7 updates on the Sexual Abuse Advisory Group’s ongoing efforts

September 10, 2019

The SBC Sexual Abuse Advisory Group (SAAG) has continued to work diligently throughout the summer. As SBC President J.D. Greear said at the 2019 annual meeting, “Our efforts on abuse don’t end here in Birmingham. This is just the beginning of a long journey together.” In an effort to keep Southern Baptists up to speed on the Advisory Group’s efforts, here is a brief update on recent developments.

“Sexual Abuse and the Southern Baptist Convention” event

The ERLC hosted a Monday night panel, “Sexual Abuse and the Southern Baptist Convention,” at the SBC with guests Beth Moore, Rachael Denhollander, Susan Codone, Russell Moore, and J.D. Greear. At the event, Codone shared for the first time publicly her story of being abused by clergy as a youth in a Southern Baptist church. She called the entire Church to be a part of the solution to this problem, saying, “All of us can look for predators. All of us can look for grooming behaviors. All of us can help vet new hires and hold leaders accountable. All of us can educate each other about the ramifications of sexual abuse in the church and the life-time effects of trauma.” This candid conversation set the stage for other important developments that happened at the annual meeting related to abuse.

SAAG report

The Sexual Abuse Advisory Group report at the SBC, given by J.D. Greear and Russell Moore, included a time of lament, responsive reading, and prayer with different survivors and advocates participating in the programming. In the report, Greear said that to see progress occur on this issue, we must have the right heart, public statements, partnerships, training, resources, governing documents, future efforts, and a unified call to action. This report has continued to shape the work of the Advisory Group’s ongoing efforts.

Actions at the SBC annual meeting

Movement in several of the areas Greear addressed occurred at or surrounding the annual meeting. A resolution was passed on the evils of sexual abuse. In it, the SBC asked for forgiveness for failing to cultivate a culture of protection for those abused; acknowledged that local church autonomy should not be used as a reason for failing to act in order to protect the people it serves; and further acknowledged sexual abuse is a "sin to be disciplined in the context of the church, but also a crime to be prosecuted in the context of civil government."

The SBC bylaws were also changed in Birmingham to approve a standing Credentials Committee tasked with addressing situations when churches mishandle issues like abuse or racism. Additionally, a constitutional amendment, once affirmed by a second vote next year in Orlando, Fla., will make it explicit in SBC governing documents that you cannot be a church in friendly cooperation with the SBC if you mishandle abuse. 

Church Cares curriculum

The Advisory Group partnered with the ERLC and LifeWay to release Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused, a video-based curriculum that brings together top experts from various fields to help leaders understand and embody compassionate care for abuse survivors. The PDF handbook and videos are all available for free at churchcares.com. Thanks to the generosity of LifeWay, every attendee at the annual meeting received a hard copy of the curriculum handbook. Over 1,000 churches have already begun to use the curriculum since it launched.

Caring Well report

Just before the convention, the SAAG released an extensive written report of their findings. As part of the report, the Advisory Group listened to and learned from hundreds of survivors of sexual abuse, church leaders, and national experts in this field. The report includes the personal testimonies of many of those survivors. This report aims to begin to educate Southern Baptist churches on the abuse crisis, equip them to care well for survivors, and prepare them to prevent abuse.

Caring Well Conference

The ERLC will host its national conference next month to confront the issue of abuse. The Caring Well Conference will welcome more than 1,500 attendees to Dallas, Texas, on October 3-5. Participants will listen to survivors, learn from experts, and leave equipped to strengthen their churches’ engagement on the issue. In addition to a free live stream, scholarships are available to attendees who cannot afford the cost of registration thanks to the generous funding provided by the SBC Executive Committee. Following the event, any surplus proceeds will be reinvested in the ERLC’s ongoing work on abuse, and all conference content will be available for free. 

Caring Well Challenge

Last month saw the launch of a pilot program for the Caring Well Challenge—a year-long initiative for churches to immediately enhance their efforts to prevent abuse and care for abuse survivors. The 750+ churches participating in this pilot group will enable the SAAG to refine and strengthen the challenge as it’s prepared for other churches to participate in it in the future. This unified call to action has been encouraged by all of the SBC entities, the Women’s Missionary Union, around 90% of the state conventions, all of the seminaries, and 10 of the Baptist colleges and universities. The goal is to equip churches to be safe for survivors and safe from abuse. Churches can sign up for the challenge and receive resources and support at caringwell.com.

Phillip Bethancourt

Phillip Bethancourt is Senior Pastor of Central Church in College Station, Texas. Before he was called to pastor Central, he served as the Executive Vice President of the ERLC team. He completed an MDiv and PhD in Systematic Theology at Southern after attending Texas A&M University. Phillip and his wife, Cami, have been married since 2005, … Read More