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 / Mar 4

As an entity of the Southern Baptist Convention, we are privileged to come alongside Southern Baptist churches in various ways. From Capitol Hill to the pew, we engage with SBC churches as they live on mission in their local communities, displaying the Kingdom of God to a watching world. 

One of the most important initiatives we have worked on in the past two years is the Caring Well Challenge. As we’ve said many times, churches should do everything they can to be a refuge for those who have experienced abuse and to protect the vulnerable among them. Which is why over the last two years, we have come alongside the many Southern Baptist churches who have taken the Caring Well Challenge and why we will continue our efforts to resource and equip churches to care well. So many church leaders have recognized their need to protect their children and vulnerable from the sin of sexual abuse. Whether it’s how they screen volunteers, or set up classrooms for VBS, we’ve heard from churches large and small that the free resources at CaringWell.com have helped them better understand abuse dynamics and prevent abuse. 

As we’ve all seen, pastoring in a pandemic has created untold stress and fatigue for our church leaders. Some are unable to meet in person at all, while many are meeting with various restrictions like multiple services to allow for smaller gatherings. Because of these factors, some churches aren’t able to have a kids ministry right now.

We are thankful that the end of the COVID-19 pandemic is in sight, even if a “return to normalcy” is still several months away. So as we prepare for churches returning to normal, the ERLC is honored to be able to come alongside these SBC churches who are making great strides to prevent abuse at their churches. To the church leaders who are taking the issue of sexual abuse seriously, we are grateful for you and offer our help in any way that we can.

Learn more about the free Caring Well Challenge and how your church can be safe for survivors and safe from abuse at CaringWell.com.

By / Dec 17

How much is a girl worth? 

This question is both the title of Rachael Denhollander’s book and the lens through which she powerfully recounts the childhood sexual abuse she endured at the hands of Dr. Larry Nassar and the road to justice that she and many of her fellow survivors courageously forged. 

Her story of abuse is graphic and heartbreaking, illuminating not only the physical realities of abuse, but the emotional scars that follow survivors long after their physical abuse ends. Though I am an attorney and advocate who has walked through trauma with many clients and friends, Denhollander’s detailed account of the suffocating pain and protracted grief that survivors of sexual abuse endure left me gasping for air. I could easily place myself in her shoes.

A trust broken

In hopes of providing an outlet for my unbridled energy and neurotic resolve, my mother had placed me in my first gymnastics class at 3 years old. And it worked. Although a car accident sidelined my ability to compete when I was 8, I was far enough into the competitive gym scene at that point to understand the world Denhollander vividly depicts in her book—a world where little girls are pushed to their physical limits day after day, parents are not allowed in practice areas, and you are punished for questioning authority. 

It was against this backdrop that Denhollander and her fellow survivors were serially sexually assaulted by Nassar. Denhollander graciously and constructively allows her readers to feel the weight of each triggered memory, each significant life milestone marred by the painful scars of abuse, and the perpetual silencing of a victim’s voice by abusers and the institutions who protect them.

The injustice survivors face

Denhollander also walks her readers through one of the questions that looms so large in the face of so many survivors, “Why don’t victims report?” What is a Girl Worth? exposes the tidal wave of inequity that faces each survivor when disclosing abuse. Through her story of survival, Denhollander exposes not only her abuser, but also the institutions and authority figures who failed to protect so many from abuse and fail to follow through when a victim reports—from the church leaders who silenced her abuse at the hands of a church member when she was a small child; to the beloved coach she disclosed Nassar’s abuse to but who discouraged her from telling anyone else; to the university that had multiple reports of abuse but continued to let Nassar have access to children; to the defense attorney who drug her reputation through the mud.

Offering perspective 

But What is a Girl Worth? does more than just detail horrific abuse. It also provides perspective, modeling what those of us who want to help empower survivors and fight for justice can do. It spotlights the courageous survivors and advocates who push back against the seemingly impenetrable darkness; the detectives who listen and investigate fully; the prosecutors who listen and model their strategy based on the needs and desires of the victims and tenaciously argue the case; and the church members and friends who walk alongside survivors. Most importantly, it spotlights the resolute survivors, like Denhollander herself, who persevere despite unthinkable odds, to ensure that their abusers are stopped once and for all and no more little girls are hurt. 

Denhollander asks her readers the same question she asked the judge in Nasser’s sentencing hearing, “What is a girl worth?” And her beautiful testimony of sacrificial love and unrelenting pursuit of justice on behalf of others compels her audience to agree with the answer: Everything. These girls are worth everything.

By / Dec 17

The floodgates began to open up in October 2017 with the phrase “Me too” on Twitter. Exhausted and fueled by the injustice of abuse and the devastation of enduring years of cover-up, people began to share their accounts of sexual abuse and assault, which led to countless predators being brought to justice amid a powerful movement that continues today. 

