By / Sep 22

Over the past several years, Southern Baptists state conventions and associations have been taking significant steps to prevent abuse within their churches and provide support for survivors. While the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) has faced criticism for its handling of sexual abuse cases in the past, many state conventions are now prioritizing abuse prevention and survivor care.

The path to prevent abuse

Here is a sampling of the efforts made by various state groups to address this issue and protect the vulnerable within our congregations.

Alabama 

The Alabama Baptists are taking several steps to prevent abuse in churches. They have a webpage dedicated to helping churches be safer places, which includes resources to help churches create protection policies such as a screening form, permission for background and credit checks, and a covenant of ministerial ethics. They also offer tools to implement the plan such as a sexual harassment policy, social media policy, and computer and internet use policy. Additionally, Alabama Baptists State Board of Missions offers a discount for churches to provide training and resources to prevent sexual abuse in churches.

Alabama Baptists have also established a Sexual Abuse Task Force, which challenges church leaders to continue the work of preventing sexual abuse in churches. They have released a joint statement expressing their sadness and grief over reports of sexual abuse and how they were handled. Furthermore, Alabama law requires pastors, church staff, and volunteers to report suspicions of child abuse.

Florida

The Florida Baptist Convention has established an affiliate relationship with the Evangelical Council for Abuse Prevention (ECAP), a partnership that provides access to exclusive resources for child safety programs, training events from experts in the field, and discounted admission to ECAP events. The Florida Baptist Convention has committed $30,000 in financial resources to aid churches that desire to develop robust abuse prevention.

The Florida Baptist Convention has also adopted a special committee report regarding sexual abuse policies and procedures. The committee was authorized by the Florida Baptist State Convention to address abuse allegation reporting, survivor care, and prevention within the state convention. Additionally, the Florida Baptist Convention offers child protection training to raise awareness for abuse prevention and child protection. They also provide ministry leaders with resources to assist them in prevention and connect ECAP with area churches.

Georgia 

The Georgia Baptist Mission Board offers a program called “Reduce the Risk,” which is designed to help churches train pastors, staff members, and volunteer leaders every year with ease. This program is available through Ministry Grid, which is an online platform that provides training resources for churches.

Georgia Baptists also provide free access to a Sexual Abuse Awareness Training. This training is designed to help churches prevent sexual abuse and care for survivors.

Illinois

The Illinois Baptist State Association (IBSA) encourages churches to study and establish effective policies for security and childcare, including check-in and check-out procedures. They also recommend background checking all workers, including fingerprinting checks of the FBI database and examination of the Sex Offender Registry maintained by the Illinois State Police.

IBSA provides SafeChurch, a program designed to help churches prevent abuse and protect their members. The program includes training on recognizing and responding to abuse, creating a safe environment for children and vulnerable adults, and developing policies and procedures to prevent abuse.

IBSA is also part of the Caring Well Initiative, which is a unified call to action for churches to confront the abuse crisis. 

Kentucky

The Kentucky Baptist Convention is offer training on sexual abuse prevention, response, and care to church staff and lay leaders. The training covers child sexual abuse in Christian environments, understanding offender behaviors and the grooming process, appropriate prevention and responding to allegations, as well as understanding a trauma-informed response and care for survivors.

The Kentucky Baptist Convention has also established a Sexual Abuse Task Force to help churches prevent and respond to sexual abuse. They have prepare a handbook to help churches prevent and respond to sexual abuse, with a particular emphasis on caring for survivors. Additionally, Kentucky Baptist leaders are responding to charges of sexual abuse in a number of Southern Baptist churches across the United States. 

Maryland and Delaware

The Baptist Convention of Maryland and Delaware (BCM/D) approved a constitutional change that requires churches to take steps toward preventing sexual abuse and caring for survivors. The BCM/D also provides initial and ongoing training for staff, volunteers, and church members that raises awareness and shares effective actions to prevent incidents. Pathways is a resource they use that provides churches with a clear and concise plan to prevent sexual abuse and care for survivors.

The BCM/D is part of the Caring Well Initiative. The convention is also able to leverage faith-based and community initiatives which support several programs in mental health services, substance abuse prevention, and addiction treatment at the national, state, and local levels.

North Carolina 

The N.C. Baptists have created a guide to help survivors of sexual abuse. The guide provides information on how to determine the classification of the information that is shared with you, how to report the information, how to listen and provide counsel, how to train the leaders within your women’s ministry, and how to refer to a counselor.

They also provide resources to help churches by providing training to help churches recognize and prevent abuse, as well as care for those who have been affected by abuse.

Oklahoma

Oklahoma Baptists have made a priority of investing in training for church staff and volunteers in the areas of preventing sexual abuse and caring for abuse survivors. Over the last several years, regional events have been offered for churches and associations. In the last six months alone, approximately 3,700 online courses have been completed and funded by Oklahoma Baptists on the topic of sexual abuse awareness and peer-to-peer abuse awareness. More than 2,400 Oklahoma Baptists’ church staff and volunteers completed these courses without charge to the local church.

In the past year, Oklahoma Baptists’ Abuse Prevention Task Force created and distributed a comprehensive Abuse Prevention and Response Guide for churches in print and digital form. This resource, which includes research-based, biblically-informed recommendations and best practices, has been utilized by other states.

Oklahoma Baptists offers financial assistance for counseling for abuse victims, their families, and the local church when abuse occurs and has established a telephone hotline to which abuse concerns can be brought.

Pennsylvania and South Jersey

The Baptist Resource Network of Pennsylvania and South Jersey is focusing on creating awareness of abuse issues and vulnerabilities in churches, as well as providing information and resources for churches to be compliant and safe. Some of the specific actions they have taken include:

  • Making it a requirement for all affiliated churches to have protocols in place for the security of minors and vulnerable adults, as already required by state law.
  • Promoting local resources available to individuals and churches, such as Keep Kids Safe, Pennsylvania, which explains state laws and procedures governing child protection and the reporting of child abuse, and the Pa Family Support Alliance, which provides education, support, and training programs to make Pennsylvania safe for children.
  • Offering ministry and care for those affected by abuse, recognizing the seriousness of these issues.

In addition to these efforts, the Baptist Resource Network has also partnered with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) to utilize resources such as the SBC’s guide on preventing abuse, which provides information on topics like preparing church leadership for disclosure by a sexual abuse victim, screening and training volunteers, and more. This collaboration with the SBC allows them to leverage the expertise and resources of a larger network in their efforts to prevent abuse in churches.

