The ERLC is working on the issue of abuse in order to do everything we can to help churches become safe for survivors and safe from abuse. At the 2018 Southern Baptist Annual Meeting, a motion was made to form a presidential task force to address the issue of abuse. In the fall of 2018, SBC President J.D. Greear, in partnership with the ERLC, appointed a Sexual Abuse Advisory Group with the purpose of evaluating needs in this area and addressing opportunities to strengthen and enhance churches’ care for suvivors, prevention, and response to abuse.
The purpose of the study group, according to Greear, is “to consider how Southern Baptists at every level can take discernable action to respond swiftly and compassionately to incidents of abuse, as well as to foster safe environments within churches and institutions.” We want to do all we can to help churches care for the vulnerable in their midst and address the scourge of abuse in churches and communities.
The goal is to help churches address issues of abuse in three areas:
First, we want to enhance awareness by highlighting what the Bible teaches about the subject, what is happening in the culture, and why it is important for Christians to understand the issue.
Second, we want to care well for abuse survivors. There are people in our churches and communities who have experienced abuse. They have often felt as if the church has not responded to their disclosures of abuse with compassion and care. We want to help every church get this issue right.
Third, we want to work with churches to help them do all they can to prevent abuse through strengthening policies, procedures, and practices.
Some people may be concerned that our focus on the subject of abuse is a distraction from our primary mission to cooperate together for the purpose of evangelism and missions, but those things can’t be separated. As Greear said in the Sexual Abuse Advisory Group report at the 2019 Southern Baptist Annual Meeting,
“What greater lie could we tell about the gospel than for us not to be doing whatever it takes to make our churches safe places for the vulnerable? . . . Why would the lost trust us with a message of salvation if they are not sure if they can trust us with the safety of the vulnerable? Why would survivors trust us to care for their souls if they are not sure if they can trust us to care for their wounds?“
The gospel calls us to champion the dignity of all people, including the vulnerable in our midst that have experienced abuse. We should not see a concern for protecting the vulnerable and preventing abuse as being in opposition to the larger cooperative mission to reach the lost with the gospel.
The Caring Well Challenge is a unified call to action for the Southern Baptist Convention on the sexual abuse crisis. The goal is to equip churches to be safe for survivors and safe from abuse. The Caring Well Challenge provides churches with a clear pathway to immediately enhance their efforts to prevent abuse and care for abuse survivors.
What would it look like if churches from across the Southern Baptist Convention partnered together on a unified call to action to enhance the way they engage the issue of abuse? That is the heart behind the Caring Well Challenge. We hope churches will strengthen what they are already actively doing in order to equip their churches for better abuse awareness, care, and prevention. By going through the Caring Well Challenge together, Southern Baptist churches are collectively showing their commitment to address this issue not just in their local communities but throughout the convention.
8 steps. 12 months. Every church. That’s the vision for the Caring Well Challenge. Here are the eight steps each church will take during the Caring Well Challenge:
- Commit - Commit to the Caring Well Challenge
- Build - Build a Caring Well Team to lead your church’s effort
- Launch - Introduce the challenge to your church on August 25, or a similar date
- Train - Train your team at the Caring Well Conference
- Care - Equip leaders through Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused
- Prepare - Enhance policies, procedures, and practices related to abuse
- Share - Dedicate Sunday services on May 3, 2020, or a similar date to address abuse
- Reflect - Reflect on the Caring Well Challenge at the 2020 SBC Annual Meeting
It has been important to us throughout the process that we hear from a wide-range of individuals as we seek to help churches foster safe environments. Instead of naming a static task force, we’ve had various work groups involved with different specialties. These include those with experience in resources, church-based strategies, seminary and higher education, and state convention and association initiatives. We have interviewed hundreds of survivors, advocates, pastors, Southern Baptist leaders, and outside experts in the field.
The process of engaging the issue of abuse has occurred in three steps.
First was the assessment phase. Our first priority in the process of addressing abuse through the SBC Sexual Abuse Advisory Group was to listen and learn, rather than speak or act. During that process we interviewed hundreds of survivors, advocates, outside experts, and pastors in order to hear their stories and learn from their viewpoints. Many of the findings from these interactions can be found in the Caring Well Report released in June 2019.
Second, in the development phase, the Advisory Group sought to develop resources and recommendations to equip SBC churches with the tools, strategies, and partnerships to more effectively care for survivors and to prevent abuse before it occurs. Items such as our Church Cares Curriculum and the Caring Well Challenge emerged from the efforts in phase 2.
Lastly, the third phase, implementation, was launched in conjunction with the SBC 2019 Annual Meeting in Birmingham. It included a time of prayer and lament and the Sexual Abuse Advisory Group Report in both written form, available online, and the live presentation made at the annual meeting itself. It also included the introduction of the Church Cares Curriculum, the Caring Well Challenge, and the ERLC Caring Well Conference that will be held October 3–5 in Grapevine, Texas.