Some of the stories that circulated in the media included the conviction of Harvey Weistein, a powerful film producer; the firing of Matt Lauer, the long-time co-host of the “Today Show,” in light of numerous sexual harassment allegations; and the trial and conviction of Larry Nassar, the USA gymnastics doctor, who was a serial child sexual abuser. 

Yet, for all the stories that made national headlines, there were countless other victims whose names may never be known but who courageously decided to share what happened to them and bring their abusers to account. Many of them revealed that abuse wasn’t just in the world but that tragically their victimization was tied to the church. As a Christian woman, I am horrified by what people have endured at the hands of those who should have kept them safe in Jesus’ name. This should not be so. 

The ERLC, together with the Sexual Abuse Advisory Group of the SBC, has continued working to try to prevent more terrible instances like this from happening in the future and to care well for victims. That’s why we wanted to focus this issue of Light Magazine on educating and equipping Christians to stand against sexual abuse and advocate for the safety and care of those within our churches. 

This volume includes various resources that we pray will be used to help make our churches safe for survivors and safe from abuse, including an article by Travis Wussow, the ERLC’s vice president of public policy, that covers updates on the SBC’s ongoing work in this area; a piece by Justin and Lindsey Holcomb on how to protect your children from sexual abuse; and a reflection by Brad Hambrick, editor of the Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused curriculum, on ministering to those who have experienced abuse. Most importantly, this edition contains personal testimonies from brave survivors who have chosen to share their experiences in order to benefit others. We welcome your feedback at [email protected] if you have questions or comments after reading this issue. 

Too many have been hidden in plain sight as victims of abuse, and it is our prayer that our powerful and compassionate Father would use efforts like this magazine to bring hope, help, and healing to the ones who should have received the dignity and respect they deserve as those made in God’s image. Though the work is plentiful, the road is long, and the obstacles are many, we must press on, offering support, care, and the love of our Savior, who will not allow his beloved to be overcome by the darkness. 

Lindsay Nicolet
Managing Editor, Light Magazine

By / Oct 30

In response to the revelations of a sexual abuse crisis in American society and recognizing that such abuse has occurred in Southern Baptist churches, Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) President J. D. Greear commissioned a Sexual Abuse Advisory Group (SAAG). He tasked the group with considering how Southern Baptists at every level can take discernible action to respond swiftly and compassionately to incidents of abuse, as well as to foster safe environments within churches and institutions.

Responding to the mandate from the messengers to the 2019 SBC meeting in Birmingham, who urged “churches and their leaders to develop partnerships within their communities to serve the abused, calling on government officials to strengthen laws and maintain justice and protections for the vulnerable in our society,” the ERLC in partnership with SAAG has studied various state-level legal mechanisms to confront sexual abuse. 

This white paper is a part of a series focused on state policy issues related to sexual abuse. The ERLC encouages Southern Baptist leaders and policymakers to assess the laws surrounding sexual abuse within their respective states to evaluate if new legislation is needed or would be helpful to ensure that survivors of sexual abuse have access to justice and that future abuse is prevented.

Liability for Disclosing Sexual Misconduct

The welcoming environment of most churches and nonprofits and their need to rely on volunteers to run their ministries makes many churches “soft targets” for abuse. When sexual predators are caught or suspicions arise as to their malevolent intent in one congregation, predators will often pack up and move on to the next soft target. And most alarmingly, many perpetrators are able to move from one church to another with near impunity. During investigative reporting into sexual abuse within Southern Baptist churches, the Houston Chronicle “found dozens of instances in which church leaders apparently failed to disclose concerns about former employees who applied for jobs at other congregations.”

This abuse pipeline from one church to another must be shut down. 

A part of this abuse pipeline rests in the confidence that perpetrators have that churches and nonprofit organizations will not share credible information about alleged abuses with future employers. This is because employers, even when they have credible information about alleged abuses, are reluctant to share that information out of a fear that the accused abuser will sue for defamation. Every circumstance is different, but perpetrators are aware of this legal issue and exploit it to their advantage.

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

While it is imperative for churches to protect the vulnerable whether they are shielded from liability or not, a law such as this can make it easier for church leaders to do the right thing. Pastor Ben Wright, chairman of the Texas Ethics and Religious Liberty Committee of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, commented, 

This legislation will not solve the entire problem, but it will eliminate one obstacle. It will enable our convention of more than 2,600 churches to say that when you act in good faith, when you do what you need to do, you can do it without fear because the state of Texas stands behind you.