Tennessee 

The Tennessee Baptist Mission Board (TBMB) provides resources to help churches prevent abuse and care for survivors. These resources include training and education on how to recognize and prevent abuse, as well as how to care for those who have been affected by abuse.

In 2019, TBMB developed a task force composed of Baptist physicians, therapists, student and children’s ministers, and pastors to develop increased resources for Tennessee Baptist Churches. The information gathered by the task force is provided on the TBMB website as a starting place for church leaders. In November 2022, the Tennessee Baptist Convention presented a sexual abuse report, urging the adoption of best practices to prevent abuse. The task force was asked to evaluate the process of how The Tennessee Baptist Convention responds to allegations of sexual abuse and to evaluate the best practices to prevent abuse.

Texas

The Southern Baptist of Texas Convention (SBTC) offers Sexual Abuse Awareness Training, which is a 1.5-hour online course designed to help churches prevent sexual abuse and care for survivors. The SBTC also provides training and resources to help churches prevent sexual abuse and care for survivors

The SBTC assists churches with awareness and education on the topic of sexual abuse prevention, specifically in ministry contexts. They offer resources and training to help churches prevent abuse and care for survivors.

Virginia 

SBC Virginia provides resources to help churches prevent abuse and care for survivors. These resources include training and education on how to recognize and prevent abuse, as well as how to care for those who have been affected by abuse. One of the programs offered is Safe Church Training, which is a comprehensive program designed to help churches prevent abuse and protect their members. The training covers topics such as recognizing and responding to abuse, creating a safe environment for children and vulnerable adults, and developing policies and procedures to prevent abuse.

SBC Virginia has also established a Sexual Abuse Task Force to help churches prevent and respond to sexual abuse. The task force provides resources and training to help churches create safe environments for their members.

By / Sep 20

To make our churches safe from abuse, we must be proactive. Developing policies and procedures ahead of time, training and educating staff and volunteers, as well as partnering with abuse experts will set your church up well to be a safe place for your community. It is up to the pastors and leaders of a church to lead this charge. Here are five essential action steps you can implement to begin protecting your church from predators and caring well for survivors of abuse.

But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted; you consider their grief and take it in hand. The victims commit themselves to you; you are the helper of the fatherless. (Psa. 10:14)

The five essentials to make your church safe from abuse

1. Train

“Discretion will protect you, and understanding will guard you” (Prov. 2:11).

It is imperative that church leaders are aware and understand the scourge of sexual abuse that exists in our country, world, and even inside the Church. Statistics tell us 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys (though many believe this is much higher) are sexually abused before they turn 18. Only a small percentage of these victims ever reveal their abuse. Church leaders must help our churches understand that the mission to prevent sexual abuse and our response to it is a clear and compelling gospel issue. It is not one we can ignore. We must face it head-on and not turn a blind eye or a deaf ear because it may be difficult.  

Every church must train their members on how to prevent, identify, and respond to sexual abuse. Sexual abuse awareness training is a foundational component of onboarding new staff and volunteers who will have access to children, youth, and vulnerable adults. This reinforces a culture of zero tolerance. Church leaders must help dispel the idea that abuse can’t happen in our church, must not minimize it as a mistake, or must not think that doing a criminal background check is enough. Each church needs to be committed to an ongoing process of training and continually raising awareness of this issue. 

2. Screen

“Therefore, each of you must put away falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body” (Eph. 4:25).

In order to make your church safe from abuse, it is critical that each implement a thorough screening process for anyone that will have access to children, youth, and vulnerable adults. A thorough process ensures that individuals are suitable and compatible with your church’s policies and procedures. Every potential staff member and volunteer should go through the same screening process. Statistics tell us over 90% of children who are abused know their perpetrator as someone who they trust. 

Relying only on background checks does not protect those in your ministry. While background checks must be done, churches need to gather more reliable information from several sources on applicants to determine their fitness for service. An in-depth screening process can drastically reduce the risk of abuse and increase safety for those in your church’s care. The six best practices for screening anyone wanting to serve with children, youth, and vulnerable adults are: 

  • implementing a six-month waiting period, 
  • a written application, 
  • requesting and checking references, 
  • an interview, 
  • a background check,
  • and a social media review. 

Below are some helpful resources that can assist you in developing your church’s screening process.

3. Protect

“Keep me safe, Lord, from the hands of the wicked; protect me from the violent, who devise ways to trip my feet”  (Psa. 140:4).

Jesus calls us to minister to those who are oppressed (Isa. 58:6-7). Silence does not protect the Church or Christ’s name. One of the ways you can protect children, youth, and vulnerable adults is by having solid policies and procedures in place at your church. These protect those you are serving while also protecting those that serve them. Once developed, being intentional about following policies and procedures is imperative for the protection of everyone involved. 

If your church does have policies and procedures in place, now is a good time to review them, making sure they are current and being followed by staff and volunteers. Policies and procedures can only protect everyone if followed and adhered to. Policies should be: 

  • comprehensive,
  • written from a knowledge of how predators push boundaries and what their grooming patterns look like so that violations can be immediately reported and addressed,
  • accessible, 
  • tailored to your church, 
  • agreed to and trained by the staff and volunteers, 
  • and reviewed annually by your legal counsel and insurance companies for further input and guidance. 

Policies and procedures are the bookends to a solid prevention plan.  Proper screening and training coupled with solid policies and procedures that your staff and volunteers adhere to and abide by create a strong hedge of protection around those your church serves and those who serve them.

4. Report

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice” (Prov. 31:8-9).

Every state has laws identifying those required to report child abuse. Even if you believe you are not legally required to report child abuse in your state, you are still encouraged to report suspected or known abuse. In all states and territories, any person is permitted to report child abuse and abuse of vulnerable adults. As followers of Jesus, we are charged with protecting the vulnerable, and reporting known or suspected abuse is part of that mandate. If you know or suspect a child or vulnerable adult has been abused, you should report this to civil authorities. A church should have a proper response plan for when abuse occurs, including:

  • informing the insurance company that insures the church,
  • removing the alleged abuser from all ministerial duties until the report is resolved, 
  • informing the church as appropriate, 
  • ministering to the victim and the alleged abuser, 
  • and not attempting to investigate the allegations of abuse internally.

Here are some helpful sites for reporting information: 

5. Care

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psa. 147:3).

