By / Aug 9

One of the most disturbing revelations from the #MeToo movement was the realization that these horrific events weren’t only happening in Hollywood but also under steeples and in churches. The Houston Chronicle conducted an investigation within Southern Baptist congregations, in paritcular, and exposed horrific information about sexual abuse in America’s largest Protestant denomination. The terror was two-fold in churches across America. For one thing, sexual abuse was happening inside churches by staff members. And second, it was being reported to leaders, and no action was being taken. 

Mary DeMuth is painfully aware of this reality as a sexual abuse survivor. She uses her story in her new book, We Too: How the Church Can Respond Redemptively to the Sexual Abuse Crisis, to address how churches can respond to the evil of sexual abuse and assault. One poignant section of DeMuth’s story captures the essence of the book:

On the last day of the conference, Malcolm, who hailed from Johannesburg, beckoned me . . . “Mary,” he said, his South African accent lilting. “I need to tell you something.” I knew then that something significant stretched out before me. It’s one of those times I sensed the Lord say, You need to listen. Be in this moment. Take it all in. Malcom struggled to keep his composure. “I apologize,” he said. “I am sorry on behalf of all men for all the awful things that have ever happened to you. I’m desperately sorry.” . . . “Will you forgive me? Will you forgive us?” I wept a yes his way. He stood. We hugged. And I walked away changed (Demuth, 28). 

DeMuth is one of many Christians who are rising up to do everything they can to educate and inform Christians on how to care for victims, report abuse, and protect church members in the future. The power of DeMuth’s story and the testimony of others, We Too offers a vision for the church as a place of healing and hope. 

The book is broken into three sections: understanding the roots, interpreting the present, and shaping what’s next.

“Understanding the roots”

In this section, DeMuth uses the Bible and history to show early examples of abuse. Instances in the Bible where sexual abuse or harassment are present include the horrific accounts of the concubine in Judges 19 and Tamar in 2 Samuel. Even our great faith figures like David and Abraham dealt with sad issues of sexual abuse. Thankfully, we read how God brought them near and led them to repentance. Most importantly, part one prioritizes Jesus as our model for both victim and healer. 

A short but informative chapter on abuse and the Church concludes this section, calling local churches to learn what to do and what not to do in abuse cases. Overall, Demuth defines terms well and demonstrates that the Bible tells us to care well for sexual abuse survivors.

“Interpreting the Present”

Part two tackles many of the problems that the Church has unknowingly adopted and have been evident in the mishandling of so many sexual abuse cases. DeMuth shows that bad theology is at the root of the cover ups of these cases, which in turn, has led to a culture of secrecy. DeMuth points out that it’s bad practice of theology that has enabled abusers to go unseen and in turn shift the blame onto the victim. 

Alongside bad theology and forcing victims to keep secrets and hide their trauma, many other factors play a role in abusers and lead to abuse, pornography specifically. DeMuth points out that pornography addictions and predators have for too long been hiding in our churches behind facades and are often flying under the radar in church contexts.

This leads to the disheartening, main chapter of the second part on the passivity of churches. In most cases, DeMuth says, churches has been passive in its care for victims, its handling of fallen leaders, and its duty to report. Victims have been taught to keep silent to avoid threats and disruption. Furthermore, reputation has become a priority in churches more so than care and true gospel ministry. Frightening statistics and stories saturate this section, pulling the reader into a deep and empathetic connection with the victims.

“Shaping what’s next”

The third and final section of this book is a challenge for the Church to do better. Demuth makes sure to show how this book was never intended to be a “how-to” piece, for those have not helped nearly enough in the past. Instead, it’s not “how-to” but “We-too” that comforts victims. Demuth stresses to victims that they’re not alone, and they are heard. The main goal of the book is to listen to and hear victims of sexual abuse. Hearing is not in vain, because it calls us to act. Getting authorities involved and also trusting investigations is not easy, but it shows the Church’s priority in abuse cases is the victim, not reputation.

We Too is an important book for church leaders to consider. Filled with extra resources at the end, the final call to action should lead the reader  to several other ministries and writings dealing with sexual abuse. American evangelicalism needs resources like Demuth’s book so that individuals are safe from abuse and another list of church names avoids the national headlines. We Too will lead Christians and churches to start thinking more about caring for the sexually abused, getting justice for victims, and leading members and congregations to healing. 

By / Jul 17

Abuse has, tragically, been a part of the story of more people than we dared imagine. And the devastating truth is that much of this abuse has happened within the church, by those who proclaim God’s name.

Jenn Greenberg is one of those stories. She was abused by her church-going father. Yet she has retained her faith. She has recently written a courageous, compelling book that reflects on how God brought life and hope in the darkest of situations. Greenberg shows how the gospel enables survivors to navigate issues of guilt, forgiveness, love, and value. And she challenges church leaders to protect the vulnerable among their congregations.

In light of the Caring Well Challenge, our partner, The Good Book Company, is offering an exclusive free chapter download from Not Forsaken, Greenberg’s story of life after abuse, with a foreward by Russell Moore. Download chapter two of Not Forsaken, which includes some of the telltale signs of an abuser, their character traits and behaviors, and how to spot them in your church.

Download here.

Questions for an abuse survivor

Greenberg answers a few questions below about the challenges she’s faced, the hope she has in the gospel, and the desire she has for those who are abuse survivors.

Jenn, your upcoming book tells your story of life after abuse. Could you share briefly about how you came to write the book?

I’d been wanting to write a book for a very long time. My mom encouraged me to write off and on for probably a decade. But really, I think I was still processing so much of what I’d been through, and there were a number of relationships I was working to salvage that I feared would be made more tenuous if I went public with my story. For that matter, I was still trying to figure out exactly what had happened to me.

Having grown up with abuse, abuse was my normal. So sorting out what events were inappropriate or even criminal, and which were more common issues every family dealt with, took a lot of time, maturity, and growth for me. Getting married to a godly man was a major factor in that. I slowly acclimated to being treated in a loving, honorable, and thoughtful manner, and as that became my new normal, I was able to look back at my old normal and realize how abnormal and wrong it had been. But until some distance and objectivity was achieved, I found it very difficult to communicate, let alone write about my experiences.

