New SBC guide released to help churches prevent abuse

NASHVILLE (BP) -- Churches may access a new resource produced by a Southern Baptist partnership to provide guidance on preventing sexual abuse and providing care for survivors of such abuse.

ERLC photo.
The Sexual Abuse Advisory Group and the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) unveiled Tuesday (Nov. 19) "The Introductory Guide to Caring Well: A Resource to Help Churches Care Well for Survivors of Sexual Abuse and Implement Policies and Procedures to Prevent Abuse." It is available at https://caringwell.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Introductory-Guide-to-Caring-Well.pdf.

The new guide is the latest in a series of resources produced by the Sexual Abuse Advisory Group and the ERLC as part of a multi-faceted effort in the Southern Baptist Convention to address the failure of some churches to protect and care for hundreds of sex abuse victims and to prevent perpetrators in many cases from continuing their abuses.

"The Introductory Guide to Caring Well" was designed to help churches fulfill the Caring Well Challenge's sixth step, which is to enhance church policies, procedures and practices related to abuse. The Caring Well Challenge -- which was announced in June by the Advisory Group and the ERLC -- is a yearlong, eight-step effort in which about 750 churches are currently participating.

The new guide provides information on such topics as preparing church leadership for disclosure by a sexual abuse victim, screening and training volunteers and staff members, implementing policies to protect the vulnerable in the church and establishing a Caring Well team.

"The Sexual Abuse Advisory Group encourages every church to do all it can to prevent abuse," ERLC executive vice president Phillip Bethancourt told Baptist Press in written comments. "This resource is one step toward pointing our churches to be safe from abuse."

Faye Scott -- minister to children at First Baptist Church in New Orleans -- reviewed the guide before publication and said it "provides an educational and practical venue for church leadership in the prevention of child sexual abuse in the church."

"Education of church leaders, volunteers, parents and children is key to the elimination of child sexual abuse," she told BP in email remarks. "Implementation of preventive measures and effective screening tools will help to safeguard the children the Lord entrusts to us.

"When church leaders learn the statistics of child sexual abuse and hear real stories of abuse in churches, they often gain an understanding for the need of preventive measures," said Scott, who defended in early November her doctoral dissertation on child sexual abuse in the church. "Many times churches do not know where to obtain the type of resource the ERLC and Advisory Group has created. This resource will no longer allow churches to claim they did not have access to information required to create and implement policies."

Chip Dean, global student pastor at Liberty Live Church in the Hampton, Va., area, also reviewed the guide and said it is "well designed for every student ministry size."

"Every student pastor needs to not only read this guide, but also adopt, apply and train their leaders with these important principles and guidelines," he told BP by email. "We not only live in a new world today, but the new world of today will be an old world tomorrow with new issues coming every day. Student pastors must be wise and equipped with the tools needed to protect their students, leaders, families and themselves from the strategies of the evil one."

Dean also encouraged every student pastor "to make your student ministry a safe place for those who have experienced abuse. The only way to do this is by first protecting your ministry, and then teaching your ministry (including your students) that your ministry is a safe place that they can bring their friends for love, safety and healing through the power of Jesus."

"The Introductory Guide to Caring Well" acknowledges it is "a starting point" for helping leaders guide their churches in ministering to survivors and prevent abuse.

"Whether you are reviewing existing care policies or creating them for the first time, this guide will walk you through practical steps to take as you seek to prevent abuse and care well for survivors," according to the introduction. "It provides a foundation of topics to think through, provides sample language and policies provided by leading sexual abuse prevention advocates, and links to further resources to help you dive deeper into each area of prevention and care."

After the enhancement of its policies, a church currently participating in the Caring Well Challenge is committed to two more steps:

-- Dedicating Sunday services on May 3, 2020, or a similar date to address abuse.

-- Reflecting on the Caring Well Challenge at the 2020 SBC annual meeting.

The Sexual Abuse Advisory Group and the ERLC began their collaboration when J.D. Greear -- pastor of The Summit Church in the Raleigh-Durham, N.C., area -- formed the fluid study group shortly after his election as SBC president in June 2018. In cooperation with the ERLC, the group has received input from hundreds of people, including abuse survivors and their advocates, lawyers, pastors, law enforcement officials, counselors and denominational leaders.

The Advisory Group and the ERLC worked with LifeWay Christian Resources to produce "Becoming a Church That Cares Well for the Abused." The free multimedia resource released in June is a comprehensive training curriculum that consists of a handbook with 12 video lessons from experts in a variety of areas.

The Sexual Abuse Advisory Group issued a 52-page report, also in June, that recommended several steps of action intended to help combat abuse and to care for survivors.

These and other resources are available at https://caringwell.com.

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