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Priorities for the Sexual Abuse Advisory Group

The ERLC and SAAG continue to fight against sexual abuse

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November 11, 2020

When Southern Baptists gathered in Birmingham in 2019, they showed their continued commitment to fight against sexual abuse in several ways, one being by passing a resolution on the evils of sexual abuse. In that resolution, Southern Baptists asked for forgiveness “for failing to cultivate a culture of protection for those in Southern Baptist churches and institutions who have been sexually abused.” They resolved “to create a culture where victims can not only share about their abuse with the assurance of protection, but also receive care while church leaders fulfill their obligation to implement policies and practices that protect against and confront any form of abuse in the future.” 

As SBC President J.D. Greear said at the same 2019 Annual Meeting, “Our efforts on abuse don’t end here in Birmingham. This is just the beginning of a long journey together.” In this vein and on behalf of the messengers’ resolve, the ERLC and SAAG are committed to creating a culture that is safe for survivors and safe from abuse by preparing churches, promoting convention-wide action, and protecting the vulnerable through state-level public policy. 

We recognize the need for a widespread change and understand that a cultural shift takes years of effort. We will continue to raise awareness and to train to help churches embrace the findings of the SAAG and the resources provided to help them be safe for survivors and safe from abuse. We will continue in the 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 to ensure widespread adoption. Over the next year, the ERLC in partnership with the SAAG will continue to work in this area in the following ways:

Preparing churches

Caring Well Challenge relaunch

The Caring Well Challenge is a unified call to action in the SBC that is an attainable and adaptable pathway to help churches enhance their efforts to prevent abuse and care for abuse survivors. Over 1,000 churches took the Caring Well Challenge last year and were provided with helpful free resources and valuable insights to guide them through the process. But the Caring Well Challenge was not a one-time event. Churches who participated will continue to need resources, training, and to have this important issue set before them. Other Southern Baptist churches will also benefit from taking the challenge for the first time. 

We have updated the challenge to allow churches to join at any time and receive resources and equipping over the course of the following year. We will continue to promote and emphasize the Caring Well Challenge in the year to come.

Development of new resources for churches and ministries

The Caring Well Report was a starting point for a collective response to sexual abuse. Several resources have been developed to meet those needs including the Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused curriculum, the Caring Well Conference, the Introductory Guide to Caring Well, and the Caring Well Challenge

Over 1,000 churches have participated in the Caring Well Challenge in 46 states/territories and several countries including Australia, Canada, Japan, Kenya, Kuwait, and South Africa. Over 2,800 churches had assigned the Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused curriculum at churchcares.com. While we are thankful to see churches utilizing these resources and growing in their care and protection for people in their care, we recognize there is more to be done. 

Over the next year we will continue to release new resources that address in detail specific topics raised in the Caring Well Report, such as the following: 

Digital Resources During COVID:

Knowing that the stay-at-home orders have led to a rise in domestic and sexual abuse, we have produced resources during this time to raise awareness and to equip the church:

Also, knowing people were at home and on social media, we’ve also continued to create new content and share past content and resources on our website and platforms on issues concerning sexual abuse.

Hiring Guide: 

This resource will help churches protect and care for their congregations well by helping churches create a screening framework for hiring staff and select volunteers. Employment laws vary from state to state. While there are principles that apply to every church or ministry, each church will have to consider their specific context to best implement effective policies and procedures. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to making a church a safer place for children. This guide is designed to provide a starting point for church leaders who are working to implement effective hiring and screening policies to help prevent future abuse.

Reporting Guide: 

The Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused curriculum provided an appendix with all the state reporting guidelines. As state laws have changed since it was released, an updated version is needed. In addition, we will be providing principles on reporting that are true no matter your location.

Responding to a Disclosure Resource: 

The Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused curriculum and Introductory Guide to Caring Well contain a helpful starting point for the first steps a church should take when an individual discloses that sexual abuse or assault has occurred. Our goal is to extend and expand on that starting point to provide additional resources for churches who are seeking to care well for survivors and to ensure their churches are safe from abusers. This resource will discuss independent investigations, working with law enforcement, communications with church members, and protecting the survivor’s agency through this process.

Light Magazine:

The ERLC will be dedicating one of its bi-anual issues of Light Magazine to the topic of abuse. The issue will feature testimonies from survivors and articles written by experts on various topics related to abuse to continue to inform and equip churches and lay leaders.

Camp Counselor Recruiting Guide:

This resource will help churches protect and care for their congregants who attend overnight and day camps throughout the year. Camp environments present unique challenges to keeping congregants safe from abuse; this guide will provide a starting point for churches when recruiting camp counselors and other camp staff who will be responsible for children and minors.