What has been most instrumental in your healing? 

I’d have to say my husband has been the most instrumental person. He’s helped me figure out how to cope with and manage PTSD and the fallout of trauma, including depression, anxiety, distrustfulness, and panic attacks. He never made me feel foolish or damaged. In fact, one of the things he always told me was, “You’re depressed because you’ve had a depressing life,” or “You’re anxious because you’re used to expecting betrayal and stressful behavior from others.” So, he always made me feel acknowledged and reasonable, where my tendency was to feel stupid and crazy, because that’s how my abuser had always made me feel whenever I complained or cried.

And of course, the other thing my husband did for me was to tell my dad to stay away from me and never talk to me again. Our marriage is probably a very extreme example of what it means to “leave and cleave.” I left my dad’s house, and Jason cut off that poisonous relationship for me. He’s also managed a lot of difficult communications and served as a mediator in relationships that—maybe weren’t abusive per se—but were very high-stress because of the damage my dad’s abuse had done in our lives.

How might abuse that is in the church affect a survivor differently than abuse outside the church?

Abuse in the church, or really any kind of spiritual abuse, specifically affects our relationship with Jesus Christ. That’s why it’s so dangerous. Its consequences can span out of this world and into the next. For example, I may have a completely shattered home life, yet still find comfort in corporate worship or personal prayer time, because God is my shelter in the storm. The church should be a sanctuary—a safe haven—from this broken, sin-riddled world. But when that haven is infiltrated by an abuser, or our understanding of the Bible and God is warped and corrupted by heresy and bad theology, the church may no longer be a safe place, and God may no longer feel like a refuge even though he really is.

If we’re being taught dangerous doctrines, such as, “Women aren’t created in the image of God,” or, “Jesus won’t forgive you if you don’t forgive and forget,” and, “Turn the other cheek to the person who won’t stop beating you up,” those lies and twistings of Scripture can drive a wedge between us and Christ. They can have eternal, spiritual consequences, both for the victim and for the abuser. This is a classic millstone-around-your-neck situation. We do not want to be the person who causes “one of these little ones to stumble” (Luke 17:2). I firmly believe that no human being, and not even Satan himself, can stop God from saving someone. But being the person or church who impedes that process should really be a terrifying prospect to us, and one we’re eager to avoid.

How can churches cultivate an environment that is safe for survivors to seek help?

A solid, biblical teaching of repentance is a good place to start. That may seem counterintuitive, but we need to understand what genuine repentance looks like, as opposed to the false repentance, lies, or excuses abusers so often spout. A genuinely repentant person will be willing to get counseling. They’ll be willing to make drastic changes in their lives and will fight hard against their sinful inclinations. They’ll talk to a pastor. They’ll want the church, their friends, and yes, even the law, to hold them accountable. They will humbly and eagerly make whatever amends they can. They will never demand forgiveness or shift blame onto someone or something else. In fact, like the thief on the cross, they will accept the consequences of their sins in this life.

Unrepentant abusers are not like that. They want to cover up, hide, break you down, shut you up, shame you into silence, and shift the blame off themselves. It’s the old, “If you hadn’t spent so much money at the grocery store, I wouldn’t have hit you,” or, “If traffic hadn’t been so bad on the way home from work, I wouldn’t have gotten drunk.” Those are not apologies, those are excuses, and lies.

When pastors, congregations, and victims have a healthy understanding of what repentance looks like, they’ll be better able to identify an abuser and react accordingly. If victims understand that their church leadership has a high view of authentic repentance, they will feel more confident seeking help. They’ll be assured that their pastor will understand the ongoing pattern of sin oppressing them as dysfunctional, unbiblical, and concerning. So, whenever and however you preach about repentance, you’re telling victims what you will expect of their abuser.

What are some things Christians have done or said that have been hurtful? 

Well, the worst thing anyone ever said to me was when this person compared me to Potiphar’s wife. She was the woman who tried to seduce Joseph in Genesis 39, and when he resisted her, she assaulted him and falsely accused him of rape. So, that was an incredibly hurtful thing for someone to imply, particularly because my abuse happened during childhood. I never tried to seduce anyone, and my dad was far from a godly man like Joseph.

That’s an extreme example, but any kind of questioning of the victim’s integrity, modesty, or intelligence is really hurtful. We want to avoid responses like, “What were you wearing?” “How much did you drink?” “Why were you even at that party?” Questions like this are just not helpful. And of course, the other hurtful thing people did was to try to hush me, advise me to “get over it,” say things like, “the past is the past,” and basically show a lack of concern or understanding for how grief works. Thankfully, I don’t think that will be an issue for many of your readers, as they probably wouldn’t be reading this interview if they didn’t care.

On the other hand, what are the things they have done and said that have been helpful?

I told a woman at our church about how I’d been compared to Potiphar’s wife and how I was really upset about it, and her response was the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me. She said, “Jennifer, you’re not like Potiphar’s wife, you’re like Paul.” That response just left me speechless with gratitude, and I was humbled anyone could think so highly of me.

We know from his letters that Paul was beaten, falsely accused, held captive, berated, bullied; the list goes on and on. He was treated heinously, yet God maintained his faith through it all, and in gratitude, Paul boasted in the glory and grace of Jesus Christ for sustaining him through his suffering. So, having that reassurance from friends and loved ones—that our victimization is not our fault, and no sign of a weak faith or of God’s disfavor—is monumental to the recovery process. It shifts our perspective from works and legalism to grace and love. We need to be very clear that our abuser’s sin is not our fault, that we are not defined by our pain or our past, and we have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of because Jesus Christ has made us pure.

How might the church care for a male survivor differently than a female survivor?

You know, I’d honestly encourage them not to. I’ve spoken to many male survivors, and one of the reasons they stay quiet is because they feel like they won’t be believed or sympathized with as much as a woman would. So, I think we need to make a special effort to treat male survivors with the same love and mercy we’d extend to a female. After all, Abel, David, Jonathan, Joseph, Paul, and even Jesus, were males who suffered abuse. So, male survivors, from a biblical perspective, are not oddities, or weak, or dishonorable at all. In fact, I hope that’s an encouragement to any males survivors reading this; you will find relatable stories written all over the pages of Scripture, and God himself can relate with your suffering.

