Four updates on the Sexual Abuse Presidential Study Group

A new Lifeway Research study released yesterday found that two-thirds of pastors say domestic or sexual violence occurs in the lives of people in their congregation. Fifty-eight percent of pastors say the #MeToo movement has made their congregation more aware of how common domestic and sexual violence is. One in five pastors say they personally have experienced domestic or sexual violence. Yet, only about 55 percent of pastors say they are familiar or very familiar with domestic violence resources in their community. And half say they don't have sufficient training to address sexual or domestic abuse.

These findings are a stark reminder of why the newly appointed Sexual Abuse Presidential Study Group is so urgent. The purpose of the study group, according to SBC president J.D. Greear, is “to consider how Southern Baptists at every level can take discernable action to respond swiftly and compassionately to incidents of abuse, as well as to foster safe environments within churches and institutions.” There are several significant developments to highlight about this study group.  

1. The study group’s funding. Yesterday at the fall meeting of the SBC executive committee, its trustees authorized an initial $250,000 of funds to provide a foundation of resources to support the study group’s efforts. This is a major development that will enable the study group to launch a holistic approach that will serve all Southern Baptists. The funding is particularly exciting because it signals a first step in significant collaboration amongst Southern Baptist entities as they endeavor to work together for progress in this area.

How will this money be used? It will enable the study group to have the necessary financial resources to enable effective efforts in the assessment, development, and implementation phases. This financial commitment was only made possible through the willingness of other SBC entities to sacrifice a portion of their Cooperative Program budget overage for this collective endeavor. More details about the executive committee funding decision can be found in the Baptist Press story about their trustee meeting.

2. The study group’s strategy. It's important to understand what the study group is and is not. Some people assume this new study group is just like task forces that have been named in the past to address other subjects in Southern Baptist life. In those situations, a representative group of leaders and experts is selected and featured prominently in the assessment and recommendations brought forth on the given subject.

But the sexual abuse study group is different. Instead of naming a static task force, it will function like a solar system. The complexity of sexual abuse and the variety of related topics that this study group will address means that it will operate most effectively if it is a constellation of various work groups specializing in particular areas like orbits in a solar system. As the study group progresses, various orbits will be identified and addressed such as resources, church-based strategies, seminary and higher education, state convention and association initiatives, and more. This solar system will revolve around a central core group of administrative support that will help to facilitate engagement in the various areas of emphasis.

3. The study group’s sequence. The work of the study group will unfold over a two-year time frame in three related phases. First, the study group is already actively involved in the assessment phase. The purpose of this phase is to review existing organizations, strategies, experts, and resources in order to better understand the landscape of needs and opportunities when it comes to sexual abuse. Second, the study group will launch into the development phase. Based on the findings in the assessment phase, the study group will develop recommendations, resources, strategies, and partnerships that will address the needs and opportunities that have been identified.

Last, the study group will introduce an implementation phase at the culmination of the development phase. Once resources and strategies have been developed, the implementation phase will launch a wide-scale, comprehensive effort to educate, saturate, and motivate Southern Baptist churches, entities, and leaders to embrace and incorporate the recommendations and findings of the study group. This three-phase approach will ensure that the study group receives ample input, provides useful strategies and resources, and makes every effort to ensure widespread adoption of its findings.

4. The study group’s seminary efforts. Recent developments announced by several of the Southern Baptist Convention seminaries shine a light on the types of progress that the study group hopes to encourage on several fronts in Southern Baptist life. At this week's executive committee meetings, several seminary presidents highlighted new or existing initiatives to better address issues related to abuse both on campus and in preparing students for future ministry effectiveness. According to the public reports of the seminaries, each school is actively evaluating how to integrate training on abuse prevention and response as part of the required curriculum experience of students.

Seminaries are also already implementing additional measures to ensure proper training for faculty, staff, and students to address how to properly handle incidents when they occur either on campus or in a future ministry setting. One of the orbits in the study group solar system is a particular focus on seminary and higher education since these institutions are so important for equipping the next generation of Baptist leaders to address this issue. The study group hopes to facilitate a collaborative effort among the seminaries in order to identify common principles and outcomes that can be appropriately implemented in each unique seminary context.

How can Southern Baptists stay involved and connected to the study group? The study group wants to hear from you. If you have suggestions, questions, connections, or ideas related to the study group, please send those to studygroup@erlc.com.