Church leaders are often called to the difficult and sensitive task of shepherding victims through the devastation of abuse. Abuse violates the dignity of our God-given image and disrupts our voice, sense of identity, and sense of trust and safety in relationships. The trauma of abuse can be a barrier to trusting God, trusting Scripture, and connecting to a church community. Our response in supporting survivors of sexual abuse has the opportunity to accurately reflect the mission and character of Jesus Christ. If we fail in this, we can grossly misrepresent our Savior, thus damaging and failing both survivors as well as abusers, and being a detraction to the gospel.  

Walking alongside survivors is a long, slow, necessary, and valuable commitment. It takes collaboration with a variety of community resources such as trauma-informed counselors, legal support, and victim advocates. To make your church safe from abuse, church leaders must become informed about the impact of abuse and how to find the necessary supportive resources to come alongside survivors, for the sake of the gospel.


NOTE: This article was adapted from sbcabuseprevention.com, the website created by the Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force (ARITF). This will be the future site of Ministry Check, which “will provide leaders with the ability to search for information about individuals who have been convicted, found liable, or confessed to abuse.” For future updates on the work of the ARITF, follow their website.

The information contained here is general in nature and is not intended to be legal advice. The Southern Baptist Convention encourages each church to consult with legal counsel when implementing local policies and practices.

By / Sep 13

September 24, 2023, is the annual Caring Well Sunday for Southern Baptists. The national statistics on sexual abuse are overwhelming. 

  • One in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18 years old.
  • One in 5 women and 1 in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives.
  • One in 3 women and 1 in 6 men experienced some form of sexual violence in their lifetime.

The most common places sexual predators search for victims is in youth activities such as school, sports, and church. Churches need to understand why this issue matters in light of the gospel and how it should be addressed.

We have provided a bulletin insert titled, “5 Ways the Gospel Shapes Our Approach to Sexual Abuse,” for your churches to print and share during Caring Well Sunday. 

We hope this resource serves you well as you seek to lead your church in caring for your congregation and community. 

National sexual abuse statistics can be found at https://www.nsvrc.org/statistics.

To see additional SBC event dates, visit sbc.net/calendar.

By / Aug 26

The ratio of baby boys to baby girls born in India now appears to be normalizing, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of India’s National Family Health Survey. Since the 1970s, the ratio of boys to girls has been artificially skewed, leading to millions of “missing girls”—the estimated number of how many more females there would be if there were no sex-selective abortions and mistreatment or neglect of females.

For most of human history, until the early 1980s, there has been a slight, yet consistent, excess of baby boys over baby girls born in any population. During that period the sex ratio at birth (SRB) tended to fall within a narrow range, usually around 103 to 106 newborn boys for every 100 newborn girls. 

But scholars have observed that the ratios can become heavily skewed when three preconditions are met: a widespread desire for sons and/or aversion to daughters; parents seeking to have smaller families; and the availability of ultrasound technology and abortion services (which became more widespread in the 1970s). 

Since the 1980s, biologically impossible ratios have been found in various countries around the world, including Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Cyprus, El Salvador, Egypt, Georgia, Greece, Hong Kong, India, Italy, Libya, Macedonia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Portugal, Philippines, Republic of Korea, Spain,Taiwan, Tunisia, Yugoslavia, and Venezuela. 

When China implemented a one-child policy in the late 1970s, the SRBs in some regions of the country increased to between 120 and 130. As demographer Nicholas Eberstadt has pointed out, this is “a phenomenon utterly without natural precedent in human history.” Because of China’s one-child policy, there are an estimated 30 million to 60 million “missing girls.”  

China ended its one-child policy in 2016 and adopted a three-child policy in 2021. Today, China is tied with Azerbaijan for the highest SBR in the world, at 115. Two other former Soviet republics—Armenia (114) and Georgia (109)—also top the list of highest SBRs. From 2000 to 2020, Vietnam and Albania had the world’s fourth- and fifth-widest average annual sex ratio at birth (111 each). 

India remains near the top of the global list, with an average sex ratio at birth of around 110. The size of the population means the country has an outsized impact on the overall number of girls killed by sex-selective abortion. China currently has the world’s largest population (1.426 billion), but India (1.417 billion) is expected to claim this title next year. Because of sex-selective abortion or neglect, an estimated 142.6 million females went “missing” between 1970 and 2020, according to a 2020 UN report. Two countries—China (51%) and India (32%)—accounted for more than two-thirds of that total.  

As Pew Research notes, countries where males heavily outnumber females at birth also tend to have a high childhood mortality rate for girls, either because girls are being killed soon after birth, or because they are neglected by their parents during childhood.

Religion in India has historically been a determining influence on the preference for baby boys, and thus on the SRB. In 2001, Sikhs had 130 boys for every 100 girls. The Sikh birth ratio today is around 110—closer to the country’s Hindu majority (109). Muslims in the country also have an artificially high rate at 106. At 103, the Christians in India have an SRB ratio that is closer to the natural balance. 

The one bright spot in the analysis is the influence of Chrisitanity in India, especially in the southern area of the country. As the report says, Christianity has been a boon for women:

Women, in particular, may have benefited from these types of changes. Christian missions in India have emphasized evangelical work among women since the 19th century, operating schools for girls as well as for boys. There were also missionary programs dedicated to educating women and training them for employment, such as the Mukti (Salvation) Mission. In addition, many Christian organizations prioritize maternal and child health by improving women’s access to health care facilities. Some scholars trace Christian missionary work to long-lasting benefits for Christians and cite the Christian emphasis on empowering women as a partial explanation for Christian girls’ better health outcomes.

There remains a significant need for more evangelism within the country. According to the Joshua Project, India has the largest number of unreached people of any nation—1.3 billion people within 2,135 unreached people groups. 

These realities around the world are a call to action. First, we can pray that God will raise up missionaries and that the gospel will spread throughout the land. We can also pray that people will be saved and that Christianity’s influence will bring about an overall cultural change. We must also advocate, in our communities and on an international stage, for the dignity of every person—including the preborn—to be recognized and upheld. And we must be willing to step up and care for children who need a loving home and come alongside parents who need help raising their kids. Finally, let’s pray that God will use all of these efforts to lead to a future where no country will have millions of “missing girls.”  

By / May 27

I cannot recall ever sitting down to write something from a place of such profound sadness. The last few days have been cause for deep grief and lament. Chief among them is the sexual abuse cover-up and concerted effort to dismiss the pleas of survivors within a key committee of the Southern Baptist Convention. An independent report ordered by representatives of the churches of the SBC reveals how survivors of abuse reached out to fellow Christians looking for advocacy and help, but got animosity instead. For years, survivors had their claims ignored, forgotten, or tossed aside. It makes me physically ill to know this has occurred.