One thing I do try to do, anytime a survivor confides in me, is thank them for their trust. It’s a really difficult thing to put your pain into words. But to share those words with another—that confidence is pretty much the biggest compliment anyone can ever give you. So, appreciate it. Be grateful for it. Express that you understand that talking to you wasn’t an easy or pleasant decision.

I guess I could add, particularly for male survivors, but also for females, is don’t pressure them to seek counseling right off the bat. Sometimes that first hurdle of telling someone, anyone, is emotionally exhausting, and insisting on counseling or therapy right away may overwhelm him or her. You can suggest it or ask if they want it, of course, but if they’re not ready, don’t push it. Unless someone is in danger, there’s no rush. In fact, being patient and not rushing things can help them progress to that next step faster.

What are a few resources you’d recommend to a friend or a spouse of a survivor that wants to grow in awareness and understanding to better care for their loved one?

Well, at the risk of sounding self-promoting, this is exactly why I wrote Not Forsaken. I began writing my book as a series of personal letters to my husband to help him understand what I was going through, what happened to me, and why I am the way that I am. Those letters sort of evolved into chapters. I started excavating my memories and emotions and undergoing a lot of self-discovery, and that’s when I realized I was writing a book that other people might read and find helpful. Jason was never abused, so, while he’s always been incredibly supportive, sympathetic, and protective, I had a deep need to communicate my pain to my husband and help him know the grieving I was experiencing.

One of my hopes and prayers for Not Forsaken is that it will help spouses, friends, pastors, and counsellors, understand on a deeper more personal level what survivors go through. As far as other resources, I’m at a bit of a disadvantage. For the past few years I’ve actually avoided reading other people’s books about abuse recovery because I didn’t want them to color my own story or influence the memories of how I felt back then.

Sarah Walton and Kristen Wetherell have a book, also put out by my publisher called Hope When It Hurts. It’s not specifically about abuse recovery, but it’s about maintaining faith and hope in God through difficult circumstances. David Murray also has a lot of helpful resources, including the book Christians Get Depressed Too, and of course his blog, HeadHeartHand, which frequently covers issues such as forgiveness, anxiety, and sin in ways that I think are very helpful and edifying for abuse survivors.

Many survivors struggle with church, and some even struggle with faith as a result of the abuse they endured. What has helped you remain in the church after abuse?

God. Really, it’s all God. I wrote a song, during the early stages of my recovery, and the lyrics begin, “I have been whittled down to a spider’s thread.” And I really felt that. I felt like just one more disappointment, one more broken trust, one more ignorant comment, would destroy me on a spiritual level. However, God is faithful, and he faithfully did CPR on my soul a multitude of times.

One thing I would encourage any survivor to do is to view the church of God as a body beyond their individual congregation or denomination. If you’ve experienced abuse or negligence in your individual church, and the memories and grief from that are inhibiting your ability to relax and worship, it’s OK to seek out another congregation where maybe you aren’t suffocated by past hurts. Sometimes it’s very hard to trust the sermons of a pastor who’s given you unbiblical or harmful counsel. It can be hard to sit next to someone in the pew who previously disbelieved you or disregarded you. You know, people are people everywhere, and no matter what church you attend, you’ll be a sinner surrounded by sinners. However, creating some space between the people who have hurt us in the past—whether intentionally or accidentally—can give us room to emotionally exhale and worship Jesus again with other believers. I think that’s very important. We can’t allow sinful people to get between us and God.

What hope and encouragement might you give a fellow survivor reading this interview?

I’d say, this world is not our home. You know, so often I longed desperately for a dad who loved me and a family that was whole. I yearned for a pastor and a church who understood me and accepted me as Jesus Christ did. The truth is, our home is Heaven. Our Father is God Almighty. Our brother is Jesus. Our family is the true, real, genuine, spiritual Church. Our disappointment in our abusers is justified, as is our anger, grief, and distress. But in time, when we’re able to anchor our hopes entirely on something better, Someone higher, that’s when we start feeling joy again. We’ve got to get away from sin and wicked people who Psalm 1 says are dust on the wind.

No matter how bad things get, no matter what situation we’ve come out of, no matter what dark evils cast shadows from our past, Jesus Christ is faithful to us. He is our Wonderful Counselor who always understands, our Mighty God who is powerful to save, our Everlasting Father who will never abandon or betray us, and our Prince of Peace who is preparing a home for us in Heaven (Isa. 9:6; John 14:3). Do not let this passing evil age trick you into thinking it’s all that there is. The fact that you’ve made it this far, and survived so much, is proof that God loves you, and is actively sustaining you despite the wickedness of others.

By / Jul 15

Churches and youth-serving organizations attract offenders. Churches, specifically, are easy targets because there tends to be a high level of trust, as well as a great need for volunteers to ensure that programs operate and run smoothly. 

For this reason, it is imperative that churches have a methodical process of recruiting and screening employees and volunteers for suitability of service within child and youth-serving ministries and compatibility with the church’s values and child protection policies. An informed process is important; a hurried search and recruitment of employees and volunteers just to fill spots and have the right numbers can be dangerous and places children and youth in danger. An unhurried, methodical process of hiring and recruitment allows churches to properly vet, get to know, and get a feel for a person and whether he or she is a fit for a particular ministry. The process must include time and a place for evaluation and potential discovery of red flags. 

