By / Oct 5

On Aug. 4, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a proposed rule that would significantly reinterpret the Affordable Care Act’s Section 1557 nondiscrimination provision by expanding the definition of “sex” to include sexual orientation, gender identity, and pregnancy-related conditions. Section 1557 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) is a nondiscrimination provision that prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability under any federally funded health program or activity, executive agency, or entity under Title I of the ACA.

Following the announcement, HHS allowed 60 days for organizations and individuals to comment with concerns. The ERLC submitted comments raising our concerns with the proposed rule. As that comment period closed Monday, HHS is obligated to respond to each of these comments before putting forward a finalized rule.

How has Section 1557 been interpreted historically?

During the Obama administration, new regulations expanded the scope of section 1557’s nondiscrimination policies by redefining “sex” to include sexual orientation, gender identity, and termination of pregnancy. The regulations raised a number of significant issues regarding religious liberty and freedom of conscience. For instance, physicians would be required to provide gender reassignment surgeries and administer hormones to facilitate gender reassignment, including to children. The regulations even required medical professionals to perform abortions in violation of their deeply held convictions.

In response to these new regulations, five states and three private healthcare providers filed suit to challenge the final rules. In Franciscan Alliance v. Burwell (2016), a federal district court held that HHS erroneously interpreted “sex” under Title IX and that the final rule was arbitrary and capricious, while Title IX “unambiguously refers to the biological and anatomical differences between male and female students as determined at their birth.” The court further ruled that the final rule’s failure to include religious exemptions likely violated the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (RFRA) and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).

In 2020, the Trump administration finalized a rule reversing the Obama administration’s regulations on Section 1557 and narrowing the definition of “sex.” Days after the final rule was issued, the Supreme Court handed down a 6-3 ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County that expanded the definition of “sex” to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” for the purposes of employment discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This year, the Biden administration reversed the 2020 rule, then reinstated and expanded the Obama administration’s 2016 rule using the Bostock decision as a justification for its redefinition of “sex.”

Why is this change problematic?

While HHS allegedly plans to comply with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and all applicable court orders involving section 1557 regulations, it is unclear what this proposed rule means for religious healthcare professionals and insurance providers. Medical professionals and providers could be forced to administer or cover gender reassignment treatments if they provide the same underlying treatments for other conditions, regardless of their objections to the treatment for religious or moral reasons. That is, if a physician performs hysterectomies for cancer patients or hormone therapy for patients with hormone imbalances, HHS may force that doctor to administer those same treatments for patients seeking gender reassignments.

This rule also expands the legal definition of “sex” to include “pregnancy-related conditions”—a term that prohibits discrimination on the basis of “pregnancy, childbirth, termination of pregnancy, or lactation.” While the exact implications of this expansive terminology are still unclear, advocates are concerned that the administration could again weaponize the “termination of pregnancy” language to mandate healthcare providers and other organizations to include abortions and abortifacents in their plans. The government should never fund abortions nor force healthcare professionals to violate their dearly held pro-life convictions. Pro-life appropriations riders such as the Hyde, Weldon, and Church amendments should always be included in the annual budgetary process and strictly followed by executive agencies like HHS.

How has the ERLC responded?

The ERLC has submitted public comments laying out our concerns with the proposed rule and urging them to reconsider making these changes. This proposed rule would have deeply concerning ramifications for life, religious liberty, and the good of our neighbors if enacted. As ERLC’s Jason Thacker said when the proposed rule was introduced, “No matter how quickly our society shifts on the fundamental issues of life and human sexuality, people of faith should not be forced to participate in or promote the myth that we can create our own realities outside of God’s good design for human sexuality and flourishing,” The ERLC will continue to monitor these changes and look for additional opportunities to raise our concerns and advocate for the recognition of God’s good design for biological sex and for the protection of religious liberty.

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. 



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,


By / Dec 28

This year, more than any in recent memory, has seemed like one steady stream of bad news. We’ve been pummeled, day after day, by a year that refuses to relent long enough to let us come up for one measly gulp of air. Along with the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccine, there was another burst of good news that hit the wires recently. 

