national entities have been supportive and he was confident a plan would be in place in time for the SBC’s annual meeting in June.

“We are asking President Barber and other SBC entity leaders to assist the ARITF in securing the financial resources required to launch this new organization,” he said.

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