With this in mind, churches should view the hiring and recruitment process as an opportunity for the ministry to get to know the applicant and the applicant to get acquainted with the ministry. Good policy and best practices around hiring and recruitment of employees and volunteers will lower risk and increase safety for children and youth within your church. The screening process for employees and volunteers for your church should include the following:

  • Written application
  • Background check
  • Reference check
  • Interview
  • Internet/social media search
  • Orientation and training 

Application process

During this process, your aim is to screen out applicants who are not a good fit for the ministry and to emphasize your church’s priority of protecting children. First, a written application allows you to gain valuable information. The application should have all of the standard types of questions, but there are key areas to cover in evaluating employees and volunteers from a child-protection perspective. Some suggested components your written application could include are[1]:

  • Ask for a list of all experience working with children/youth, including paid formal employment, babysitting, volunteer positions, summer jobs, camps, or church work. Ask for the applicant to include start dates, reason for leaving, position and responsibilities, supervisor and contact information.
  • Ask if the applicant has ever been suspended, asked to leave, or fired from a job. 
  • Ask if the applicant has ever been suspended or expelled from high school or college (this is primarily for youth and young adult workers).
  • Ask about criminal history. 
  • Ask if the applicant has ever been accused of hurting or abusing a child.
  • Ask if the applicant has ever been asked to step down from a position of leadership in a church. 
  • Ask the applicant about areas where he/she needs improvement or he/she finds challenging in working with children or youth.

Background check 

The second task in the screening process is a background check. Any time there is a news report or press conference on abuse by an employee or volunteer, the organization is quick to wave the clean background check. We have been conditioned to believe that a background check gives us some sort of guarantee. Background checks are necessary but are never a guarantee that a person is safe. They may provide the organization with other data points of bad judgment or lifestyle issues that may inform a decision. Background checks should be run initially and then at regular intervals throughout employment or service—at least every three years. All applicants and volunteers should be treated the same. In addition, make sure that you understand what you are getting from your background check provider.

Reference checks

A third task in the screening process is a reference check. Reference checks are a must when screening for employees and volunteers. A reference is not helpful unless you follow through and actually talk to the references. Reference checks should always occur prior to hiring, not as a “check the box” step. They are most useful when they occur prior to the interview because they will provide information that will help you evaluate the applicant during the interview. View the list of employers, volunteer supervisors, and personal references as data points that should be pursued in order to verify the person’s identity and that he or she does not have any red flags from previous employment or ministry work. Employment references should be verified for accuracy and job performance. Other churches or ministries where the applicant has served should be contacted regarding those positions and the individual’s interaction with children and youth. 

Some helpful topics to cover when interviewing references are as follows:

  • Verification of the position, responsibilities, and tenure of the applicant;
  • Relationship with the applicant and length of time known;
  • Applicant’s interaction with children/youth;
  • Applicant’s interaction with supervisors;
  • Applicant’s style of correction of behavior or discipline of children in his/her care;
  • Applicant’s strengths in working with children/youth;
  • Applicant’s weaknesses or challenges in working with children/youth;
  • Does reference have any hesitancy in recommending this applicant to work with children/youth;
  • Any complaints your organization received in regard to this applicant; and
  • Whether the organization would have the applicant back in the future.


The fourth task in the screening process is an interview. This is your opportunity to be face to face with the applicant or potential volunteer. Direct questions about prior jobs and interaction with children and youth are helpful. It is also a time for you to educate the applicant about your church/ministry area and your vision and priority for child protection. 

In educating about your church, review your child protection policies during the interview and ask if the person has any questions or concerns with following the policies. The applicant’s reaction may be a helpful indicator of the level of “buy-in” to child protection. 

Finally, as either part of the written application or a written portion of the interview, review key parts of your policy and have the applicant affirm and initial the applicant’s commitment to and awareness of policy. Some examples[2] of statements for the applicant to review, initial, and ascribe to are: 

_____ I have received and read a copy of [church’s] child protection policy;
_____ I will protect children/youth and will never engage in any behavior that is dangerous or will harm them physically, emotionally, or spiritually;
_____I will immediately report any inappropriate behavior that I observe or hear about regarding children/youth and violations of the child protection policy; 
______I will immediately report any known or suspected abuse that I observe or hear about to church leadership and government authorities.
______I will abide by all terms of the child protection policy, and if I have any questions, I will ask for clarity.

By addressing abuse and child protection policies with applicants in the recruiting and interviewing process, your church is sending a clear message about the value you place on children and your priority of keeping them safe from harm. At the same time, you are learning more about the applicant and whether he or she is a good fit from the perspective of beliefs, background, safety, experience, demeanor, and responsibility. 

Social media review

Another task in the screening process that many youth organizations have found helpful is a review of social media. By reviewing social media postings, you may be able to ascertain values, discernment, and interactions with children. A general Google search might yield information as well. In my legal experience, the red flags that are often found on social media are inappropriate pictures, suggestive or even explicit comments, and excessive commenting and interest in children or youth by someone older. You may find some of these red flags, or you may come across other information that indicates this person is not a good fit for ministry service.

Orientation and training

The final step in the hiring and recruitment process is orientation and training of your new volunteers and employees regarding your ministry area and child protection policy. While this occurs after a decision to hire or an invitation for volunteer to serve, solid training on policy and abuse dynamics must happen early and on a regular basis throughout one’s employment or service to the ministry. Many liability carriers require training on a one- to three-year basis, but consistent training, even in shorter modules, will reinforce the church’s priority on abuse prevention and child safety. 

Lastly, your church might consider a trial period for employees and volunteers where there is increased supervision and evaluation in order to do a six-month or one-year follow-up review in order to access performance and fit within the ministry. 

An organization cannot know or test for a person’s probability of offending. Instead, leaders must rely on intuition and observations. If you are uncomfortable or something does not feel right about an applicant, you are better off postponing entry into employment or volunteer positions with children or youth until the church has more experience and interaction with that person. 

Being thorough in your hiring of staff and volunteers for your children and youth ministries, requires effort, but it takes seriously the duty of the shepherd to protect the flock. It also heeds Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:6, “but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” Screening should go beyond a simple background check and should also include an application process, a reference check, an interview, an internet and social media search, and orientation and training.

This is part three of a five-part series. (Read: Parts one and two). Visit to learn more about the Caring Well Challenge and help make your church safe for survivors and safe from abuse. 

The content of this post is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction. No information contained in this post should be construed as legal advice. Employment laws vary from state to state. Please consult with an employment attorney in your area to review the language of your application, reference check, and interview questions in order to ensure that your practices do not violate the laws of your state.