Remarkably, these brave survivors did not give up. In the face of injustice upon injustice, they continued calling for Christian leaders and for the church, as a whole, to repent and be obedient to God’s Word. The perseverance of the survivor community in the face of all of this is nothing short of courageous. While we should mourn the misdeeds uncovered in this report, be angry about what has been perpetrated under the name of the Southern Baptist Convention, and resolve to correct past injustices, we should also be grateful that these individuals continued calling for justice.

In the wake of this report, it is likely that more survivors will come forth to share their experiences. When they do, we must be ready to hear them. And it is essential that we resist the urge to react defensively or from a position of protecting ourselves or an institution rather than precious individuals made in God’s image. Whether at a church or an entity, we must foster an environment where survivors are confident they will be received, listened to, and supported. It is imperative that the stories of survivors be met with the same compassion Jesus exhibited for those who were marginalized or vulnerable. Moreover, we must respond appropriately, whether that means engaging law enforcement, trauma-informed counselors, or medical professionals. 

At a more basic level, much of the horror detailed in the report’s coverage of the apathy, negligence, and intentional misdirection related to abuse is perpetrated when a Christian begins to focus more on their platform or role in a movement, or the need to protect an institution, rather than the commands to love God and neighbor, and to seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly before God (Matt. 22:37-40; Mic. 6:8). In other words, just as in all areas of life, when one finds their identity in something other than Christ and him crucified, it creates a foothold for the enemy to exploit and our flesh to indulge. And that is what has happened here. Individuals appointed to be Christian servants became operatives who denied protection and care to those who needed it most. All of our hearts should be broken by this and moved to introspection.

At the conclusion of the report, the authors make a number of recommendations and provide multiple avenues for protecting survivors and ensuring that this crisis does not repeat itself. We all await the official recommendations from the wise members of the Sexual Abuse Task Force, and their guidance should be given due consideration by the messengers who are assembling in a few weeks for the 2022 SBC Annual Meeting in Anaheim, California. What is clear is that a response is needed. The steps already taken by the current trustees and staff of the SBC EC show they are committed to responding biblically and helpfully. The steps already taken by the current trustees and staff of the SBC EC show they are committed to responding biblically and helpfully. As a whole, Southern Baptists must commit ourselves to making our churches and convention a place where the vulnerable are protected and survivors receive the care they need. The injustice revealed in the SATF report must not go unanswered, and I have hope that the messengers will not let that happen. 

All of us, as those who proclaim Christ as Lord, must ask God to search us and reveal any wickedness in our lives (Ps. 139). We must humbly ask him to make us men and women who fear him—in private and in public—and who proclaim from the depths of our hearts, “Not to us Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness” (Ps. 115:1). We must be people who commit ourselves to the task of seeing justice done because our God is a God of perfect justice. We ought to be more concerned with the fact that we will stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ and give an answer for every idle word and action (or inaction), than institutional preservation, however great that institution may be. And, as Southern Baptists, we must join our voices together in California, following our Savior as we affirm the dignity of survivors by turning our lament into just, loving, and decisive action.

By / May 23

The tragic reality of those who have been abused, marginalized, and stonewalled by many in the Southern Baptist Convention, as revealed by the Sexual Abuse Task Force report, is cause for deep lament and grief. In the midst of this dark moment, our first response is to cry out to the Lord. He alone can bring the comfort that survivors long for, bring abusers and enablers to perfect justice, and purify his church. Below is a sample prayer that you can use in your individual prayer life or with your church as you cry out for the Lord’s grace and mercy during such a horrific time. 

——–

Father,

How long, O Lord, will the wicked succeed? How long will the ones who should be trustworthy, who should protect, bring harm while using your name as a cover? How long will an understanding of you and your Bride be harmed by the wickedness of sexual abuse? How long will the picture of a shepherd that should reflect your perfect justice and love instead be perverted, bringing fear and causing unspeakable trauma?

We are grieving, Lord. We are saddened and angered by the sin that has infected your church and that has been allowed to fester for so long. We lament the betrayal by those who should have been trustworthy. We agonize over the ones who should have been respected, protected, and cherished but have been grievously violated and ignored.

Lord, may you act to protect the vulnerable, cleanse our churches of this heinous sin, and keep the abused safe. May you act to thwart the wicked who uses his power and relationship to harm others. May you bring all injustice and unrighteousness into the light and to account. Break our hearts for what has been exposed and what may not even be known yet. Root out these sins and expose the fullness of the truth to the light. May all see the deception associated with abuse and not fall for the grooming tactics employed by those who are deceivers. May you comfort the afflicted and humble the ones in need of repentance. May you give us a steadfast resolve to hold abusers to account and encourage and walk alongside the abused.

May we step in and fight for the defenseless. May the government rightly bear her sword to judge the ungodly and the abusive. May you grant wisdom and strength to those in leadership to hold abusers and those who enabled it to account. May brothers and sisters step in to protect and care for the afflicted as they reflect your tender love and care for the most vulnerable among us. May your church be a picture of the safety and care that you have for your people.

May the afflicted see they are not alone. May they see you as you are—an ever-present help in trouble and a loving shepherd in the midst of a dark storm. Lord, you are good and active in the midst of this great darkness. Help us, your people, meet all of those affected by these revelations with love, grace, and care. Help us to meet tangible needs and stand beside those made in your image through the long haul. Help us to be faithful. And grant those who have endured abuse courage and strength as they walk this difficult path and seek safety and justice.

Lord, our words are not enough. Our hearts are broken. Sin has now been revealed for all to see. We plead with you to give us repentant hearts and a contrite spirit that will do what’s right, no matter the cost or how long it takes. 

In Jesus’ just and merciful name,

Amen 

By / Apr 26

My deepest wounding and my deepest healing have both come within the church. I know what it’s like to be afraid of shepherds, wounded by thoughtless words about abuse and trauma. And I hear countless stories from dear men and women who have been harmed beyond words where they should find safe refuge. A survivor of such abuse may sit in the pew beside you.

Ignorance is not bliss

Church leaders can avoid addressing abuse because of the challenge of its complexity. But if we think abuse, particularly domestic abuse, is absent in our local churches, we are deeply misguided. One in 3 women and 1 in 4 men report experiencing physical violence from an intimate partner. Brad Wilcox writes, “Domestic violence is still present in church-going homes, and Christian clergy, counselors, and lay leaders need to do a much better job of articulating clear, powerful messages about abuse and, more generally, married life.” 