On Dec. 4, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof helped expose how Pornhub, one of the world’s largest pornography websites, hosted countless user-generated videos of sexual assault, rape, and other criminal acts. In response to this reporting, major credit card companies including Discover, Visa, and Mastercard announced they were cutting ties with Pornhub and would no longer provide credit card processing for the site because of the illegal content. This move prompted Pornhub to remove “unverified uploads,” a move that effectively flags and eliminates upward of two-thirds of its content which amounted to the removal of over 10 million pornographic videos from the site’s library. In the fight against sexual assult, rape, abuse, and other criminal acts, this is a positive development and one that significantly cuts down on the amount of pornographic content online.

And yet, it seems there remains an endless amount of work yet to be done in the fight against pornography. For Christians, how are we to respond to this encouraging development and, moreover, how are we to engage in the broader battle against the scourge of pornography?


There is a lot that can be done to stymie the advance of pornography and its increasing cultural ubiquity, and it all begins with awareness. And, while awareness in no way means apprising oneself of actual pornographic content, it does require educating yourself on its widespread use (even among Christians) and the detriment that pornography imposes on its actors, its users, its users’ relationships, and entire societies—morally, psychologically, and physically. 

Practically speaking, this looks like developing a relative fluency around the prevalence of pornography and its use (resources like Finally Free by Heath Lambert and this article by Justin Holcomb are good places to start) and, prayerfully, acquiring a sensitivity to it through these exposures. Though pornography is often spun as a liberty to be enjoyed by the masses, it is a menacing and ruinous captor, enslaving its users in nearly every conceivable way, down to the neurological level. So, before we jump into this monumental fight, we must first know what we’re up against and, just as important, for whom we’re fighting. 


Becoming more aware of pornography’s scope and influence inevitably keys you in on the reality that it isn’t merely a habit or an act in which one chooses to participate. It is, rather, a sort of worldview with its own attending “metaphysical and ethical implications” that projects its own “specific vision of the world” and of other persons, as Carl Trueman argues in his new book, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self

For this reason and others, building on the momentum that seems to have accrued in this most recent fight against illegal content on Pornhub will require doing battle not just in view of reforming the habits of our collective society—and our churches—but by piercing what Charles Taylor calls our culture’s social imaginary. In other words, it is a battle not just of will but of worldview. So, as you consider planting your feet on the field of battle against pornography, these are the three primary categories where you can engage. 

1. Broad engagement: To fight the fight against pornography in the broad sense is the least costly measure to take. In fact, it will cost you almost nothing. In a lot of ways, this broad level of engagement is somewhat synonymous with simply making yourself and others aware of the epidemic affect of pornography. More than anything, it is an effort to join your voice with the chorus of others who are decrying the normativity of this debasing worldview that prizes sexuality as its sacred indicative. 

It is here, winsomely and patiently, where the church can begin to pierce our pornified culture’s social imaginary with a new narrative. And though it may involve advocating for more stringent legislative action and supporting investigations and reporting like Kristof’s, it’s not yet likely to chafe against your relationships or against your own carnal impulses at this level. Broad engagement is needed, and yields broad impact, but the church must go further. We must intentionally narrow our scope of engagement.

2. Focused engagement: The level of narrow engagement introduces us to some of the real consequences of our own involvement in this fight. Here, in our immediate spheres of influence, we have conversations with spouses, children, parents, extended family members, friends, and those we’re discipling. It’s also where vulnerabilities are spilled. 

If the statistic that more than 28,000 users are watching pornography every second is accurate—not  excluding church members (64% of Christian men and 15% of Christian women say they watch porn at least once a month)—then we have an unseemly amount of brothers and sisters being held captive to the woes of our culture’s pornographic worldview. Our focus here involves aspirations toward personal victories among those closest to us, either preemptively (ideally) or in waging war against an ongoing struggle. Focused engagement is the willingness to fight, tooth and nail, for the heart of a brother or sister.