  1. ^ Please consult an employment attorney in your area to review the language of your application and interview questions, as employment laws and regulations vary from state to state. Your church should ensure that your practices do not violate the laws of your jurisdiction.
  2. ^ Some of these examples are similar and have been adapted from The Child Safeguarding Policy Guard for Churches and Ministries by Basyle Tchividjian.
By / Jun 8

NASHVILLE, Tenn., June 8, 2019—In advance of the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, June 11-12, in Birmingham, Ala., the SBC Sexual Abuse Advisory Group has released a public report on church sexual abuse.

Upon its formation in July 2018 by SBC President J. D. Greear, the Sexual Abuse Advisory Group was 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. This report flows from that assignment and aims to convey the key findings that have emerged over the last year.

Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the SBC, commented on the report:

“I’m not sure that I have ever seen a group in all my years in Baptist life conduct work as thoroughly and with as much excellence as has the Sexual Abuse Advisory Group over the last year. This report reflects the fruit of hundreds of interviews with survivors, experts in law enforcement, counseling, trauma, security and many others. It is a starting point, not the final word from this group or on this issue—but a significant document nonetheless. I hope all Southern Baptists will take the time to read it as we unite and commit to root out this wickedness from our midst and care for those who have experienced this horror.”

The report is intentionally designed to educate churches on the sexual abuse crisis, equip churches on how to care well for survivors and prepare churches to prevent abuse. The report is available in full online here. Additionally, a summary article with key takeaways from the report is available here.

This report will also be featured when the SBC Sexual Abuse Advisory Group delivers a presentation at the SBC annual meeting, presently scheduled for 2:45 p.m. CT on Wednesday, June 12.

Earlier this week, the ERLC, along with the Sexual Abuse Advisory Group, announced the launch of the “Caring Well Challenge,” a unified call to action designed to confront church sexual abuse. The challenge is meant to provide churches with a clear pathway to immediately enhance their efforts to prevent abuse and care for abuse survivors. All Southern Baptist churches are invited to join as an important first step in addressing the issue of church sexual abuse. Resources for the initiative are available at

By / Jun 6

NASHVILLE, Tenn., June 6, 2019—The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, along with the Sexual Abuse Advisory Group, announced today the launch of the “Caring Well Challenge,” a unified call to action designed to confront church sexual abuse.

The goal of the challenge is to provide churches with a clear pathway to immediately enhance their efforts to prevent abuse and care for abuse survivors. All Southern Baptist churches are invited to join as an important first step in addressing the issue of church sexual abuse. The ERLC and Sexual Abuse Advisory Group are thankful to welcome many partners alongside this initiative already—every Southern Baptist entity, over 35 Southern Baptist state conventions, as well as many Baptist associations and colleges—are encouraging the effort of the Caring Well Challenge.

Russell Moore, president of the ERLC, comments on the launch of the challenge. 

“There is no quick fix for an issue as complex as church sexual abuse,” Moore said. “But this initiative is an outstanding step designed to join our churches together in a common cause. Over the last year, I’ve spoken with hundreds of pastors and leaders who are determined to make this issue a priority in their churches, but are looking for tools and training. That’s exactly what this challenge is designed to provide. It has been a joy to partner with so many survivors and experts across many fields to design training that will give churches tools to act immediately.”

Churches who commit to take the challenge will commit to work through the following eight steps over the next year:

  1. Commit – Commit to the Caring Well Challenge
  2. Build – Build a Caring Well Team to lead your church’s effort
  3. Launch – Launch the Caring Well Challenge on August 25, 2019 or a similar date
  4. Train – Train your team at the 2019 ERLC Caring Well Conference
  5. Care – Equip leaders through Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused
  6. Prepare – Enhance policies, procedures and practices related to abuse
  7. Share – Dedicate Sunday services on May 3, 2020 to address abuse or a similar date
  8. Reflect – Reflect on the Caring Well Challenge at the 2020 SBC Annual Meeting

Resources for the initiative are available at

By / Jun 4

Lindsay Nicolet moderates a panel discussion on Sexual Abuse and Sexual Assault with Trillia Newbell, Jen Wilkin, Gregory Love, and Kimberlee Norris. 

By / Jun 4

Is your church doing all it can to confront the abuse crisis? Stay tuned over the next few weeks to learn how the ERLC and the Sexual Abuse Advisory Group is providing practical help for SBC churches. It's time to make our churches safe from abuse and safe for survivors.

By / Jun 4

Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused ( is a training experience designed to equip the church on how to respond well to the initial report of abuse. This free resource brings together top experts in the areas of social work, law enforcement, trauma counseling, abuse counseling, legal advisement, and pastoral care. Its purpose is to help pastors and ministry leaders equip their churches to be able to provide excellent care in the initial stages of receiving a disclosure from someone who has experienced abuse.

Contributors include (alphabetical order):

  • Rachael Denhollander
  • Mika Edmondson
  • Brad Hambrick
  • Samantha Kilpatrick
  • Diane Langberg
  • Chris Moles
  • Andrea Munford
  • Karla Siu
  • Darby Strickland
  • Leslie Vernick

Each of their bios can be found at

Four key emphases

This team worked together with intentionality in order to create the Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused curriculum. Here are four key emphases in the curriculum development process.

  1. We wrote collaboratively. Every team member helped edit the content at each stage in the process. We wanted every section to benefit from the expertise of every member of this team.
  2. We were focused. In a 12-lesson curriculum, with each lesson being 20 minutes, we could not say everything that needed to be said. We focused on two things: (1) initial responses and (2) getting people involved. Our belief was that if churches start well and get the right people involved, then the collaboration between pastors, social workers, law enforcement, trauma counselors, and other relevant professionals would ensure holistic care was provided.
  3. We strove to model what we are advocating for. Our team was comprised of the key professionals who need to be part of the care process. As ministry leaders watch the videos, we want them to get a foretaste of the benefits that will come when they speak with comparable professionals in their community.
  4. We wrote conversationally. We didn’t want to use technical language from various professional fields. We tried to write in ways that ministry leaders talk. Our hope is that by listening to the videos that accompany the handbook, ministry leaders will get a sense for what it sounds like to have uncomfortable conversations with survivors. It is not comfortable to talk about abuse, but it is a conversation we cannot avoid.