There is a high likelihood that some in your church have experienced immense suffering in their homes due to domestic violence, not to mention the evil of emotional or spiritual abuse. Lack of discernment in these dynamics may cause additional damage –– or even place a victim in danger. When Home Hurts by Jeremy Pierre and Greg Wilson aims to inform church leaders and congregants alike. It is a helpful catalyst to these vital ongoing conversations. They grapple with important questions, like what is abuse?, what does the Bible say about it?, and how do I confront someone who’s been accused of abuse? (11).

An informative framework

Half of pastors say they “lack training in how to address sexual and domestic violence.” When Home Hurts is a must-read for those seeking to care well in domestic abuse cases, from laypeople to pastoral staff. If you don’t know where to start in the process of learning, consider this book a helpful launchpoint. Pierre and Wilson call those walking with an abuse victim to “the privilege of displaying the heart of God––kind, stable, self-giving––to people who’ve had the opposite displayed to them” (20). How can someone practically reflect this love? 

First, we need to recognize that “a theology of suffering without considering God’s view of, and response to, violence and oppression can lead to reckless care and harmful counsel” (42). We must reflect the strong care of our Lord, who is a stronghold for those oppressed (Psa. 9:9). The writers delineate words like oppression, referring to “not generic suffering, but a unique form of suffering involving the intentional sin of those with greater capacity against those with less” (39). 

They particularly point out not only that abuse “is a dangerous reversal of love,” but the impact of abuse on personhood. The imago Dei is desecrated under the tragic weight of abuse. Even abusers themselves experience this twisting of the imago Dei, as a person made in God’s image “using his God-like capacities to diminish those capacities in others. And by doing so, he diminishes his own personhood” (41). As a result, the abusive person can use Scripture not to submit to God, but to “force submission from others” (49). 

The writers include important insights like acknowledging that abusers are often those we might least expect, for their seeming benevolence and charisma. Additionally, abuse is often underreported, so Pierre and Wilson are careful to caution helpers to not dismiss abuse disclosure. 

Each chapter lists practical aspects or challenges of navigating a case of abuse, including questions to gently ask a victim, identifying possible abuser blame-shifting, and including the appropriate authorities. Pierre and Wilson take care to touch on nuances and provide a framework for what steps of safety, support, and accountability might look like. The writers mention they are not trying to “provide comprehensive care strategies” but “biblical guidelines for ongoing care” (145). They list many additional resources that should be engaged with for more in-depth understanding.

A balm for the broken

Trauma’s shattering impact can be confusing to those who don’t understand this unique suffering. C.S. Lewis reflected, “Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say ‘My tooth is aching’ than to say ‘My heart is broken.’”

Pierre and Wilson sketch common patterns seen in trauma survivors, and again point to other resources for continued exploration. The authors are mindful to acknowledge the staggering weight of domestic abuse, without reducing the personhood of victim or abuser to this distressing reality. While more specific and concrete examples would be a benefit to the section on victim care, good specifics are present in the section on the abuser, in the writers’ call for time-tested repentance. 

When Home Hurts truly excels at naming beliefs and perceptions that affect both abuser and abused. “What makes domestic abuse a particularly cruel form of violence is that the home is supposed to be the place where personhood blossoms into its greatest potential” (45). This unspeakable suffering understandably leads to a fractured sense of self, God, and the world. 

It takes tremendous tenderness and patience to walk with someone through the journey of rebuilding after abuse. This is a thoughtful and gradual process, and one that should not be rushed with a combination of Scriptural imperatives. A caregiver should seek to be an “empathetic witness,” as the truth is “modeled for [the victim] in relationship” (158–159). 

Cultivating careful wisdom

As it seeks to encourage awareness of abuse dynamics and a framework of loving action, When Home Hurts provides a valuable starting point, informing church leaders and congregants alike. I hope those who take the time to engage with the content here are empowered to cultivate wise advocacy and discernment.

Pierre and Wilson cast a hope-filled vision for church spaces that protect the vulnerable and hold oppressors accountable — that in darkness, the church might truly be a beacon of Jesus Christ’s light.

By / Apr 25

In What Is a Girl Worth?, Rachael Denhollander described the motive for her final statement at the Larry Nassar trial: “My heart’s cry as I spoke was . . .  to remove the excuse of ignorance. To never again let the world say, ‘We did not know (p. 305).’” These words are also a fitting summary of why she wrote this book. 

Pair that with the first sentence of her book, “Why didn’t you say something sooner (p. 1)?” and you have the bookends for why you should read her book. If we do not understand the answer to her question, we remain dangerously unaware of the things that would allow us to care well for a friend, family member, or church member who has been abused by a person in a position of power. In sincerely trying to be helpful, we could easily contribute to the problem in tragic ways.

Hearing and believing 

We often miss that, before you can heal, you must be heard and believed. Until someone is heard and believed, the damaging aftershocks of abuse continue through the effects of living with shame and secrets. The world is still inverted as the abuser is esteemed-honored-trusted and the abused is ignored-shamed-questioned.

If you wonder, “How would we shame a victim? That seems harsh or exaggerated,” Judith Herman captures well a key element in the survivor’s journey like the one Rachael tells in What Is a Girl Worth? Herman, in Trauma and Recovery, writes, “It is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator. [How?!?] All the perpetrator asked is that the bystander do nothing. He appeals to the universal desire to see, hear, and speak no evil. The victim, on the contrary, asks the bystander to share the burden of pain. The victim demands action, encouragement, and remembering (p. 7-8).” 

As you read Rachael’s book, this quote will come to life. You will see the pivotal role a parent, husband, various professionals, and church family must fulfill for a survivor to be heard, believed, and supported in the pursuit of justice. You will also hear how easy it is for friends, coaches, professionals, those with power/reputation to lose, and friends of the abuser to become an obstacle to a survivor being believed and supported in the pursuit of justice.

As you read, you will have a plethora of myths deconstructed. “Survivors come forward for attention or money,” will become hollow statements as you see the emotional, relational, and financial costs associated with seeking justice. Some readers of this article may even think “seeking justice” is a non-grace, non-gospel pursuit. As you read, you will realize that the motive for seeking justice against those who abuse power to prey on others is to protect future victims. You will see that justice is the pursuit of grace for the innocent and vulnerable.

