The Southern Baptist Convention has turned to a familiar source to operate its online database of clergy sexual abusers.
Faith-Based Solutions, a division of the investigative firm Guidepost Solutions, will build and develop the SBC’s Ministry Check website, members of the SBC Executive Committee learned during their winter meeting Feb. 21.
Marshall Blalock, chair of the convention’s Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force, said Guidepost Solutions clearly stood out among 18 firms the task force vetted for the assignment.
Based upon the Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force’s recommendation, the SBC Credentials Committee authorized engagement of Guidepost Solutions for the Ministry Check assignment, he said. Messengers to the 2022 SBC annual meeting last summer voted to create the implementation task force, set up the online database and authorize the Credentials Committee to see that it gets done.
Guidepost Solutions has been affiliated with the SBC since 2021, when former Executive Committee President Ronnie Floyd hired the firm to conduct what would have amounted to an internal investigation — reporting back privately to the Executive Committee itself — concerning charges the SBC, and particularly the Executive Committee, ignored and downplayed charges of clergy sexual abuse and stonewalled abuse survivors’ pursuit of justice.
Many Southern Baptists promptly protested that arrangement’s lack of transparency and inside dealing. Subsequently, the SBC’s ad hoc Sexual Abuse Task Force hired Guidepost Solutions to continue its investigation — but to work independently of the Executive Committee and to report directly to that task force.
That agreement called for Guidepost Solutions to issue a report on clergy sexual abuse within the convention no later than 30 days prior to the 2022 SBC annual meeting, held last June in Anaheim, Calif.
Controversy arose one week before the annual meeting. Opponents of the sexual abuse study sought to discredit Guidepost Solutions and its damning independent investigation of sexual abuse problems. They pointed to a tweet from the for-profit corporation that affirmed its commitment “to strengthening diversity, equity and inclusion” during Gay Pride Month.
Guidepost pushed back, affirming the integrity of its investigation and its long history of working “closely with numerous faith-based communities ….”
Guidepost pushed back, affirming the integrity of its investigation and its long history of working “closely with numerous faith-based communities who have been deeply grateful for the work we have done to support their missions and to help advance their ability to live their beliefs and values.”
At the annual meeting, Southern Baptists accepted Guidepost Solutions’ report and approved subsequent recommendations, which included creating the Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force and establishing the Ministry Check website.
Although he did not go into details, Blalock referenced that history as he announced the selection of Guidepost Solutions for the Ministry Check project.
“Guidepost Solutions, a world-class investigative firm … stood head and shoulders above every other firm,” he said. “Guidepost is the only one that fit 10 of the 11 categories” the task force established for vetting applicants.
According to materials the task force distributed to the Executive Committee, Guidepost’s only negative response pertained to “expressed support for causes contrary to Southern Baptist beliefs.”
“I know some Southern Baptists will immediately have concerns about our choice,” Blalock conceded. “We share those concerns and addressed them with Guidepost as a task force. They are sensitive to our concerns; they are respectful.”
Guidepost has altered its social media engagement protocols in light of the SBC’s concerns expressed last summer, Blalock said, adding the company “assigned people of faith in Christ to work on our project.”
Guidepost has altered its social media engagement protocols in light of the SBC’s concerns expressed last summer, he said, adding the company “assigned people of faith in Christ to work on our project.”
In fact, he announced Guidepost has established a “faith-based division,” Faith-Based Solutions, to manage the SBC project and others, he announced.
Samantha Kilpatrick, “an attorney of faith” who earned a counseling degree from the SBC’s Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, leads Faith-Based Solutions, he said. She helped create the SBC Caring Well curriculum and helped develop a church-training program for Southeastern Seminary.
Guidepost scored well on all other vetting criteria, Blalock said. Some of those criteria include being licensed and capable of working in all 50 states and possessing legal expertise “to certify investigations are done correctly and reports meet civil-court standards.” Guidepost also possesses the cybersecurity proficiency to build and operate a safe and secure website, expertise in SBC culture and theology, a trauma-informed professional staff and “sufficient company bandwidth” to handle the project, he added.
Public record of abusers
Citing the material distributed to the Executive Committee, he said Ministry Check will maintain a public record of “pastors, denominational workers, ministry employees and 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.”
“My heart has been broken by the people who were abused by trusted church people. When they came forward, in many cases, they weren’t believed.”
“Credibly accused” means a person “who has confessed in a nonprivileged setting, who has been convicted in a court of law or who has had a civil judgment rendered against them,” he said. Also, the term may apply to people who have been investigated by a third-party firm that found “a preponderance of the evidence” supports credibility of charges, he added, noting “preponderance of the evidence” is the legal standard required to obtain a civil judgment.
In other actions, the Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force is working to develop a toolbox to enable “churches of any size to establish protocols to prevent abuse,” Blalock said. The task force also is working with the SBC Credentials Committee to “think through staffing needs … and discern the best ways to address ways to confront sexual abuse.”
No conflict with polity
The handout prepared by the task force insists the Ministry Check website does not conflict with Southern Baptist polity.
“The entire process is built upon voluntary cooperation between autonomous Baptist entities,” it says. “Neither the Ministry Check website administrator, nor the SBC Credentials Committee, nor the ARITF are authorized to exercise authority over any local church, state convention, local association or autonomous Baptist entity.”
Blalock, pastor of First Baptist Church in Charleston, S.C., said he has had “the sad honor to listen and to weep with survivors of sex abuse in our churches.”
“My heart has been broken by the people who were abused by trusted church people,” he said. “When they came forward, in many cases, they weren’t believed. Or maybe they were told to forgive that abuser and told: ‘Let’s handle it quietly. Nobody has to know.’ … Handling things quietly only perpetuates the abuse, leaving victim after victim silently suffering.”
Marv Knox founded Fellowship Southwest after editing the Baptist Standard almost 20 years. He’s retired, but this week, he’s filling in for Mark Wingfield, BNG’s executive director and publisher, who is on vacation.