Three ways to use this resource

What is the best way to use or study this resource? Here are three ways, listed chronologically, you can use this resource for maximum impact.

  1. Study: Watch each video while following along with the handbook. As you study, focus both on the content and tone. We need to know what to do, but it is equally important to hear that content shared by people who have had hundreds of these conversations. In ministry moments, we want to represent Christ accurately in tone and content.
  2. Share: Ministry leaders are encouraged to share particular videos with key lay leaders in their church. This is to ensure that all the key leaders in your church—paid staff and volunteers—know how to respond when someone discloses their experience of abuse.
  3. Listen: Finally, and this may be most important, invite a survivor of abuse to study the curriculum and share with you what stood out most to him or her. Hearing how these principles would have made a difference in his or her life will cement them in your memory and convictions. Getting to share his or her story with a pastor desiring to learn from and care for him or her can be an incredibly healing experience for the survivor.

Our prayer is the resource will be used by God to significantly improve how ministry leaders—local church or parachurch—care for those who have been abused and respond to reports of abuse. If the church is going to be the refuge that God intends, these are areas where we must grow.

By / May 30

The Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention will consider a significant proposal to establish a standing Credentials Committee. This committee will be tasked with handling disputes that arise related to whether churches are in friendly cooperation with the SBC, including concerns with churches over their handling of sexual abuse. The full text of the proposal is available at the end of this article. If this proposal is approved by the Executive Committee and then passed by a two-thirds vote at the annual meeting, the Credentials Committee will immediately become the Southern Baptist denominational body responsible for this process.

The intention of this article is to serve as a guide to help Southern Baptists and others understand the purpose and process of this proposal so that everyone can have a clearer picture as it comes up for consideration at the annual meeting. The proposal would make substantive additions and alterations to several SBC bylaws in order to codify the changes. The proposal may be hard for some to understand because it is lengthy and uses technical language to address a variety of questions related to the process involving legal, administrative, or denominational matters.

What is the proposal?

This proposal would establish a standing Credentials Committee that would be empowered to “make inquiries of a church” in instances where a dispute regarding friendly cooperation arises. This committee would now be responsible for handling issues arising from churches that act in a manner that is inconsistent with the Convention’s beliefs regarding sexual abuse. The committee would not just address issues of abuse but other subjects such as homosexuality or racism, in accordance with Article 3 of the SBC Constitution.

The Credentials Committee can conduct an inquiry process in which it would “consider the matter and review any information available to it” to assess if a church is in friendly cooperation with the convention, as established in Article 3 of the SBC Constitution. If an inquiry process is completed between annual meetings, the Credentials Committee could make a recommendation to the Executive Committee who would then “determine whether the church is in cooperation with the Convention.” While the Convention and the Executive Committee retain their authority to make final determinations regarding whether a church is in cooperation with the Convention, this committee is authorized to assess and recommend action to the larger body.

What is the purpose of the proposal?

The purpose of this proposal is to establish a stand-alone committee that is empowered to assess and address issues such as abuse that could warrant disfellowshipping a church. It attempts to comprehensively address the composition and purpose of this committee. As J.D. Greear described it in the Baptist Press article, “This committee would be charged with handling any issues that may arise as to whether a church is in cooperation with the SBC, including (but not limited to) complaints of sexual abuse.” The proposal is a proactive step taken by the Executive Committee to position the Convention to more effectively address the abuse crisis. The Credentials Committee would carry out responsibilities currently handled by the Bylaws Workgroup of the Executive Committee.

Is this proposal a good idea?

Yes, it is an encouraging next step to address the Southern Baptist abuse crisis. The Executive Committee has sought to establish a process that fosters transparency and accountability while operating within the unique polity of the SBC. This decision places the Convention in line with approximately half of all state conventions that have some type of standing credentials committee. Survivors, advocates, and Southern Baptists should be heartened by this initial step, even as they await clarity about the committee’s inquiry process. It would fulfill one of J.D. Greear’s 10 calls to action on abuse and aligns well with the ongoing work of the Sexual Abuse Advisory Group.

What are the main concepts in the proposal?

The proposal includes the following primary concepts:

  • Responsibilities: This committee will “make inquiries of a church” and issue recommendations regarding friendly cooperation, in accordance with specific processes.
  • Standing committee: In contrast to the current iteration of the Credentials Committee that focuses on issues of messenger registration at the annual meeting, this standing committee would operate throughout the year and focus on disputes regarding friendly cooperation.
  • Composition: This committee would consist of nine members “composed of the registration secretary, the chair of the Executive Committee, three members nominated by the Executive Committee, and four members nominated by the Committee on Nominations.”
  • Term: Committee members other than the registration secretary and chair of the Executive Committee would serve a term of three years and not be eligible for re-election until one year elapsed.
  • Messenger approval of members: All committee members would be elected at some point by the messengers.
  • Appeals process: The proposal creates an appeals process for churches to the SBC while in session at an annual meeting.
  • Autonomy: The proposal respects the autonomy of churches while empowering the committee to conduct an inquiry process.
  • Inception: The committee would be created immediately after the Birmingham SBC annual meeting.
  • Registration committee: The proposal would also rename and repurpose the existing credentials committee in a separate registration committee to handle issues of messenger registration at the annual meeting.

What does this proposal not do?

While this proposal would address a number of key issues, there are several things it does not do:

  • The proposal does not authorize the Credentials Committee to “clear” churches. The purpose of the committee is to assess disputes over a church’s friendly cooperation with the Convention. It is not tasked with certifying or clearing churches to affirm that they are in friendly cooperation.
  • The proposal does not address how to handle any SBC entities other than cooperating churches. Other Southern Baptist organizations such as entities, state conventions, etc., have their own trustee boards who are responsible for handling this issue.
  • The proposal does not address pending inquiries. The proposal is not intended to address any inquiries of churches that have occurred or are currently pending. Instead, it would establish that any inquiries would now be handled by the Credentials Committee instead of the Bylaws Workgroup of the Executive Committee.
  • The proposal does not establish the committee’s inquiry process. While the proposal provides extensive detail about many key elements, it does not prescribe how the committee will conduct its inquiry process. This likely means that, once the committee is constituted, one of its top priorities will be to establish its inquiry process.