VBS Volunteer Recruiting Guide:

Many churches around the country host or participate in Vacation Bible Schools during the summer months. This provides a great ministry environment for reaching our communities, but also necessitates implementing policies and procedures to keep children safe. This resource will help churches create policies or identify gaps in their existing policies to make these ministry opportunities safer from abuse. 

Promote convention-wide action

Caring Well Conference

In 2019, the ERLC hosted its national conference to confront the issue of abuse. The Caring Well Conference welcomed more than 1,500 attendees to Dallas, Texas, on Oct. 3-5. Participants listened to survivors, learned from experts, and left equipped to strengthen their churches’ engagement on the issue. These great resources are available as a free resource for churches to be equipped. Further, at caringwell.com, we have created a suggested training calendar for watching these talks as a church or leadership team. This suggested plan includes discussion questions.

Emphasis Sunday

Step seven of the Caring Well Challenge includes the call to dedicate a Sunday service to talking about abuse. While the commitment to safety and excellent care persists, congregations need to know the progress their church has made in making their churches safer for survivors and safer from abuse. This service provides the opportunity to do four things:

  1. Equip congregations to understand what the Bible says about abuse and the refuge God wants his church to be.
  2. Allow churches’ Caring Well teams to review the outcomes from each of the elements in the Caring Well Challenge.
  3. Acknowledge the continued need for growth in this area. We want to always be improving in how we prevent and care for the abused.
  4. Pray for those who are still healing from abuse and that God would allow the effects of the Caring Well Challenge to be lasting in the churches that participated.

We have provided resources at caringwell.com to help churches prepare for this Sunday and will continue to create resources to help churches implement this.

Protect the vulnerable

Federal public policy advocacy

Advocating for national laws and regulations that better protect churches and ministries from sexual abuse remains a top priority for the ERLC. The ERLC continues to explore federal policy changes that will protect children and hold abusers accountable.

State public policy advocacy

The ERLC, in conjunction with the Sexual Abuse Advisory Group, encourages Southern Baptist leaders and congregants to assess the laws surrounding sexual abuse within their respective states to evaluate if any additional legislation is needed to both ensure that survivors of sexual abuse have access to justice and that future abuse is prevented.

Texas Statute

Texas has recently enacted a law aimed at allowing churches and nonprofits to share the credible information they have about alleged abuse. Southern Baptist leaders in Texas crafted and passed HB 4345 giving immunity from civil liability to churches or other nonprofits that in good faith report allegations of sexual abuse to an individual’s current or prospective employer.1H.B. 4345, 86th Leg., Reg. Sess. (Tex. 2019). This allows church leaders to warn future employers about a potential predator by sharing a former employees’ sexual abuse and misconduct allegations without being sued. 

Missouri Bill

HB 1446 was introduced in the Missouri legislature by Rep. Doug Richey, who also serves as Senior Pastor of Pigsah Baptist Church, a Southern Baptist church in Excelsior Springs, Missouri.2H.B. 1446, 100th Gen. Assem., 2nd Reg. Sess. (Mo. 2019). The Missouri Baptist Convention supported the legislation.3Bill filed to protect churches, target predators,” The Pathway (Jan. 2, 2020); Ben Hawkins, “Mo. House bill enables churches to fight abuse,” The Pathway (Mar. 25, 2020). The bill was heard in committee but did not pass the Missouri legislature in 2020, in part due to legislative disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Series of White Papers

The ERLC published a series of white papers focused on state policy issues related to sexual abuse such as sharing information between nonprofits, mandatory reporting, child protection, clergy abuse, and statute of limitations. 

The first is Facilitating Abuse Disclosures by Non-profits. Using the work already done in Texas and Missouri, the paper addresses perpetrators moving from church to church with near impunity. Abuse often goes unabated because perpetrators assume churches and nonprofit organizations will not share credible information about alleged abuses with future employers out of fears of being sued for defamation. While it is imperative for churches to protect the vulnerable whether they are shielded from liability or not, implementing legislation according to the recommendations in this white paper can facilitate abuse disclosures and protect churches who do the right thing.

The ERLC, in partnership with the SAAG, will continue to pursue the aforementioned priorities in the coming year to serve Southern Baptists. Many of these items are long-term initiatives we have engaged and will continue to engage for several. There will be continued efforts. This is not the end of our work on this subject, but only the beginning. We will continue to advance this important work, supported by Southern Baptists because we must do everything we can to protect the vulnerable and care for the survivors among us.