Becoming a Church Who Cares Well for the Abused is a training curriculum that includes a handbook, an introductory video, and 12 video lessons. It brings together top experts from various fields to help leaders understand and implement the best practices for handling a variety of abuse scenarios that arise in church or ministry settings. The PDF handbook and the videos are all available for free at churchcares.com.
- Rachel Denhollander, a survivor, attorney, and advocate.
- Mika Edmondson, a pastor and church planter.
- Samantha Kilpatrick, an attorney, former prosecutor, victim advocate, and church advisor
- Diane Langberg, psychologist, trauma and abuse specialist
- Chris Moles, pastor, ACBC and IABC certified biblical counselor specializing in batterer intervention
- Andrea Munford, police officer and lead detective on Larry Nassar case
- Karla Siu, licensed clinical social worker
- Darby Strickland, counselor at CCEF, specializing in domestic abuse
- Leslie Vernick, MSW, focusing on destructive relationships
- Brad Hambrick, pastor of counseling
You can read more about each of the participants here.
Every church must be equipped to respond well and provide care in the initial stages of learning about instances of sexual, physical, or emotional abuse. That is why we created Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused.
While this is a curriculum, it should be made clear: education is not the answer, because ignorance is not the problem. Churches don’t mishandle abuse because of a lack of knowledge. To blame ignorance is to fail to own the role of a leader. The sad reality, however, is that most pastors have had little training on pastoral care for abuse. A lack of training can result in ministry leaders being tentative and passive when we need to be active in protecting. We want to equip ministry leaders to respond with excellence when they learn of abuse.
The great thing about the Caring Well Challenge is that every step of the process is available for free. Thanks to our partnership with the SBC Executive Committee Cooperative Program, funds have been able to underwrite costs connected with various components. For example, our video curriculum, created in partnership with LifeWay, is available for free along with a free PDF companion workbook. While our Caring Well National Conference has a registration fee, there is an easy way to request a scholarship to attend if money is prohibitive, or you can watch it for free online through the live stream. All additional resources on caringwell.com are available at no cost to churches.
The work of the Sexual Abuse Advisory Group would not be possible apart from the cooperation of several Southern Baptist entitites supporting its efforts. From a financial standpoint, The Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention has approved up to $250,000 in Cooperative Program gifts to fund the work of the SAAG. In addition to these resources, several entities including the ERLC, LifeWay, and others, have contributed their resources or services pro-bono in order to ensure that we are providing the best tools and strategies for churches to address the issue of abuse.
Our goal is to make as many resources related to abuse available as possible. Major items available include a Spanish version of the Church Cares curriculum and Spanish subtitles for the video portion of that curriculum. Caringwell.com is available in Spanish, and churchcares.com will soon be available in Spanish as well. We will continue to seek to provide additional Spanish resources on this subject in the future.
The 2019 ERLC Caring Well national conference will address a wide variety of issues related to the subject of abuse. It will cover this material in ways that will serve many different ministry contexts ranging from children’s ministry, student ministry, women's ministry, and more. Some of the specific topics we will address at the conference include:
- How should we make sense of the abuse crisis in the Southern Baptist Convention?
- What can churches do to strengthen their efforts to prevent abuse?
- How can churches care well for those who have been abused?
- Who should churches partner with in their communities as they respond to abuse?
- How can we listen to and learn from the stories of survivors?
- Why should we lament the crisis of abuse? What should that corporate sorrow look like?
- How can churches take intentional steps on abuse without using church polity as an excuse for inaction?
- Why is the church often not seen as a refuge for survivors? Can that be changed?
- What are practical steps your church can take right now to be safe for survivors and safe from abuse?
- How can we improve awareness about abuse among those in our churches and communities?
- What are common myths about abuse, and how can we correct them?
- How should Christians address physical abuse, emotional abuse, and verbal abuse?
- Is your church doing all it can to address the abuse crisis?
A church who recognizes there has been an issue and chooses to take the challenge is not being hypocritical. Many churches that have excelled at prevention and response have done so because of a situation that came up at their church where they were unprepared and recognized the need or because they saw another congregation walk through a situation they were unprepared for and learned from them. The challenge is for everybody, from the people who say this is what we've been doing for decades to the people who are saying we have absolutely no clue what to do, and we're overwhelmed.
The Caring Well initiative is primarily intended for Southern Baptist churches, but we welcome churches from other denominations to engage with our efforts as they see fit. We believe the concepts, principles, and practices addressed in the initiative are designed to apply in a variety of settings, from rural churches with a bivocational pastor to urban mega churches with a large pastoral staff. These principles and practices would be true for churches in denominations beyond the SBC.