Sample Statute: Texas

This bill was authored and introduced by Texas state Senator Scott Sanford, who in addition to serving in elected office is Executive Pastor of Cottonwood Creek Church in Allen, Texas, a Southern Baptist church. The bill was passed by the Texas Legislature in 2019 and is now a part of Texas law.

Statute Text

Sec. 84.0066.  LIABILITY FOR DISCLOSING SEXUAL MISCONDUCT.  (a)  A charitable organization, or an employee, volunteer, or independent contractor of a charitable organization, acting in good faith, is immune from civil liability for any act to disclose to an individual’s current or prospective employer information reasonably believed to be true about an allegation that an individual who was employed by or served as a volunteer or independent contractor for the charitable organization or its associated charitable organizations:

(1)  engaged in sexual misconduct;
(2)  sexually abused another individual;
(3)  sexually harassed another individual; or
(4)  committed an offense under any of the following provisions of the Penal Code:

(A)  Section 20A.02(a)(3), (4), (7), or (8) (sex trafficking of persons);
(B)  Section 20A.03 (continuous trafficking of persons), if based partly or wholly on conduct that constitutes an offense under Section 20A.02(a)(3), (4), (7), or (8);
(C)  Section 22.011 (sexual assault) or 22.021 (aggravated sexual assault); or
(D)  Chapter 21 (sexual offenses) or 43 (public indecency).

(b)  Immunity from civil liability under Subsection (a) applies in relation to an allegation described by that subsection that was required to have been reported as abuse under Chapter 261, Family Code, only if the allegation has been, at the time of the act to disclose, previously reported to an appropriate agency under Section 261.103, Family Code.

(c)  An individual is not immune under this section from civil or criminal liability for:

(1)  disclosing the individual’s own conduct that constitutes:

(A)  sexual misconduct;
(B)  sexual abuse of another individual;
(C)  sexual harassment of another individual; or
(D)  an offense under any of the following provisions of the Penal Code:

(i)  Section 20A.02(a)(3), (4), (7), or (8) (sex trafficking of persons);
(ii)  Section 20A.03 (continuous trafficking of persons), if based partly or wholly on conduct that constitutes an offense under Section 20A.02(a)(3), (4), (7), or (8);
(iii)  Section 22.011 (sexual assault) or 22.021 (aggravated sexual assault); or
(iv)  Chapter 21 (sexual offenses) or 43 (public indecency); or

(2)  acting in bad faith or with a malicious purpose in making a disclosure described by Subsection (a).

Notes

  • Disclosure based on reasonable beliefs are protected: The language of the statute is designed to protect a disclosure that is based on reasonable belief: “information reasonably believed to be true.” This is an intentionally low threshold and is not tied to a defined evidentiary threshold, for example a preponderance of the evidence standard. However, as described below, the disclosures must be made in good faith.
  • Bad faith or malicious disclosures are not protected: A provision is included that specifically denies protection under the statute for disclosures made in bad faith or for a malicious purpose.
  • Applies to employees, volunteers, or independent contractors: It is important to include more than just employees, because nonprofit organizations and churches may deal with situations that involve volunteers and those who are not formally employed by the organization. This is a crucial element of the legislation to include in other states.
  • Types of behavior and misconduct covered by the statute: The scope of sexual crimes covered under the statute include sexual misconduct, sexual abuse of another, sexual harassment, and then refers to a number of offenses under the Texas Penal Code, including sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault, sex trafficking, public indecency, and other sexual offenses.
  • Inclusion of “sexual misconduct”: The term “sexual misconduct” is not defined by the statute and is not a reference to another portion of the Texas Penal Code. This term is intentionally broad, as the purpose of the statute is to facilitate sharing of information that will protect the public.
  • Limitation to properly reported situations: Subsection (b) includes a limitation on the applicability of the statute to misconduct that was properly reported to the authorities, if reporting was required under Texas’ sexual abuse reporting statute. This provision was not included in the introduced version of the bill and was added during the committee markup process in response to testimony offered by a member of the survivor community. The rationale for this provision is that organizations should not benefit if they did not follow the law when the incident took place. Although this is an understandable rationale for such a provision, it should be noted that this will serve as a deterrent to sharing information about past abuse, which is the core purpose of the statute.

Sample Bill: Missouri

HB 1446 was introduced in the Missouri legislature by Rep. Doug Richey, who also serves as Senior Pastor of Pigsah Baptist Church, a Southern Baptist church in Excelsior Springs, Missouri. The Missouri Baptist Convention supported the legislation. The bill was heard in committee but did not pass the Missouri legislature in 2020, in part due to legislative disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Bill Text

537.049. 1. No charity, nonprofit organization, religious organization, or church, or persons acting on behalf of a charity, nonprofit organization, religious organization, or church, shall be held civilly liable for any communication regarding an individual made directly to another charity, nonprofit organization, religious organization, or church, or persons acting on behalf of a charity, nonprofit organization, religious organization, or church, to the extent the communication concerns an allegation that the individual has:

(1) Engaged in sexual misconduct;
(2) Sexually abused another individual;
(3) Sexually harassed another individual;
(4) Committed any sexual offense under chapter 566; or
(5) Engaged in conduct affecting the individual’s fitness for religious ministry, but only in the case of a communication to a church or religious organization or persons acting on behalf of a church or religious organization.