As you read, you will hear the gospel clearly presented multiple times to many audiences. Personally, I have been troubled by the number of Christians, even pastors, who have attacked and denigrated Rachael because of her advocacy against the cover up of sexual abuse. Somehow, they claim that her words and actions undermine the gospel. I would dare say those who criticize Rachael have not shared the gospel as often, as clearly, to a lost audience that is as compelled to listen, or at greater personal cost than Rachael has.

As you read, you will come to understand why it can be hard to realize that abuse has happened. Read the vulnerable journey of a child trying to process the experience of a leader in her church and a teenager going to a doctor and ask yourself, “What would I have understood about those experiences at that age?” One of the benefits of reading a biography like Rachael’s is that it allows us to ask better questions and to engage with those questions with more empathy for the context in which they must be answered.

How would you respond? 

As you read, I would invite you to ask yourself two questions:

  1. How would your church respond in 2016 if Larry Nassar were a member of your church?
  2. How would your church respond in 2016 if Rachael Denhollander were a member of your church?

The reason I give the timestamp 2016 is that this is when the outcome of the trial was unclear. Everyone knew who Larry was, and no one knew who Rachael was. Realize, you will likely know the people involved by their first name.

This is the context in which your church or you, as a friend, will make the pivotal choices that determine whether you are like the first gym owner to whom Rachael disclosed or the many people to whom disclosures about Larry were given by other gymnasts. Or, whether you will be like Jacob, the Indy Star reporter, Andrea Munford, and Angie Povilaitis. These are the moments that will radically impact the life of the person who trusts you with their disclosure. It will change their life.

After reading Rachael’s book, if you want to learn more about how to care for someone who entrusts you with their disclosure of abuse and equip your church to do the same, I would encourage you to complete the free training available at churchcares.com. This is a curriculum to which both Rachael and Andrea Munford contributed.

This article was originally posted on the Biblical Counseling Coalition blog on December 23, 2019 and was published at the ERLC with the author’s permission.

By / Feb 14

One obstacle to receiving care for current victims and survivors of past abuse is the tensions that emerge in the public discourse about abuse. While this obstacle exists in almost every setting, it is uniquely present within the church and Christian communities. 

Many factors contribute to the difficulty talking about abuse. In this article, we will look at two or three. If an obstacle you face is not discussed, please do not take that to mean the obstacle is not real. In a brief article, there is a limit to how much can be covered.

Questions framing the conversation

One challenge is that people often don’t start with the same question guiding the conversation. Two questions can frame conversations about responding to a report of abuse.

  1. How would I want an abuse claim handled if I were accused?
  2. How would I want an abuse claim handled if I were the person disclosing my abuse?

These questions lead conversations in different directions. 

  • Question one frames the conversation from the perspective of the accused. Therefore, it views the report as a potential threat. 
  • Question two frames the conversation from the perspective of a victim. Therefore, it views the report as a cry for help. 

When conversations devolve into arguments between leaders of an institution (such as a church) and victims or advocates, the difference in these two questions captures much of the tension.

For a variety of reasons, institutional leaders have far less fear of being the victim of abuse than being accused of abuse. A false accusation is how they could be most negatively affected by abuse. A false accusation would be damaging to their life, family, and vocation. They frame the conversation to try to ensure false accusations do not happen.

By contrast, victims, survivors, and advocates approach the subject of abuse with question two at the forefront of their minds. For them, the conversation is not based on what might happen. It is based on what has already happened in their life. Hence, they frame the conversation to try to ensure their experience is believed and doesn’t happen to anyone else.

The starting point for these two questions is so different that each side begins to view the other with suspicion as soon as the conversation begins. A debate emerges as each side tries to get the other side to start with their question. Whether these are public discourses in social media or private conversations about how an institution will be governed, these two questions result in what feels like an unnavigable impasse. 

When these two questions are put side by side, most people agree that question two is the proper starting point. I agree. We should prioritize the most vulnerable. If that position is taken, it also seems reasonable to most people to then ask, “If we prioritize the most vulnerable, how do we protect against damage from false accusations?” Being for question two doesn’t mean being against question one.

The legal system and the court of public opinion

This is where another dichotomy emerges. 

1. In the legal system, where “innocent until proven guilty” guides the process, the burden of proof is on the victim. Because abuse almost always occurs in private, this is a high bar to clear. It is exceedingly difficult for victims to establish their case by a legal standard. Even the more casual standard often used in the church of “giving the benefit of the doubt” favors the aggressor over the oppressed. The benefit of the doubt is given to the one accused (i.e., presumed innocence), not the one claiming to have been harmed (i.e., presumed truthfulness).

2. By contrast, in the court of public opinion, where people are strongly prone to interpret new claims based on a myriad of factors unrelated to evidence, confirmation bias dominates. There is a group that defaults to assuming the claim is true and a group that defaults to assuming the claim is false. We can usually identify these “teams” before a claim is presented.

The problem is, both systems are flawed; as any human system inevitably will be. In the legal system, “not guilty” verdicts don’t always mean “innocent.” Frequently, “not guilty” means there was not enough evidence to clear the threshold of establishing guilt or that too much time transpired for the legal complaint to remain valid. Many abusers have been declared “not guilty” because of a technicality. That does not make the initial claim false.

In the court of public opinion, far more people hear and give weight to the initial accusation than hear the outcome of an investigation (if one occurs) and change their opinion accordingly. The attention span of our modern culture means that accusations are headlines, and the results of investigations are too often back-page news. 

Here again, we see the tension between the two “sides” (I put sides in quotations because I wish this conversation was not as teamed as it has become). One side says, “Can’t you see how hard it is for those who have been abused to prove what happened and get any kind of justice? The person who has been abused is not usually the person who can afford the better attorney.” This is an important question that needs to be heard.

The other side replies, “Can’t you see that if falsely accused my reputation would be gone and the damage would be done long before the results of any investigation occurred? I don’t fear unnecessarily going to jail. I fear unnecessarily losing the ability to do what I love and feel called to do.” This is an understandable fear. We need to know the probability of the “if” to vet the concern properly.

This is the point in most articles where an author proposes to remedy the tension that has been defined. Some “third way” is articulated to avoid the weaknesses of the other two options. I’m afraid, at least to my awareness, there is no easy third way here. Even when we prioritize the vulnerable (as I believe we should), we will not make the uphill journey of abuse victims level ground. The difference between the legal system and the court of public opinion means that significant damage can be done to leaders who are proven innocent (not just “not guilty”).