3. Personal engagement: Finally, our scope of engagement should ultimately narrow to the extent that the crosshairs of our battle weapons rest squarely upon ourselves. Pornography use is plaguing church pews across America and the developed world, and to assume immunity for oneself is either the height of naivete or willful negligence. Personal engagement, then, is a call—a scriptural command—to engage in a battle for your soul and to disengage from the world of pornography in all its forms. 

This means that we abstain from sexual immorality  (1 Thess. 4:3), even in our internet browsing, streaming subscriptions, and other comparable activities. It also means that our discipleship should not neglect to address the issue of pornography directly, even if we don’t deem it a threat. Personal engagement on this matter is a Spirit-driven fight to resist, even “to the point of shedding blood” (Heb. 12:4), the pornographic pull so endemic in our day.

We are God’s set-apart people, called by the Spirit to engage in a to-the-death duel against our flesh and its deeds (Rom. 8:13-14). Scripture is clear: there is only one left standing once the dust from this fight settles. Either we align ourselves with the Spirit and live or we yield to the carnal whims of the flesh and perish. The stakes could not be higher, for our souls and for the dignity of those entrenched in the pornography industry. We would do well to act like it.

Fight the good fight

By all credible estimates, the pornography industry is a multibillion dollar operation, a figure that doesn’t even account for the forms and content not considered explicit enough to “earn” a pornographic rating. We live in a sexualized culture becoming more pornified by the day. But developments like we’ve witnessed in the case against Pornhub provide strategic jolts of hope that should spur us on to continue the good fight against this Goliath-like foe. The call for Christians, then, is to join this cosmic, spiritual battle, loading our metaphoric sling with stones and flinging them until the pornographic giant is finally felled. And, because we know that a life lived according to the flesh is an enslaved life leading to death, this battle is nothing less than a mission to set captives free, to introduce God’s image-bearers to life—abundant life. The stakes are high, but “the battle is the Lord’s” (1 Sam. 17:47).

By / Sep 4

Editor’s Note: Due to the nature of this bill, there is sensitive language in the article. 

On Aug. 31, the California State Assembly passed Senate Bill 145 with a vote of 41-18, following the State Senate where the bill passed 23-10. The vote largely passed along partisan lines. The bill’s passage rightly sparked concern and headlines in multiple news outlets across the country.

What would the bill do?

Currently, California’s Sex Offender Registration Act requires a person convicted of certain sex crimes including rape, indecent exposure, and sex offenses involving a minor, to register as a sex offender for varying lengths of time. The current law in the California code does, however, give judges discretion in cases involving a young adult convicted of statutory rape where “vaginal intercourse” took place and the victim was between the ages of 14-17. In other words, judges in California may presently decide not to require offenders to register as “sex offenders” in certain cases involving heterosexual intercourse with a minor. In such cases, a judge can decide whether to require the young adult to register as a sex offender in the event that the offender is within 10 years of age of the victim.

This new bill, SB 145, seeks to amend the California Sex Offender Registration Act to extend judicial discretion to include young adults convicted of statutory rape where “anal or oral sex” took place, extending the judicial discretion provision to include homosexual sex acts. The bill would exempt from mandatory sex offender registration, “a person convicted of certain offenses involving minors if the person is not more than 10 years older than the minor and if that offense is the only one requiring the person to register.”

Why was it offered?

The bill’s author, California State Sen. Scott Wiener (D–San Francisco), contends, “SB 145 puts an end to blatant discrimination against young LGBT people engaged in consensual sexual activity.” Further, Weiner argued, “This bill is about treating everyone equally under the law. Discrimination against LGBT people is simply not the California way.”

Why is this legislation harmful? 