Are there any areas of potential confusion in the proposal?

Because this is a long, complex proposal, there are a few spots that could create confusion:

  • Does the proposal authorize secrecy to minimize transparency? Some may be concerned by the language in section 8.C.1 that states, “Meetings and reports of the committee may be private or public in order to maintain the degree of confidentiality which is appropriate under the circumstances…” The purpose of this provision is not to create a shroud of secrecy to minimize transparency. Instead, it is to protect confidentiality that is fitting for the best interests of the Convention, churches, and others involved in the process, such as survivors in the case of an inquiry related to sexual abuse.  
  • Does the proposal create a fair appeals process where people on all sides can speak into the debate? Some may be concerned by the language in section 8.C.2 that states, “One representative of the church under consideration and one representative of the Credentials Committee shall be permitted to speak to the question, subject to the normal rules of debate.” The purpose of this provision is to ensure that messengers will hear from the church and from the committee, but it does not foreclose the possibility of additional messengers speaking for or against the issue in accordance with the normal rules of debate.
  • Does the proposal limit the scope of the committee’s inquiry process? Some may be concerned by the language in section 8.C.5 that states, “The committee may make inquiries of a church, but shall never attempt to exercise any authority over a church through an investigation or other process that would violate Article IV of the Constitution.” This provision does not limit the scope of how the committee can conduct its inquiry process; nor does it prevent or discourage law enforcement investigations from occurring. Instead, it conveys that, by nature, this committee is not an investigative body while also ensuring that the committee will respect local church autonomy while conducting its inquiry process.

What happens from here?

This proposal will be taken up by the Executive Committee at its meetings in Birmingham and then be presented to the messengers for deliberation and a vote at the annual meeting. This proposal would require approval from the Administrative Committee of the Executive Committee before coming before the full board for approval on Monday, June 10. Upon approval, it would be presented to the messengers on Tuesday, June 11, for deliberation and a vote. As a bylaw amendment, this proposal would require a two-thirds vote from the messengers to pass. If it passes, the credentials committee would be immediately constituted at the adjournment of the annual meeting. Then, the Credentials Committee would be responsible for developing its own inquiry and administrative processes as it begins to carry out its responsibilities.

What else is happening related to abuse in conjunction with the SBC annual meeting?

In addition to this important Credentials Committee proposal, there are several other significant things happening related to abuse in conjunction with the SBC annual meeting.

  • A proposal for a simplified constitutional amendment: The Baptist Press report also explains that the Executive Committee will consider and present a simplified version of the constitutional amendment it voted on in February. The updated version eliminates the four criteria specified in the original amendment in order to allow for broader application of the amendment language. The new language states: “The Convention will only deem a church to be in friendly cooperation with the Convention, and sympathetic with its purposes and work (i.e., a 'cooperating' church as that term is used in the Convention’s governing documents) which: (4) Does not act in a manner inconsistent with the Convention's beliefs regarding sexual abuse," and "(5) Does not act to affirm, approve or endorse discriminatory behavior on the basis of ethnicity." A constitutional amendment would require a two-thirds approval of messengers at both the 2019 and 2020 SBC annual meetings.
  • “Sexual Abuse and the Southern Baptist Convention”: The Sexual Abuse Advisory Group and the ERLC are partnering together to host over 1,000 attendees for a candid conversation about Sexual Abuse and the Southern Baptist Convention. This event, featuring Rachael Denhollander, Beth Moore, Russell Moore, J.D. Greear, and Susan Codone, will cover wide-ranging issues related to the abuse crisis in the SBC.
  • Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused curriculum: The new, free video-based curriculum produced by the Sexual Abuse Advisory Group in partnership with LifeWay will debut at the annual meeting. This curriculum is designed to equip churches to care well for abuse survivors.
  • Sexual Abuse Advisory Group Report: On Wednesday afternoon, the Sexual Abuse Advisory Group will facilitate a time of prayer and lament as well as issue a report on the subject of Southern Baptist sexual abuse. This report will highlight the ongoing work of the advisory group and look ahead to the future.

Editor’s note: As additional information becomes available about this proposal, this article may be updated.

The full text of the proposal, as it appears in Baptist Press:

"Upon adoption of the above recommendation, SBC Bylaw 8. Messenger Credentials and Registration; SBC Bylaw 15. Committee on Nominations (Section B); and SBC Bylaw 29. Participation in Convention Affairs would read as follows:

8. Messenger Credentials, Registration Committee, and Credentials Committee:

A.Messenger Credentials: Each person elected by a church cooperating with the Southern Baptist Convention as messenger to the Southern Baptist Convention shall be registered as a messenger to the Convention upon presentation of proper credentials. Credentials shall be presented by each messenger, in person, at the Convention registration desk and shall be in the following form:

(1) A completed, properly authorized, official Southern Baptist Convention registration document, certifying the messenger’s election in accordance with Article III. Composition, of the Constitution of the Southern Baptist Convention; but if the messenger does not have the messenger registration document,

(2) A letter from the messenger’s church, signed by the pastor, clerk or moderator of the church, certifying the messenger’s election in accordance with Article III. Composition, of the Constitution of the Southern Baptist Convention; or

(3) Some other document (which may include a fax, e-mail, or other physical or electronically transmitted document) from the messenger’s church which is deemed reliable by the Registration Committee or qualifies under guidelines approved by the registration secretary and the Registration Committee.

Messengers registered in accordance with this section shall constitute the Convention.

B. Registration Committee: The president of the Convention, in consultation with the vice presidents, shall appoint, at least thirty (30) days before the annual session, a Registration Committee to serve at the forthcoming sessions of the Convention. The registration secretary shall convene the Registration Committee at least one day prior to the annual meeting to supervise the registration of messengers, to oversee the operations of the registration desk, and to rule upon any questions which may arise in registration concerning the credentials of messengers.