Two proposals for these conversations

So, where do we go from here? I would make two proposals. 

First, we need to weigh the concern about false accusations of abuse against the prevalence of false claims. Where data can be found, we shouldn’t regulate our emotions based on hypotheticals. Reputable studies on this indicate that only between 2-7% of abuse claims are false. Further, those familiar with the process of investigating abuse claims indicate that false claims fall apart early in the investigative process. It is far more likely to have a true claim of abuse that is unprovable than a false claim that results in legal consequences.

This does not eliminate the concern of church leaders who fear they could lose their opportunity to do ministry based on a false accusation. For the 2-7% of individuals who are falsely accused, that is 100% of their experience and what determines their future. But we should also recognize that for the 93-98% of valid claims, their only hope for justice is if their claim is taken seriously. 

What does that mean? It means we should hear the person reporting abuse and care for them as if their report was true. We should take steps to ensure their safety. If what is being reported is criminal, we should trust the appropriate Romans 13:1-6 authority to vet the claim. The weight of the claim, not the role or reputation of the accused, should determine who vets the claim and how.

This isn’t declaring the accused “guilty.” It is deferring to the people God gave jurisdiction over criminal claims. As we ask people to trust church leadership to handle something well when God places that matter under our jurisdiction, we should trust the appropriate Romans 13 authority to handle well what God has placed under their jurisdiction. 

If we, as church leaders, are the accused we should cooperate with the appropriate legal process in the 2-7% of false claims for the sake of the 93-98% of victims that will not have access to care or justice if we do not. As a matter of faith in the biblical division of jurisdictions, we should trust that doing so will, in the end, increase (not decrease) our credibility. Those who abuse, protect their power; those who are true shepherds, prioritize protecting the vulnerable. 

Second, we need to “de-team” the conversation. As long as there are “sides” in this conversation, like political parties, mistrust will exacerbate the tensions described in this article. Pastors and church leaders must stop viewing victims and advocates as threats. We should repent whenever this posture is present. Those who have been abused are not “potential liabilities.” They are people, made in God’s image, who have been hurt and people for whom God intends the church to be a place of refuge.

As long as victims and advocates must demand to be heard a combative atmosphere will remain. That is not the fault of those who have not been heard. It is not the fault of social media, which has (sadly) done more to give survivors and advocates a voice than the church. 

In the same vein, the concerns of pastors and church leaders should not be dismissed as if these concerns are only an excuse for passivity and maintaining the status quo. Most of us, if we were faced with a choice that had a 7% chance of costing us our livelihood, would be hesitant to make that choice; especially if we did not understand the choice better than most ministry leaders understand the experience of abuse and the challenges of seeking justice after abuse.

If we are going to have a fruitful conversation about abuse, which is what I believe that most people who would take the time to read this article want, both question one and two, and the implications of the legal system and the court of public opinion must be taken into account. If either side dismisses the other, then trust will be broken, and the tone of an adversarial debate will reign over what must eventually become a hard-but-needed profitable conversation. 

If the debate remains adversarial, who loses? Answer: everyone, but especially current victims who are considering whether they can trust the church to help. If the concerns of the 2-7% reign over the concerns of the 93-98%, current victims realize the church is not prioritizing their care and safety. When this happens, the church is not the refuge for the vulnerable that God intends his church to be. 

By / Feb 9

It’s tragic that we live in a world that includes human trafficking of any kind, but especially child sex trafficking. Children are some of the most vulnerable among us and should be cherished, protected, and nurtured. But the reality is that many are being abused and exploited by predators and are in need of help. Thankfully, God is raising up people and organizations dedicated to ending sex trafficking and supporting victims. Gretchen Smeltzer started Into the Light with these goals and shares below how Christians can join this mission.

Elizabeth Bristow: Gretchen, tell our readers more about Into the Light, a nonprofit organization you started in 2015 to end sex trafficking and bring hope to survivors. How did it begin? 

Gretchen Smeltzer: Into the Light began as God broke the hearts of followers of Jesus over the issue of child sex trafficking and then brought them together to a small town in Arkansas. None of us were survivors of sex trafficking or had previous experience working with trafficking victims. However, we were willing to learn how we could be effective in identifying victims and providing them with the support they needed to overcome this evil atrocity. 

We began by praying. Our founding board spent many nights on our knees together. We spent a great deal of time researching the need in our local community and state. After speaking with those in law enforcement who worked with victims, we learned residential care for victims was a great need. Believing God was leading us to open a home where survivors could begin the process of healing, we began communicating our vision to the public. God used this season to teach us what it looked like to provide trauma-informed care for victims. Then God revealed to us that we could connect with child trafficking victims in Juvenile Detention Centers. Through a partnership with Traffick911, we were able to launch prevention programs in four Arkansas Juvenile Detention Centers in 2016. Our prevention teams engaged weekly with trafficking victims who were hidden in plain sight under other charges.

God taught us that we could offer places of refuge by offering a listening ear, believing a child’s story, and communicating God’s unconditional love. Our prevention program connected with hundreds of victims in the Juvenile Detention Centers. By 2017, we could see that victims needed ongoing safe community, trauma-informed advocacy, and life-skills mentorship. Into the Light received a grant to provide long-term advocacy and mentorship to victims of trafficking. Each year, this program continues to grow. We have six full-time advocates who serve 16 counties in Arkansas. In 2021, our organization supported 165 victims. Our services include:

  • Crisis intervention 
  • Safety planning for newly identified victims of trafficking 
  • 24/7 crisis line to offer support to all of our current clients 
  • Court, legal, and law enforcement advocacy
  • Mental health needs
  • Transportation and housing assistance
  • Long-term mentorship to assist in building a life after trafficking

The basis of what we do at Into the Light is modeled after what God requires of us from Micah 6:8. We seek justice for victims, we share his mercy, and we seek to walk humbly with God in all that we do. 

EB: What do Christians need to know about the issue of child sex trafficking? 

GS: It is happening to children attending our churches, schools, and living in our neighborhoods. Readers may want to stop reading at this point because that is just way too scary to think about. Christians, please don’t! Who has more hope that God can bring beauty from ashes than followers of Jesus Christ? This is what our God does, right? Christians don’t need to live in fear of human trafficking. While it is dark, this is why Jesus came. Into the Light gets its name from John 1:5. The Light (Jesus Christ) shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. Ending the trafficking of children is God’s heart. We can have great confidence in our God, our protector and defender — that he will equip believers to face the darkness no matter how dark or dangerous it may seem. While no one enjoys thinking about children being trafficked in their own community, we must. If no one thinks through this difficult issue and creates collaborative ways to end child trafficking, then it will continue.