Adults having sex with minors is never permissible. If the aim is equality, then current California law should be amended to ensure that “vaginal intercourse” with a minor is grounds for mandatory sex offender registration. This bill goes in the opposite direction, jeopardizing the safety of children by upending the basic moral code of society that minors should always be protected from exploitation. This situation reveals the already alarming legal discretion given to judges when ruling on a case of heterosexual abuse. Gov. Newsom should not only veto this new legislation, he should clearly advocate for the underlying statute to be strengthened in an effort to prevent the abuse of minors. A person guilty of statutory rape should be required to register as a sex offender. 

What can Christians do?

While this bill was only passed in California, Christians from all states would be wise to know the fate of SB 145. All Christians should pray for the state of California and its leaders. Pray for the government to embrace its duty to protect all its citizens, especially children. By passing this bill, California lawmakers are not protecting children but exposing them to harm and exploitation. With the bill now sitting on California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk, Christians in California should call their governor to advocate that he veto the bill.

By / Sep 1

Churches across the nation are diligently working to minister in the midst of COVID-19. As churches determine their method of meeting for the fall, some may attempt to establish in-person meetings, some will continue virtual gatherings for an extended period, and others have developed hybrid plans for gathering similar to school district programs. Regardless of the meeting venue, churches should be as diligent about guarding against sexual abuse as pre-COVID-19. 1“Child Abuse Statistics,” Darkness to Light, accessed August 21, 2020,

Virtual gatherings

Several well-established measures to prevent child sexual abuse are easily transferrable to virtual gatherings. Implementing the following protocols help reduce the risks in online meetings.

  • Screening. The church should not relax its standards related to screening volunteers and staff. The screening process should include a written application where the applicant cana provide necessary information and answer specific questions connected to past accusations and convictions related to sexual abuse. Vetting a leader includes thorough reference checks. 

    The application should contain a statement authorizing the church to check references the applicant provides and references obtained indirectly. The applicant should consent to a criminal background check and a personal interview (whether face to face or online). Applicants in a personal interview should briefly remove his/her mask for identification purposes. Churches sometimes conclude that a criminal background check constitutes an effective screening of potential leaders when, in fact, the background check is simply one component of vetting leaders. You can learn more from the Caring Well Hiring Guide
  • Sexual abuse awareness training.  In 2018, I launched a research survey for my doctoral dissertation at a conference for church leaders in Nashville, Tennessee. We collected 316 completed surveys representing leaders from 36 states. The survey’s focus was to compare church leaders’ understanding of the preventive measures of child sexual abuse with the implementation of those measures in the local church.

    Results from the survey showed that while 76% of respondents agreed that training related to the prevention of sexual abuse in the church would be helpful, only 39.6% of churches provide training.2Charlotte Faye Scott, “An Examination of Child Sexual Abuse in Churches: The Relationship between Understanding by Leadership and Preventive Measures” (EdD diss., New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, New Orleans, 2019), 120, ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global.

    All applicants should be required to participate in a sexual abuse awareness training before beginning to serve with minors. The Introductory Guide to Caring Well offers links to organizations providing awareness training.3“The Introductory Guide to Caring Well,” Caring Well, accessed August 19, 2020,
  • Rule of 3. Online meetings with minors should follow the same protocol as in-person meetings with minors. A minimum of three persons (preferably two unrelated adults and one child) should be present in all sessions. The Rule of 3 should require that the two adults are not related (family member or spouse). This policy protects both adults and minors. First, it protects minors from being isolated with an adult, which can help protect against abuse. Second, should an accusation be brought against an adult and the only other witness is a relative, the testimony may be deemed prejudicial or not allowed as admissible.4Studies show that only 1-7% of accusations of child sexual abuse are false. As The Caring Well Report says, “Thus, when it comes to accusations involving children, it is wise for us to receive disclosures as credible until outside professionals demonstrate otherwise. Assuming innocence can endanger children.” Every accusation must be taken seriously. “Caring Well Report,” Caring Well, accessed August 25, 2020,
  • Social media policy. A church would never dream of giving a predator unlimited access to children in a physical setting. Yet, it may unwittingly be lulled into a false sense of security, thinking that no harm can be done online. The church should implement policies prohibiting leaders from private personal interaction with minors. 