C. Credentials Committee: The Credentials Committee, a standing committee, shall be composed of the registration secretary, the chair of the Executive Committee, three members nominated by the Executive Committee, and four members nominated by the Committee on Nominations. Committee members may serve simultaneously on another board, institution, commission, or committee of the Convention or as a member of the Executive Committee. The names of the Executive Committee chair and the members nominated by the Executive Committee shall appear in the Committee on Nomination’s report to the annual meeting, along with the names of members being nominated by the Committee on Nominations, for election by the Convention. Members other than the registration secretary and the Executive Committee chair shall serve a term of three (3) years. The committee shall elect its own chair. Members of the Credentials Committee shall be divided into three groups of three persons each with the registration secretary and the Executive Committee chair assigned to different groups. The term of office of one of the three groups shall expire each year. A member’s term of office shall begin and expire at the conclusion of the Convention’s annual meeting. Members having served one full term of three (3) years shall not be eligible for re-election until as much as one (1) year has elapsed after the last term of service has concluded. Vacancies occurring on the committee between annual meetings shall be filled by the Executive Committee, provided that any vacancy shall be filled only until the next annual meeting.

(1) The Credentials Committee shall meet on the call of its chair or of any two of its members after reasonable notice of the time and place for the meeting. Meetings and reports of the committee may be private or public in order to maintain the degree of confidentiality which is appropriate under the circumstances to serve the best interests of the Convention and individual churches. When practical, meetings shall be held in conjunction with meetings of the Executive Committee or electronically. The committee may meet by teleconference, videoconference, or any other lawful means. Appropriate staff and legal assistance shall be provided for the Credentials Committee by the Executive Committee.

(2) When, during an annual meeting, an issue arises whether a church is in cooperation with the Convention, the Credentials Committee shall consider the matter and review any information available to it. The committee shall either: (a) consider the question in the manner described in section (3)a below and, when prepared, recommend any action to the Executive Committee, in which case messengers from the church shall be seated pending any action by the Executive Committee; or (b) at the earliest opportunity, recommend to the Convention whether the church should be considered a cooperating church. The Convention shall immediately consider the committee’s recommendation. One representative of the church under consideration and one representative of the Credentials Committee shall be permitted to speak to the question, subject to the normal rules of debate. When debate is concluded, the Convention may decide whether the church is a cooperating church or refer the matter to the Executive Committee for further review and a decision. Unless the Convention decides that the church is not a cooperating church, messengers from the church shall be registered and seated in accordance with the Convention's rules.

(3) When an issue arises between annual meetings whether a church is in cooperation with the Convention, the Credentials Committee shall consider the matter and review any information available to it.

a. If the committee forms the opinion that a church is not in friendly cooperation with the Convention as described in Article III, Composition, of the Constitution, the committee shall submit to the Executive Committee a report stating that opinion and the committee’s reasons for its opinion. The Executive Committee shall, at its next meeting, consider the report of the Credentials Committee and determine whether the church is in cooperation with the Convention. The Executive Committee’s decision shall be final unless the church appeals the decision to the Convention during the next annual meeting.

b. A church which has been found not to be in cooperation may appeal the decision to the Convention by submitting a written appeal to the chair of the Credentials Committee at least 30 days prior to the Convention’s annual meeting. The Credentials Committee chair shall immediately notify the Credentials Committee, the chair of the Committee on Order of Business, and the President that an appeal to the Convention has been lodged.

c. The registration secretary shall notify the Convention of the appeal in the initial registration report to the Convention.

d. The Convention shall consider the appeal during a time established for miscellaneous business on the afternoon of the first day of the Convention. The question before the messengers will be “Shall the decision of the Credentials Committee and the Executive Committee that [name of the church in question] is not in cooperation with the Southern Baptist Convention be sustained?” One representative of the church under consideration and one representative of the Credentials Committee or Executive Committee shall be permitted to speak to the question, subject to the normal rules of debate. When debate is concluded, the Convention shall vote whether to sustain the Executive Committee’s ruling. If the ruling of the Executive Committee is reversed, messengers from the church shall immediately be registered and seated in accordance with the Convention’s rules.

(4) If a church which has been found not to be in cooperation with the Convention addresses the issues which led to that finding, it may apply to the Credentials Committee for a reconsideration of its status. If the circumstances warrant, the Credentials Committee may recommend to the Executive Committee that the church be once again considered a cooperating church.

(5) The committee may make inquiries of a church, but shall never attempt to exercise any authority over a church through an investigation or other process that would violate Article IV of the Constitution.

15. Committee on Nominations:

B. The Committee on Nominations thus elected shall prepare its report through the year, carefully following the provisions of the Constitution and Bylaws of the Convention and the documents of the respective Convention entities, and shall recommend to the next Convention the following:

(1) Members of the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention

(2) Directors/trustees of the boards of the Convention

(3) Trustees of the institutions of the Convention

(4) Trustees of the commissions of the Convention

(5) Members of any standing committees, except certain members of the Credentials Committee as expressly provided by Bylaw 8.

29. Participation in Convention Affairs. To promote broad participation in the affairs of the Convention, a person need not be a registered messenger to serve as a Convention committee member or volunteer (such as an usher or teller), but must be a member of a church cooperating with the Convention.

By / May 30

NASHVILLE, Tenn., May 30, 2019—Russell Moore, president of The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, commended a new proposal announced today that would establish a new standing credentials committee to assess claims of sexual misconduct against Southern Baptist churches.

In response to the proposal, Moore said:

"This proposal for a standing credentials committee is an excellent step in addressing issues related to church sexual abuse. No one policy in a church or in a denomination is enough, but this is a monumental advance, as part of a larger, concerted effort at education, equipping, and response. As Baptists, we cooperate together on the basis of shared doctrine and a shared mission. Having a better process for helping us to know when a church is or is not in friendly cooperation is positive and healthy. That's especially true when it comes to churches that are negligent, or complicit, in the abuse of vulnerable people. I am grateful to work with SBC President J.D. Greear, SBC Executive Committee President Ronnie Floyd and others on addressing, together, this crisis. This is not a one-year issue, but an ongoing project requiring constant vigilance and reform. I am thankful for this great move in such a direction, and I support it wholeheartedly." 

The full proposal—which will be considered by the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention next month at its June 10 meeting—can be accessed at Baptist Press at this link.