EB: Like you said, many people are unaware that this horrendous issue happens in our own communities. Can you give our readers a snapshot of this reality? 

GS: It is important to understand that anyone can be a victim of trafficking. Trafficking happens to both girls and boys, however a higher percentage of trafficking is reported by females. Trafficking is the exploitation of vulnerabilities, and children are innately vulnerable. They are naïve and don’t always understand the manipulation, power, and control methods used by adults. Most of the time a child is sold for sex by someone they know. Traffickers are most frequently an older male or female whom the child thinks they can trust, a family member or close family friend, and/or an individual posing as a boyfriend/girlfriend. Children involved in social services and runaway and homeless youth pose the highest risks of being trafficked. When someone lacks basic needs like food, clothing, and shelter, traffickers can offer to meet these with the goal of exploiting a child for their financial gain. Common red flags for youth include:

  • Suddenly becoming detached from family and friends;
  • Contradicting personal information about their living and work locations and conditions;
  • Not being allowed to take adequate breaks for food or water while at work;
  • Recruited for a different work than they are currently doing or has a debt to an employer or recruiter that they cannot pay off; 
  • Noticeable change in their appearance or material goods without being able to explain where they received the resources to pay for the goods; 
  • Shows signs of physical or sexual abuse; appears fearful, anxious, depressed, overly submissive, and avoids eye contact;
  • Suffers from substance abuse problems or sexually transmitted diseases;
  • Sudden presence of or older “boyfriend,” “girlfriend,” or “friend.”

EB: How have you witnessed God bring beauty from ashes this last year through the work of Into the Light? Can you share some stories of success you’ve seen as an organization? 

GS: This last year, our partnerships deepened with law enforcement and social services. This has led to intervention for many children being trafficked. We have witnessed very brave children share their trafficking experience with law enforcement and prosecutors. We have seen survivors grow into young adults and overcome great trauma to pursue dreams and goals for their lives. 

A few months ago, I had the privilege of standing with a former client, now dear sister in Christ, who shared her story of being trafficked but then rescued from a hotel by one of our advocates and law enforcement. She bravely and confidently shared how God had been with her through all of her darkest moments and how he had been her light and was helping her overcome her past. Survivors do the hard work of battling every day to overcome what the enemy has stolen from them. Even though it is difficult at times, our advocates know it is such a privilege to walk alongside these brave children and young adults. Some days, there are great successes, and sometimes there are great struggles. But God is faithful in it all.

EB: What should our churches know about supporting victims of sex trafficking? 

GS: It’s important for churches to understand that victims of human trafficking often have complex trauma. This occurs when a person is victimized multiple times. Healing and wholeness will not happen overnight. As humans who are loving and supporting others, we often want people to heal and be changed quickly. Christians called to share God’s unconditional love and mercy with victims of human trafficking must know there are no quick fixes. However, God is faithful and will redeem what the enemy has stolen and teach us about his unconditional love and mercy along the way. And the Holy Spirit will give us wisdom and guidance on how to care for each person individually. 

EB: How would you encourage a pastor to help stir up the hearts of his flock to care for the vulnerable? 

GS: A pastor could focus on studying Psalm 10 and Micah 6:8, allowing the Spirit to lead him on what his church body needs to hear from these scriptures. I would encourage a pastor to lead his flock in a focused month of prayer for victims of human trafficking in their own community, nation, and world. Before the time of prayer, a pastor could educate the body of believers on the issue of human trafficking. The prayer time could be focused on asking God to reveal how human trafficking is happening in their own community, wisdom and clarity to see victims, and that God would give them the compassion and perseverance to show the love of Christ to victims. Through prayer, God will be faithful to stir the hearts of those in the body who are called to end human trafficking. 

Those in church leadership, counseling, and shepherding roles should all be trained on understanding and identifying human trafficking and how it happens in their community. Most likely they have already encountered a victim of human trafficking and were unaware. In the last nine years, I have been a part of two churches, both in small, Southern towns, and have met survivors or victims attending. Thankfully, there is wonderful training easily accessible online. Shared Hope International has a Faith in Action toolkit to help church leaders share about the need to address human trafficking and learn how to equip believers to impact their communities.

EB: For anyone who has been stirred to action to help victims in their communities, what are the next steps? 

GS: Pray and then look in your own community to see if there are any organizations or initiatives that are currently serving victims of human trafficking. Ask how you can support their efforts. Ask to meet with the volunteer coordinator or someone in leadership and share how God has stirred your heart. Then be willing to serve in any way. Lastly, be patient. It takes time to learn how to effectively support victims of trafficking. Allow those working with victims to slowly teach you. Don’t expect an opportunity to begin serving victims if you don’t have any previous experience. 

If you can’t find local programs that support victims, I would suggest praying about how you can partner with local social services to support victims. Reach out to the department of child and family services or juvenile services, and tell them you have a heart to serve victims of trafficking. Ask them what the needs are for trafficking victims in your community and how you could support them. God may even lead you to start a new initiative in your community to help love and support victims. 

EB: It would be easy for many of us to turn away from the horrors of sex trafficking. What’s at stake if we do? 

GS: To be completely honest, lives are at stake. Victims of human trafficking have a much lower life expectancy due to the dangerous nature of living such an oppressed life. Many victims of trafficking die from drug overdoses, suicide, diseases, and homicide. Ignoring the issue also continues to allow this to be a normal part of our culture. Unfortunately, it is acceptable to pay for sex in our culture. If there wasn’t a demand for sex or free labor, then traffickers would not sell and exploit victims. Trafficking happens because at its core, it is a business model. Traffickers exploit humans for their financial gain. 

We must not turn a blind eye because all people are created in God’s image. Most importantly, if Christians turn away from the horrors of trafficking we are being disobedient to what God has asked of us to seek justice, show mercy, and humbly walk with him. Not everyone is called to the frontlines, but all of us are called to love God and love our neighbor. We can all pray for victims to be seen and receive the support they need to overcome what they have been through. 

EB: How can Christians learn more about these issues?

G: You can start with researching about the issue online. There are many excellent resources. Sharedhope.org, Polarisproject.org, and www.dhs.gov/blue-campaign all have excellent free education online.