    Communicating with minors should follow the Rule of 3. When texting or messaging a minor, a leader should always include another unrelated adult, preferably a parent, in the message. Leaders should avoid using social media that cannot be traced at a later time. Avoiding such venues assures parents that all communication with their children is straightforward and not intended for harm.5The 2018 survey included an analysis of the social media policy. Results revealed that while 76.3% of church leaders who completed the survey agreed that churches should have a policy prohibiting employees from “friending, following, interacting, or private messaging children (under twelve years) utilizing social media” only 15.2% of churches surveyed implement a social media policy.Ibid., 125. Churches with no restrictions on social media interaction may, in essence, give unmonitored predators direct access to minors. 
  • Six-month policy. An individual may not apply for any volunteer position with minors until he or she is involved in the church for six months. Requiring an individual to become involved in the church allows others to interact with the individual, gauge his ability to communicate well with others, comply with established protocols, assess his level of commitment, and judge if his temperament is suitable for working with minors. 

    While predators are often patient in building a trustworthy reputation to gain access to potential victims, some potential abusers will choose to flee elsewhere where there are less requirements. Abusers are looking for quick access to potential victims, so churches need to have the necessary processes in place to act as roadblocks. 
  • Communication with parents. Advise parents of any meeting (online or face to face) between adult leaders and minors. The church should communicate schedules, policies, and expectations to parents. Parents cannot monitor interactions between leaders and students when they are not aware of the meeting schedule. Predators look for situations where they can control the victim, and unmonitored meetings with minors is a breeding ground for grooming. Communicating the expectations of participants to parents helps reduce the opportunity for inappropriate behavior. Clear communication unites both parents and leaders.
  • Meeting spaces. With the advent of online classes for school and the number of children currently routinely using online resources, kids are more tech-savvy than ever. Parents have lowered their guard when it comes to online usage by their minor children. Precautions are often no longer enforced as parents return to the workforce (either face to face or working from home).

    It is not uncommon for each room of the house to be occupied by parents and kids doing online work simultaneously. Parents trust that their kids will not visit unauthorized websites. Online predators are keenly aware that the rules have changed and that children are now easier targets. Encourage parents to participate and be aware of what their child is doing online.

    Ask parents to set up the online meeting space in an area that is both observable and interruptible. Encourage children not to take the camera to their bedroom but to remain where other adults are visible and clearly within earshot of the call.
  • Publication of meeting. To guard against hackers, publicize the meeting on public sites, but do not provide the link to the meeting. Instead, provide contact information to obtain the meeting link. The meeting host should never feel obligated to admit everyone who asks for access to the meeting. Confirm the identity of the person and connection to minors on the call before granting access. 
  • Provide training. Volunteers should know how to respond quickly to unexpected interruptions during online gatherings. Hosts should know how to quickly mute or disable the video of a participant who jeopardizes the integrity of the meeting. Leaders should feel confident in handling disruptions or blocking a participant should the participant’s behavior or anticipated behavior jeopardize the meeting’s integrity.
  • Provide guidelines. Unacceptable behavior in a physical meeting is unacceptable behavior in an online session. Leaders should enforce the guidelines firmly but lovingly. Participants who consistently refuse to meet expectations may lose the privilege to participate, or a parent may be required to sit with the student for the duration of the meeting. 
  • No nicknames. Require participants to use their real names on the screen to ensure against accidentally allowing a hacker access to the meeting. Visibility of names on the screen also provides easy identification in the event of an online incident.
  • Limit participants’ permissions. Online protocols should require the meeting host to limit participants’ ability to share screens, use whiteboards, or dodge in and out of the meeting. Churches may need to provide training to volunteers who will host sessions on changing settings on the hosting account. Notify parents that these restrictions are in place. 
  • Record meetings. Recording online sessions is equivalent to having cameras mounted in classrooms and may prove beneficial if an accusation arises. Footage on security cameras has proven to be valuable to churches in identifying inappropriate criminal actions or in proving the innocence of the accused.
  • Mandated reporting. Online meetings with students can help develop stronger relationships as participants enjoy introducing leaders and classmates to their home life. As in most life situations, there is a downside to getting a glimpse into a student’s personal life. Should the host detect circumstances which create suspicion of abuse, a report must be made to appropriate authorities.6To learn more about reporting, see Lesson 2, 7, and Appendix A of  Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused curriculum. Online hosts should know the church’s protocol in reporting suspected abuse. 

