Pressing On

Equipping Churches to be Safe for Survivors and Safe From Abuse

Travis Wussow

Southern Baptists gathered in Birmingham in 2019 and showed their continued commitment in exposing the evils of sexual abuse and fighting to make churches safe in several ways. One was 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.” Important first steps have been taken on behalf of the SBC messengers’ resolve, and the ERLC and the Southern Baptist Sexual Abuse Advisory Group are committed to helping create a culture that does everything possible to be safe for survivors and safe from abuse by preparing churches, promoting convention-wide action, and protecting the vulnerable through state-level public policy. Over the next year, the ERLC in partnership with the SAAG will continue to work in this area in the following ways:

1. Preparing Churches

Since the Caring Well Challenge launch in 2018, over 1,000 churches have participated in 46 states or territories and several countries including Australia, Canada, Japan, Kenya, Kuwait, and South Africa. Over 2,800 churches have 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. 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 years to come.

Several resources have been developed to meet those needs including the Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused curriculum, the Caring Well Challenge, the Caring Well Conference, and the Introductory Guide to Caring Well. Over the next year we will continue to release new resources that take the topics raised in the Caring Well Report to a deeper level, such as the hiring guide, reporting guide, following disclosure resource, camp guide, and VBS guide. 

2. Promote Convention-Wide Action

The SAAG has and will continue to promote action on the part of all congregations in the SBC to keep churches safer for survivors and safer from abuse. The ERLC hosted its National Conference in 2019 to confront the issue of abuse. The Caring Well Conference welcomed more than 1,500 attendees to Dallas, Texas. Participants listened to survivors, learned from experts, and left equipped to strengthen their churches’ engagement on the issue. These conference resources are now available free of charge to help equip churches on this important issue. 

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. 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.

3. Protect the Vulnerable

The ERLC published a white paper as a part of a series focused on state policy issues related to sexual abuse. Facilitating Abuse Disclosures by Nonprofits addresses perpetrators moving from church to church with near impunity. This white paper builds on the legislative work already done in Texas and Missouri by Southern Baptist pastors and civic leaders. 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 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.

The ERLC, in partnership with the SAAG, will continue to serve Southern Baptists by engaging in these long-term initiatives. This is not the end of our work on this important issue, but only the beginning. Supported by Southern Baptists, we must do everything we can to protect the vulnerable and care for the survivors among us.

Travis Wussow serves as the Vice President for Public Policy and General Counsel. Travis led the ERLC’s first international office located in the Middle East prior to joining the Washington DC office. He received a B.B.A. in Finance from The University of Texas at Austin and a J.D. from The University of Texas School of Law. He and his wife, Katie, have two daughters.