2. Immunity from civil liability under subsection 1 of this section applies in relation to an allegation described in subsection 1 of this section that was required to have been reported as abuse under sections 210.109 to 210.183 only if the allegation has been, at the time of the act to disclose, previously reported to the children’s division within the department of social services under section 210.115.

3. An individual is not immune from liability under this section for:

(1) Disclosing the individual’s own conduct; or
(2) Any communication made with actual malice while making a disclosure described in subsection 1 of this section.

4. This section does not replace, limit, or alter any other defense or privilege available to a person based on communications.

Notes

  • Institutions disclosing sexual misconduct are protected: The statute protects organizations from civil liability in disclosing sexual misconduct by employees and representatives. This protection covers: charities, nonprofit organizations, religious organizations, and churches. The language of the statute also includes those who are representing these religious organizations to ensure that the reach of the statute is broad enough to encompass potential loopholes that predators may attempt to exploit. 
  • Disclosure about an individual’s own conduct is not protected: Those who are not immune to civil liability under this statute will include individuals who disclose their own sexual misconduct. 
  • Bad faith or malicious disclosures are not protected: A provision is included that specifically denies protection under the statute for disclosures made in bad faith or for a malicious purpose.
  • Covered allegations: The statute lists the following as sex crimes that are covered: sexual misconduct, sexual abuse, sexual harrasment and assault, and any offense that is commited under Missouri state law. 
  • Inclusion of “sexual misconduct”: The term “sexual misconduct” is not defined by the statute and is not a reference to another portion of the Missouri Code. This term is intentionally broad, as the purpose of the statute is to facilitate sharing of information that will protect the public.
  • Fitness for ministry provision: This provision is intended to ensure that fitness for ministerial service is protected discussion between two churches. The scope of this language is somewhat broader than sexual abuse, and this provision ensures that independent, congregationally governed churches are permitted to share information about ministerial fitness for prospective pastors and church leaders.
  • Limitation to properly reported situations: Subsection (2) includes a limitation on the applicability of the statute to misconduct that was properly reported to the authorities, if reporting was required under Missouri’s sexual abuse reporting statute. The rationale for this provision is that organizations should not benefit if they did not follow the law when the incident took place. Although this is an understandable rationale for such a provision, it should be noted that this will serve as a deterrent to sharing information about past abuse, which is the core purpose of the statute.
By / Sep 14

In January, the International Mission Board appointed Somer Nowak to the newly created role of prevention and response administrator. This appointment was an important step for the IMB in caring well for survivors, protecting those in their care, and holding perpetrators accountable. I had the opportunity recently to speak with Nowak and hear her passion for protecting and caring for the most vulnerable.

1. You recently took a role as prevention and response administrator at the IMB. What does that role entail?

The role of prevention and response administrator at the IMB oversees areas where prevention comes in to play such as our training programs in regard to abuse, child abuse, and sexual harassment, as well as our screening process for volunteers and personnel. This role also manages our response efforts to reports or allegations of abuse. That can be anything from our legal obligations to report a disclosure to the proper authorities to assisting workers or others affected in accessing or facilitating compassionate care. This role stretches into several areas of our organization with the underlying goal of ensuring safety and providing care to those who need it.  

2. What are ways God has prepared you in past roles and experiences for your current position?

God gave me a passion and love for children and education long ago. I have years of experience working with children and working on behalf of children and families. My educational background is in psychology and counseling, so God was preparing me even then to be able to understand and help families walk through difficult situations. While working with children and hearing their stories, I gained a passion for protecting their innocence. After hearing testimonies of how these innocent lives were forever changed at the hands of perpetrators, I knew I had to do my part—no matter how great or small—to help ensure other children don’t fall victim to the same intolerable situations. 

God led me to a local children’s advocacy center in my hometown where I gained knowledge and experience in the field of forensic interviewing and counseling. I also gained experience working alongside law enforcement and Child Protective Services, walking child victims through the process of disclosure to court proceedings. It was during those years at the Children’s Advocacy Center and my years as a school counselor that my passion and heart grew even more for protecting children and assisting families. Then, my own children came into the world. I couldn’t help but look at them and feel an even greater sense that we all must work together to protect the most vulnerable.