Physical gatherings

While many churches are not yet ready to meet in face-to-face gatherings, most are working toward a plan for physical meetings either now or in the future. Churches should contact parents and leaders for their input regarding this decision. Several factors play a significant role in deciding when it is safe for children’s groups to meet in person. 

  • Parent readiness. Parents may not yet want their children in a closed-in space with other persons, especially since it is difficult for younger children to observe social distancing. The church should communicate safety protocols utilized in children’s areas to reduce the anxiety of parents. 

    Each family’s decision regarding their level of comfort in returning to small group settings must be respected. Belittling or criticizing the family’s conviction will only result in discord within the congregation. Churches that adhere to the strictest safety measures will make the most significant strides in gaining the trust of both parents and volunteers. 
  • Availability of volunteers. Parents often serve as a strong volunteer base. Without parents who are ready to serve, the church may see a marked decrease in committed volunteers. If the appropriate number of committed, trained and vetted volunteers is not available, the church should keep the classroom closed or opt to host an online meeting. Do not allow desperation to compromise safety policies. 
  • Gather incrementally. To ensure proper safety standards, some churches are reopening preschool and children’s spaces in stages. They may begin with classrooms for infants through toddlers and ensure these rooms are running smoothly before expanding to another age level. 
  • Balance. Churches should allow volunteers’ availability coupled with families’ desire to return to personal meetings to determine the plan for reopening. Do not succumb to pressure to reopen to pre-COVID operations to lead to a compromise of safety standards. Conversely, do not allow the inability to fully return to pre-COVID operations to cripple the church’s ability to move forward. 

In conclusion, do not be paralyzed by fear of the unknown. Be proactive. Make a plan. Establish policies. Screen volunteers. Provide training. Make decisions as you can. Amend plans as needed. Remember, there is no handbook for ministering to families during a pandemic. 2 Timothy 1:7 says, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but one of power, love, and sound judgment.” Following the principles in this verse allows churches to move forward in ministry to families safely.

  • 1
    “Child Abuse Statistics,” Darkness to Light, accessed August 21, 2020,
  • 2
    Charlotte Faye Scott, “An Examination of Child Sexual Abuse in Churches: The Relationship between Understanding by Leadership and Preventive Measures” (EdD diss., New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, New Orleans, 2019), 120, ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global.
  • 3
    “The Introductory Guide to Caring Well,” Caring Well, accessed August 19, 2020,
  • 4
    Studies show that only 1-7% of accusations of child sexual abuse are false. As The Caring Well Report says, “Thus, when it comes to accusations involving children, it is wise for us to receive disclosures as credible until outside professionals demonstrate otherwise. Assuming innocence can endanger children.” Every accusation must be taken seriously. “Caring Well Report,” Caring Well, accessed August 25, 2020,
  • 5
    The 2018 survey included an analysis of the social media policy. Results revealed that while 76.3% of church leaders who completed the survey agreed that churches should have a policy prohibiting employees from “friending, following, interacting, or private messaging children (under twelve years) utilizing social media” only 15.2% of churches surveyed implement a social media policy.Ibid., 125.
  • 6
    To learn more about reporting, see Lesson 2, 7, and Appendix A of  Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused curriculum.
By / Mar 17

Diane Langberg shares some ways the church can help those who have experienced trauma.

