What is the Introductory Guide to Caring Well?

November 21, 2019

After a 14-year-old girl was groomed by her youth pastor to trust him, he began sexually abusing her. He continually told her she was the cause of his sin and that it was her fault. He said she would never amount to anything, never graduate from college, never be loved, and never be married. He threatened her to keep her quiet. She reached the point where she couldn’t bear it any longer and spoke with her pastor, someone she thought could help, only to have that pastor pick up where the last perpetrator left off. This was the grievous situation that Susan Codone, a survivor of clergy sexual abuse in a Southern Baptist church, experienced. You can read her written account here.

As the testimonies of survivors and the statistics have demonstrated, many men and women who sit in our  church pews are survivors of sexual abuse. Churches have not always been safe places for the vulnerable. This should not be. As Russell Moore has written,

This is a primary issue, one that Jesus himself warned us about from the very beginning. The church is a flock, he told us, vulnerable to prey. That’s why, he said, the church would need shepherds who would know both how to feed the flock with the Word of God and also to protect the flock from predators who would tear them apart (Jn. 10:10-14) . . . Churches should be the safest places in the world for vulnerable people.

Many pastors and churches have seen the need to do more to protect and care for survivors, but have questions on what needs to be done or how to do that. What do you do when someone discloses abuse to your church leadership? How can you develop policies to better protect your most vulnerable members? How can you screen and train your staff and volunteers to improve the safety and security of your ministries?

What is the purpose of The Introductory Guide to Caring Well?

In a continued effort to help make churches safe for survivors and safe from abuse, the Southern Baptist Convention Sexual Abuse Advisory Group (SAAG) in conjunction with the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission created The Introductory Guide to Caring Well. This free guide was written to help churches who desire to faithfully care well for survivors of sexual abuse and to implement policies and procedures to prevent abuse.

This guide is just a starting point to raise questions and direct churches to issues they should be thinking about. It isn’t comprehensive legal advice for every church. The reality is, caring well for those in your care means working through these issues for your church, your context, and your ministries. Copying and pasting information from a guide or from the internet won’t make any church a safer place.

Who is the guide intended for?

This guide was created as a resource for the Caring Well Challenge (CWC). The CWC is a unified call to action on the abuse crisis in the Southern Baptist Convention. The goal is to equip churches to be safe for survivors and safe from abuse. The challenge provides churches with an adaptable and attainable pathway to immediately enhance their efforts to prevent abuse and care for abuse survivors. This resource will help churches walk through step six of the challenge which is to prepare by reviewing and enhancing prevention practices, policies, and procedures. If your church is not already participating in the challenge, you can register here

We can and must do everything we can to protect the vulnerable and care for the survivors among us.

Whether a church is reviewing existing care policies or creating them for the first time, this guide will provide assistance to church leaders who are working to implement effective policies and procedures in their congregations. This practical guide aims to present a foundation of topics to consider, sample language and policies provided by leading sexual abuse prevention advocates, and links to further resources to help dive deeper into each area of prevention and care.

What does it cover?

Along with several other important aspects to prepare for prevention and care, the guide covers screening, best practices and preventative policies, and preparing for a disclosure.


The report explains how important it is to have a screening process for staff and volunteers:

It is critical that churches have a rigorous process of recruiting and screening employees and volunteers within child- and student-serving ministries for compatibility with the church’s values and child protection policies. A rushed recruitment and search process for volunteers or staff to meet a staffing shortage can place children and youth in danger (7).

While background checks are necessary, they are insufficient on their own. The report covers additional areas of screening including an application process, reference checks, interviews, social media reviews, orientation, and training. It also provides resources such as suggested questions for written applications or reference checks and discusses what to consider when choosing a background check provider.

Best Practices and Preventative Policies

As former prosecutor and attorney, Samantha Kilpatrick, has expressed, “Policy is not something that is created and sits on a shelf. Policy is your guide and what you live by, not what you aspire to, but what you actually do—it is who you are” (12). Our policies matter and should lead to practices that help prevent against abuse. 

When determining the specifics of policies to implement in your church, it is important to understand the increased responsibility when working with children. The report emphasizes this and goes on to say, “When working with children and youth, we recommend that at a minimum, churches meet the national standards promulgated by the Centers for Disease Control for youth-serving organizations” (13). As Victor Vieth, an advocate on this issue, has written, “Indeed true Christian witness would shatter these minimal standards and also implement policies to address not only sexual abuse within the church but also sexual abuse in the home, as well as physical abuse, neglect, emotional abuse, and witnessing violence.”[1]

The report discusses the following important policies for churches to consider: check in/out procedure, hall monitor, two-deep policy, parents and classroom participation, workers under 18 years of age, “known to your church” rule, open doors, social media and communication, transportation, overnight policy, and respect for a child’s privacy. 

Preparing for Disclosure

It is an incredibly courageous thing for survivors to share their stories, and that is often done with great difficulty and cost to them. When a survivor discloses sexual abuse, are you prepared to meet his or her disclosure with compassion and action? Among other things, the guide speaks to how to develop a team of caregivers to walk along the survivor, knowing local agencies that work with survivors, and being prepared to report to the appropriate authorities in compliance with state law, so that you can care well for those who share their story. 

The guide not only provides practical steps to prepare for a disclosure, such as knowing reporting laws, having the contact information for civil authorities, understanding the reporting process, and making sure your leadership and team know their obligation to report and are prepared to report, but it also gives further understanding of the surrounding issues. “The church should not act as an investigative body in criminal matters. When abuse is disclosed and investigation is needed, local law enforcement should be called” (17). Additionally, in reading the guide, you will learn more about prioritizing the needs and agency of the survivor and protecting the survivor’s confidentiality. These are important things to know as you prepare.

When Susan Codone shared her story, she wrote the following: 

It takes a movement to change the culture, not a mandate, and movements begin with the undeniable burden that things are not right the way they are and must change. In this movement, we are not an autonomous group of 47,000 churches; we are accountable as one body and capable of leveraging our enormous collective power to topple the culture of indifference. Sexual predators won’t stop just because we start paying attention. We will never rid ourselves of their evil, but we can reduce the risk and protect our own  Do you feel the conviction that things are not right the way they are? I have lived it deep in my soul for over 30 years. We have a path forward that is within our collective power. Will we take that path and fight this evil, together as one?

We can and must do everything we can to protect the vulnerable and care for the survivors among us. The Introductory Guide to Caring Well is a resource to help churches who know things are not right the way they are and who are eager to do everything they can to care for survivors and to prevent abuse. Take a step on the path of fighting the evil of sexual abuse, and prepare your church by reading the full guide here.


  1. ^  Victor I. Vieth, On This Rock: A Call to Center the Christian Response to Child Abuse on The Life and Words of Jesus (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2018), 51.

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

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24