3. For those who may be unfamiliar with what a child advocate does, would you tell us what you had the opportunity to do in that role?

When I worked as a school counselor, I started my talks with students by explaining, “Counselor is such a big word, and really it’s just a big word for ‘friend.’” To a child, the child advocate role is a trustworthy friend: a person who asks a child questions so they can help that child. It is a person who has the child’s best interest at heart. To the non-offending family or caregiver of a child, the child advocate is a friend who walks with them through a process that no non-offending parent or caregiver should ever walk through alone. 

My role as a child advocate was first prevention education. I went into classrooms and taught children about “body safety” (age-appropriate skills and knowledge that will lessen the likelihood of a child becoming a victim of childhood sexual abuse). My role then became a forensic investigator. This was the person who conducts the initial interview with a potential child victim, helping law enforcement and Child Protective Services gain the information they need for an investigation. I also took on the role of a forensic counselor who, after the interview process was complete, continued to work with that child to process the traumatic event and possibly even prepare them for the process of court. 

4. What led you to take the role of prevention and response administrator?

I am thankful that IMB’s leadership saw the need to place such an emphasis on this subject matter and begin a new fight against child harm and domestic violence. This role is not one that many people would jump at. The topic is heavy, the work is heavy, and we can all agree it’s not something that most people want to have frequent conversations about. 

When I learned that our organization was making a commitment to pursue excellence in the area of prevention and response to abuse, sexual abuse, child physical/sexual abuse, and sexual harassment, I felt God saying, “This job is for you.” With my previous experience, I have the passion and commitment in my heart to navigate uncomfortable and heavy topics that may seem overwhelming for others. I couldn’t discount what God had prepared me for and the opportunity that was laid before me. It just seemed to be a perfect match. 

5. What are some of your priorities for your first year in this role?

One of my top priorities for the first year is to evaluate where our organization stands in certain areas in regard to prevention and response and to see where and how we can continue to improve. Training and educating will be priorities in this new role. We want to know that all our field and home staff, along with volunteers and others working alongside our missionaries, have been properly trained in the areas of child harm and sexual harassment. Education is key to knowing the issues, understanding the issues, and then learning how we respond. We want to ensure as much as we can that everyone is made aware of our policies and how we handle cases of this nature.

6. How do you see your current role as being a vital part of the mission of the IMB?

IMB President Paul Chitwood has stated, and I wholeheartedly agree, that the prevention and response administrator position is evidence that IMB absolutely remains committed to making changes necessary to better prevent instances of child abuse and sexual harassment (including sexual assault) and to better care for victims while holding perpetrators accountable.

As I mentioned earlier, this role can be a heavy role. It brings light to actions that humans’ sinful natures want to keep in the dark. This role is crucial if Christians desire excellence in preventing and responding to abuse and harassment. There must be someone dedicated to keep shining a light on those ideals. This is an area of work that requires constant attention; therefore, having this role will help our organization keep safety at the forefront for all. 

7. Your work serves the IMB, but what can churches learn from your work? What would your hope be for churches in the SBC with regards to abuse prevention and care?

Churches must talk about abuse prevention and response! It needs to be an ongoing conversation including sometimes difficult questions such as:  

  • What are we doing in the areas of abuse prevention and response?
  • Is what we are doing meeting the goal of safety and security for our church? 
  • Do we need to change anything to make it better? 

Questions like these should be an ongoing conversation. This issue of abuse, child abuse, and sexual harassment is not going away, and we must join together in the effort of keeping our children and families safe and secure. Make sure that as a church you are doing your best in these areas because the ramifications of not doing this well are too costly. I would also give the advice of reaching out to a local agency in your community such as children’s advocacy centers and ask how you can improve in areas of safe and secure trainings and similar initiatives. There are people with a wealth of knowledge in this area who are ready and willing to help—don’t be afraid to reach out and let them share their expertise with your congregation.  

We are stronger together, and my prayer is that we combat this darkness together by doing our absolute best in our prevention and response efforts. 

To learn more about and participate in abuse prevention and response efforts, visit the Caring Well Challenge site

By / Sep 4

When the COVID-19 crisis struck America it caused a disruption in all of our churches. It also has drawn attention away from another crisis that we were just beginning to address: the crisis of sexual abuse in our churches.   

Last year, in response to the abuse crisis, the Southern Baptist Convention launched the Caring Well Challenge (CWC). The goal of the CWC is to equip churches to be safe for survivors and safe from abuse. The program provides churches with an adaptable and attainable pathway to immediately enhance their efforts to prevent abuse and care for abuse survivors.  

The eight steps involved in the CWC are: Commit, Build, Launch, Train, Care, Prepare, Share, and Reflect. Here are some ways you can implement these steps during the pandemic. 