By / Oct 15

Over the past year, Southern Baptists have been addressing sexual abuse in the church. It is good and crucial for us to engage this issue and provide training for those who volunteer in our church programs. At the same time, it is just as important to understand the ramifications this training may have on volunteers who are abuse survivors and make provisions to minister to them. Protecting the vulnerable is biblical and something we should care about (Psa. 82:3-4). So, how are we to respond when sexual abuse training resurfaces the pain and trauma that a church volunteer may have experienced?

Given the statistics (one in three girls and one in five boys ), we must be mindful that many of our members and volunteers may be abuse victims. While we cannot neglect our responsibility to our children and those that are dependent on care, we cannot neglect those who have suffered the very fate we are trying to prevent. We cannot miss the fact that for abuse survivors, especially those who volunteer in our children’s ministries, we are asking them to offer protection for others when they were left vulnerable. And we can love our volunteers well by being sensitive to this possibility. 

When we begin to train our members to be aware of sexual abuse and the process of “grooming” by abusers, we start to put words and definitions to experiences. As our volunteers are being trained to be cognizant of abuse unfolding, memories may surface which can lead to the realization “that’s what that was.” Or it may highlight the areas where victims realize they have been failed and left vulnerable to abuse. Some volunteers may be fully aware of their abusive past and are dreading the training.

Not only can memories (whether acknowledged or not) surface but so can emotions. While it is tempting (and in some cases true) to think anger may be the first emotion, leaders can’t miss that it will most likely cause guilt and shame. If we have not anticipated possible complications, it might make it more difficult for our volunteers who may be affected by the training to reach out. It is important to be proactive rather than reactive when thinking about the repercussions that may arise as churches implement sexual abuse training.

We cannot miss the fact that for abuse survivors, especially those who volunteer in our children’s ministries, we are asking them to offer protection for others when they were left vulnerable.

So, how can leadership minister to volunteers and be prepared for larger implications of abuse training? Here are three ways: 

  1. Acknowledge that while it may seem like “just another training” to implement, for some this topic is very personal and difficult.
  2. Provide options for volunteers required to take the training. Some may find it difficult to watch or might be unable to continue. One suggestion is to be paired with another volunteer (who has already been trained) to watch the training in a one-on-one setting.
  3. Last, have a list of vetted counselors on hand. It is unwise to ask our members (even those willing to help) to deal with more than they are qualified to handle. Here are a few resources to help you with finding and vetting qualified counselors in your area.

Although this is a difficult and uncomfortable subject, we must continue to pursue measures that honor God and love others. It can be something the Lord uses to bring healing to those who have been suffering from abuse. We must acknowledge the ripple effects of abuse training and be prepared. God is in the business of redeeming. While the survivors in volunteer training were not protected, their pain can be redeemed and their own relationship with the Lord can grow to depths they may not have known was possible. When used as a part of a larger strategy, this training can be an opportunity to prevent sexual abuse and promote healing.

By / Aug 21

A slender young woman stood before the attendees of the State Department’s Ministerial to Advance International Religious Freedom and recounted her harrowing story of capture and sexual slavery by ISIS leaders. I was sitting in the audience, among like-minded NGOs and government officials who were gathered in our nation’s capital to dialogue about how to more efficiently strengthen global religious freedom. Sprinkled throughout the keynote addresses and breakout sessions, survivors of religious persecution bravely shared their stories. But Nadia Murad’s story stood out to me the most. 

All of the stories were equal parts heartbreaking and inspiring, but I closely related to Nadia’s story, because I saw my younger sisters in her. I come from a family of eight, and as the eldest female, I took on the role of protector and defender of my siblings. Nadia, an image-bearer of God, suffered brutal and horrific acts of violence and abuse, yet she’s using her voice in powerful ways to advocate for her sisters who are still enslaved. 

Nadia’s harrowing story

Nadia is a member of the Yazidi community and was born in northern Iraq, where she happily spent her days with her family and tight-knit community. Yazidism is a small monotheistic religion, with approximately one million adherents throughout the world. When ISIS attacked Nadia’s village, they separated the women and girls from the men. Most of the men were murdered, while the women were held hostage as sex slaves who were traded among ISIS leaders. A high-ranking ISIS official purchased Nadia, and she was subjected to repeated sexual abuse and rape.  