1. Commit: Commit to the Caring Well Challenge

The first step is to sign up for the Caring Well Challenge to ensure your church receives updates and resources throughout the year for accomplishing the next steps. If you haven’t done so already, you can sign up here.  

2. Build: Build a Caring Well Team to lead your church’s effort

The next step is to build a “Caring Well Team” to coordinate your church’s efforts. This team should be composed of a small group of key leaders from your pastoral staff, student ministry, children’s ministry, women’s ministry, or marriage ministry. 

You might also include church members with a background in fields experienced in responding to abuse such as social work, law enforcement, counseling, or education, and church members who have experienced abuse and are far enough along in their recovery. 


Having a Caring Well team will ensure that a dedicated group within the church is committed to achieving the remaining steps and to long-term care and prevention.  

3. Launch: Launch the Caring Well Challenge

Your entire congregation needs to know your church is taking the Caring Well Challenge, so the third step is to set aside time during your Sunday services to do five things:

  1. Acknowledge the need for your church to grow in their awareness about, prevention of, and response to incidents of abuse. For survivors in your church, this may be the first time they’ve heard people in leadership acknowledge the need to grow in an area that has so radically impacted their life.
  2. Explain the Caring Well Challenge so that your church knows what you will be doing over the next year.
  3. Introduce your Caring Well team so that your church knows who will be leading the effort over the next year.
  4. Pray for (a) those who are processing their own experience of abuse, (b) your church’s Caring Well team, commissioning them, and (c) for the church at large to grow in this area.
  5. Share resources related to the CWC. (See more on this below.)

Other resources that may be helpful during the CWC launch session include: 

4. Train: Train your team 

Before your church begins to implement changes, it is important to ensure that your leaders are well trained on the issue of abuse. 

The ERLC hosted a Caring Well Conference to provide teams with the opportunity to listen to survivors, learn from experts, and be equipped with an understanding of the full spectrum of abuse issues. The conference speakers covered a wide range of perspectives, and you may not agree with everything you hear. But we trust that the training you receive will be helpful and beneficial overall.  

Although you can complete the training in a number of ways, we’ve outlined a suggested calendar for training if you decide to meet four times for two-hour blocks. While you can complete the training individually, we recommend your Caring Well Team meet together online to discuss what you learn. Here are some possible discussion questions to ask during the group session:

  • How were you challenged by the survivor story?
  • What were your top takeaways from this week’s sessions?
  • How does this help us better prevent abuse in our setting?
  • How does this help us better care for those among us who have been abused?
  • How does this change the way we talk about abuse at our church?
  • Of the sessions we watched this week, are there any that it would be helpful to have individuals or groups of individuals in our church watch (ex. elders, pastor, student pastor, children’s pastor, pastoral team, children’s ministry volunteers, etc.)?
  • Are there changes that need to be made at our church?

If you complete these sessions and want to learn more, further videos are available here

5. Care: Equip leaders through Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused

When a survivor of abuse is ready to confide his or her experience to someone in your church, that individual will talk with whomever he or she trusts most. That is why the entire leadership structure of your church—paid staff and key volunteers—needs to be equipped to care well.

Step five is for your pastoral staff to go through the Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused curriculum. This is a free 12-video curriculum. Each video is 20 minutes and is available in English and Spanish. At the conclusion of the training, your pastoral staff will be advised to send select videos to key lay leaders in your church.

Read more about the Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused curriculum.  

6. Prepare: Enhance policies, procedures, and practices related to abuse

This sixth step in the challenge seeks to prepare your congregation to prevent abuse. The Introductory Guide to Caring Well can help you evaluate your church’s policies designed to prevent abuse—both the policies you have on record and the actual implementation of those in practice.

Faye Scott has also written a helpful guide to implementing protocols to help protect against sexual abuse while meeting virtually.

Churches want to hire well and want to protect the vulnerable in their midst. To aid this effort, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, in partnership with the Sexual Abuse Advisory Group, has created the Caring Well Hiring Guide to provide a resource for churches to protect and care for their congregations well as they hire staff and select volunteers.

7. Share: Share CWC resources during the launch

Your congregation needs to know what came from the Caring Well Challenge they heard about on Launch Sunday. Step seven is to dedicate your Sunday services, on a date that works for your church, to focus on the subject of abuse and highlight the results of your efforts in the Caring Well Challenge. 

While it isn’t recommended to hold your Share Sunday if you are still meeting online, this season of meeting remotely can provide a unique opportunity to share resources on this topic. For example, you could share aspects of the training you received that would be helpful to the broader church congregation. You can also encourage members to download resources from your church’s website since they are already online. Sharing resources can help to ensure they will engage with the material.  

When your church is meeting in person and hosts a Share Sunday, a plan for how to utilize that opportunity and helpful resources for that day are available at caringwell.com.

8. Reflect: Reflect on how God is using this time of pandemic to allow the church to focus on the abused among us. 

COVID-19 has had a radical impact on our churches, affecting everything from where we meet to how we worship. Yet while much has changed, abuse is still a danger and may still be happening even behind the scenes. During this season God has forced us to reevaluate many of our priorities. But one priority we must not stop focusing on is preventing sexual abuse.

By / Sep 3

She wanted to serve her church. She had a strong teaching ministry in a parachurch organization, and when the call for Sunday School volunteers came, she was eager to help. But a question on the volunteer application stopped her cold: “Have you experienced physical or sexual abuse as a child? If yes, please explain.”

Yes. One in four women and one in six men in America have experienced this type of abuse before the age of 18. But why are they asking that question?

For many reasons, this lady had chosen not to speak publicly about this abuse. She approached an elder who knew her story for advice. He counseled, “In the current environment, I would not recommend you submit the application.” He explained that staff were careless with confidentiality, so anonymity would disappear, and, in the end, she wouldn’t be permitted to serve anyway.

And by “she,” I mean “me.”

The new scarlet letter? 

Is this the new scarlet letter: “A” for abused? Was I too damaged to serve or too dangerous for the lawyers? My church thought I was broken beyond repair. And, momentarily, once again, I wondered if I was. I felt powerless, shamed, and isolated—this time at the hands of my church. 

Churches of every stripe are beginning to recognize the abuse in their midst, abuse that is alarming in its frequency and impact—it is heartbreaking, horrifying, repulsive. Churches are understandably frightened, and so are their insurance companies.

The question I was asked on my volunteer application is thankfully not a common question for many churches. Some churches do ask it, and it’s damaging, so let me explain why this is a bad policy. Think about how it affects the survivor filling out the application. I had done nothing wrong. I was a child who was abused decades ago. I have had good counseling, and I would never want another child to experience the trauma I did. But here I was, ostracized for another’s sin. I have worked throughout my life to minimize the abuser’s influence on my thoughts and actions. And yet my church was unwilling to consider that healing was possible. Isn’t our faith predicated on grace and new hearts and resurrection? Was this policy a loving, caring response to the survivor?

The vast majority of child abuse victims do not grow up to be offenders. Indeed, because of our history, we may be the last person to commit such an offense and may be the best qualified in recognizing signs of abuse and reporting concerning behaviors. Although trauma can influence the direction of our lives, this complexity is not something a church, much less an insurance company or law firm, would be qualified to determine.         

How effective is that question in screening church volunteers? Will it actually reduce abuse? A predator looking for a new target in the church is probably going to be wary of any question which may raise the alarm. No predator is going to honestly answer the questions which might raise a red flag. Screening questions are important, but this question isn’t the answer and does more harm than good.

Thinking through how to care for survivors

Churches must be more careful in the way they respond to survivors. This scarlet letter is not loving, factual, or preventative. Here are a few things churches should consider when thinking through these issues:   

  1. Know that your church is filled with survivors, both male and female. Many people are bearing burdens you would never guess.
  2. Recognize the signs of an abuser. Kind over-attention and regular physical affection may be of concern. Sometimes there are no signs—just a family friend who has temptation and access. 
  3. Recognize the signs of abuse, and train your staff to be aware. Is a normally gregarious child withdrawn? Is there reluctance to talk or trust? Is there a sexual knowledge or action beyond a child’s years?  
  4. Have a clear understanding of reporting laws and preventative measures. Report what should be reported, even if it is uncomfortable and embarrassing. And make sure that your staff does the same.1To learn more about reporting, see Lesson 2, 7, and Appendix A of Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused.
  5. Don’t promise to keep secrets or not tell, but do demonstrate loving care with the confidences of survivors.2To learn more, see Lesson 3 of Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused.
  6. Be present in the lives of those who have been abused. Being there and ready to talk (or not) is one of the strongest ways that followers of Jesus can extend the character of our omnipresent God to his family around us.  
  7. Trust the grace of God in all as you act to care and protect. You might be wrong at some point. You might raise concerns about a potential abuse situation when all is well. Or, you might not be able to identify a predator before trauma occurs. You are not omniscient or omnipotent, but your God is. And he is just. He can be trusted to execute his wrath on all evil.

*Due to privacy, the author has chosen to remain anonymous.

By / Aug 31

NASHVILLE, Tenn., Aug. 31, 2020—The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention released a new, free hiring guide today as a part of its Caring Well Challenge to equip churches to take important steps in hiring staff or selecting volunteers that will prevent church sexual abuse and protect the vulnerable.  