As Christians, we must care deeply about persecution and sexual violence. Both are antithetical to how God designed humans to flourish. 

In her autobiography, Nadia tells of her first attempted escape and how, when her captor found out, he allowed her to be gang raped by his subordinates. Then, he promptly sold her to another ISIS leader. Eventually, she was able to escape with the help of local villagers. The world she returned to was ravaged and war-torn; many family members were dead. ISIS had tried to snuff out her culture and heritage. 

Nadia’s body had been beaten and abused, but her spirit wasn’t ultimately broken. Instead, she uses her story to bring awareness to the issue of sexual violence and abuse during war. She’s spoken at the United Nations and around the world, calling on the global community to account for the atrocities committed. In 2018, she was awarded a Noble Peace Prize for her bravery and courage and for elevating how “sexual violence is used as a weapon of war and armed conflict, and constutites both a war crime and a threat to peace and secutity.” During her Nobel Lecture, she highlighted the plight that millions face around the world,

“Every day I hear tragic stories. Hundreds of thousands and even millions of children and women around the world are suffering from persecution and violence. Every day I hear the screams of children in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. Every day we see hundreds of women and children in Africa and other countries becoming murder projects fuel for wars, without anyone moving in to help them or hold to account those who commit these crimes.”

Fighting against sexual violence

Sexual violence is dehumanizing in every way possible. God created sex to be a unifying and pleasurable act, enjoyed between a husband and a wife. Yet, sex is often used as a way to wield power over the vulnerable. By nature, women are typically more physically vulnerable than men, and nefarious men will often use sexual abuse, rape, or other forms of sexual misbehavior to control women and exert power.

As Christians, we must care deeply about persecution and sexual violence. Both are antithetical to how God designed humans to flourish. Christians should educate themselves and then speak clearly and boldly about the abuses that are happening to women and girls around the world. We should advocate for the vulnerable, abused, and voiceless in every nation. Few of us will ever endure what Nadia did, but we ought to use our freedom and our voices to highlight for protection of persecuted people abroad.

By / Aug 13

NASHVILLE, Tenn., Aug. 13, 2019—More than 40 abuse survivors, experts, pastors and abuse prevention advocates will address participants at the ERLC’s fifth annual National Conference: “Caring Well: Equipping the Church to Confront the Abuse Crisis,” Oct. 3-5 at the Gaylord Texan in Grapevine, Texas. 

Throughout the conference, speakers will participate in keynotes, panel discussions and breakout sessions to provide helpful information and practical steps for ways churches can confront abuse and defend the vulnerable within churches and communities. 

Members of the national press are invited to attend the event. Please email Elizabeth Bristow at [email protected] for a FREE registration promotional code.

2019 National Conference confirmed speakers include: 

  • Russell Moore, president, ERLC;
  • Gary Haugen, CEO and founder, International Justice Mission; 
  • J.D. Greear, president, Southern Baptist Convention, and pastor, Summit Church;
  • Beth Moore, author, Bible teacher, founder of Living Proof Ministries;
  • Rachael Denhollander, attorney, advocate and educator;
  • Diane Langberg, psychologist and international speaker focused on trauma survivors;
  • Jennifer Michelle Greenberg, speaker and author of “Not Forsaken;” and
  • Jackie Hill Perry, writer, poet and artist with Humble Beast Records.

The conference will address a variety of topics, including how churches should receive and respond to accounts of abuse, information on key partners such as law enforcement and social services, how churches out to guard against abuse and care for those who have experienced abuse and many other areas as well.

The conference will be presented in partnership with the SBC Sexual Abuse Advisory Group. The Advisory Group was formed in July 2018 and tasked with considering how Southern Baptists at every level can take discernible action to respond swiftly and compassionately to incidents of abuse, as well as foster safe environments within churches and institutions.