The Caring Well Challenge, a joint initiative led by the ERLC and Sexual Abuse Advisory Group, was formed in June 2019 as a unified call to action designed to confront church sexual abuse. Since its inception, more than 1,000 churches have participated in the Caring Well Challenge by committing to work through steps outlined on caringwell.com

The hiring guide is designed to equip church leaders with what they need to vet applicants and prepare their staff and volunteers to help keep their congregations safe from abuse and safe for survivors.  

ERLC President Russell Moore comments on the hiring guide: 

“For our churches, hiring well is central to caring well. This new resource will help our churches create safer environments and minister better to survivors. This is just the latest part of our ongoing initiative that could be a central piece in a church’s ongoing efforts to combat the scourge of sexual abuse.  

“The Caring Well Challenge continues to be critical work for the ERLC. Our mission is to help churches apply the moral demands of the gospel and, without a doubt, equipping our churches to be a refuge for the vulnerable is part of that calling. My hope is that with this guide, elders, leaders, and search teams will resolve to hire men and women of character who will help their congregations become a church that cares well for the abused.” 

All Southern Baptist churches are invited to join the Caring Well Challenge as an important first step in addressing the issue of church sexual abuse. Visit caringwell.com for additional resources and information about how to join.  

By / Aug 31

“We thought our daughter was safe in the church youth group.” 

“We trusted him. He went to our church and knew our family.” 

“We had no idea the music pastor had a history of complaints at past churches.” 

“With so much on my plate as a single mom, I was thankful to have a man investing in my son. I had no idea the devastation he was causing and the ongoing trauma he would cause.”

“My marriage was failing, and I thought the pastor would be a safe place to turn for counsel. He took advantage of me when I was most vulnerable.”

Churches should be a place of refuge for the most vulnerable. But out of a desire to trust others, to encourage service, and because of a need for volunteers, churches can sometimes quickly place people in positions to fill necessary spots. This can put the vulnerable in danger, especially children and youth. In this way, wolves have entered the flock in sheep’s clothing.

One step churches can take to ensure that staff and volunteers are suitable for the positions in which they serve is to implement a methodical process to recruit and screen employees. This often takes time. It quickly fills slots to have someone show up to church, receive a cheap background check, and start serving right away, but making careful hiring decisions is an important way to protect the flock.

As Pastor Vance Pitman said when he joined the Shepherding the Flock panel at the 2019 Caring Well Conference, “Jesus had some very strong language for those who did not care for the smallest and the least of these. He said it would be better to tie a millstone around your neck and to throw it in the sea than to be a stumbling block to one of these little children. . . . We can’t afford not to do this in the day and age we are living in.” 

What is the purpose of the Hiring Guide?

Churches want to hire well and want to protect the vulnerable in their midst. The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, in partnership with the Sexual Abuse Advisory Group, has created the Caring Well Hiring Guide to provide a resource for churches to protect and care for their congregations well as they hire staff and select volunteers.

What are the practices in hiring or selecting volunteers that will help you see red flags and screen out those who should not be working with children? The Hiring Guide walks church leaders step by step through creating a screening framework. Whether you’re a small church who is considering the hiring process for staff and volunteers for the first time or if you are reviewing existing policies, this guide will walk you through practical steps to hire well.

Who is the Hiring Guide intended for?

This guide will help anyone responsible for hiring staff or selecting volunteers at a church or ministry. It could be especially helpful to executive pastors, children and student ministers, human resources directors, or volunteer coordinators. But it can be widely distributed to those beyond those positions. Those on the team not directly responsible for hiring could benefit from reading this resource, since the principles in this guide will help your full staff to create an environment that is safe for survivors and safe from abuse. Sharing the guide with your team will be one more way to reinforce how seriously your church takes protecting the vulnerable. Sharing this resource also allows for more individuals in the church to be aware of red flags or grooming practices and to speak up when they see something concerning.

What does it cover?

This resource covers everything from recruitment to the training of staff and volunteers. It includes sections on the following topics:

  • Written applications
  • Background checks
  • Reference checks
  • Internet checks
  • Interviews
  • Orientation and training

It answers questions such as such as:

  • What is helpful to include on written applications?
  • Are all background checks created equal?
  • Who should provide references?
  • What are red flags to watch for when interviewing a candidate?

As churches seek to be a refuge to the most vulnerable, this free new resource will help them evaluate their current processes to ensure that they are doing everything they can to screen staff and volunteers to protect those in their care. As Samantha Kilpatrick, a former prosecutor and attorney explains, “While the church has no control over the evil intent of the perpetrator, the church does have control over its ministry areas, how they operate, and who is eligible to serve in those ministries. The church must do everything in her power to lower the risk of sexual abuse and assault . . .” 

To learn more about screening staff and volunteers, click here to receive your free Hiring Guide today.