By Stephen Reeves and Pam Durso
In June 2016, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and Baptist Women in Ministry formally launched a joint Clergy Sexual Misconduct Task Force. Members of the task force could not have imagined two years ago the degree to which conversations about sexual abuse would dominate our popular, political and even religious culture. The #MeToo Movement caught on like wildfire on social media and, sadly, #ChurchToo soon followed.
While sexual abuse is all too common in our society, the occurrence of clergy sexual misconduct is especially tragic. Ministers who harass and abuse break trust, and wounds from that broken trust often result in a crisis of faith. How a church responds to one who is violated has lasting impact. For too long, Baptists have found shelter in a congregational polity that limits denominational liability. CBF and BWIM are committed to doing better and to leading churches and organizations in our spheres to do better as well. The time for silence and denial is long-since over.
Today, the task force is proud to release two significant resources developed for use by churches, seminaries and partnering organizations. “Safe Churches and Ministers” is an educational video that introduces this tough topic and provides much-needed definitions, statistics and stories that are designed to help churches, students and leaders take seriously their responsibility in preventing abuse. The video is accompanied by a leader guide and discussion guide and is available in both English and Spanish.
“Clergy Sexual Abuse Prevention Recommendations for Churches” is a collection of prevention guidelines and documents intended to prompt congregations to create their own policies, procedures, processes and covenants. This resource will assist churches in holding clergy and lay leaders accountable and will prepare churches to respond appropriately if abuse is reported. (This resource will be available in Spanish soon.)
Both videos and written resources are available at www.cbf.net/safechurches.
We are grateful to the following organizations who supported the production of this video: Garland School of Social Work at Baylor University, CBF of Arkansas, CBF of North Carolina, CBF of Florida, CBF of South Carolina, CBF of Georgia and Fellowship Southwest. Producing these resources has not been easy work, and there is yet more to do.
These resources alone cannot prevent abuse. Our prayer is that they might create healthier environments in which the threat of clergy sexual abuse is taken seriously and the occurrence of such abuse is faced head on. For these tools to have any positive impact, they must be implemented. Of course, CBF and BWIM cannot force churches to engage in this challenging conversation. The hope of our task force is that access to these resources will encourage those conversations and make initiating them a bit easier. If that happens, our work will not be in vain.
The release of these two resources marks an important milestone in the work of the task force and we are committed to continue forward in our efforts. We ask that you pray for the task force as we keep working to bring attention to and educate those in our Baptist circles about clergy sexual abuse.
The work of the task force has been focused on sexual abuse of and between adults.
Stephen K. Reeves is associate coordinator of partnerships and advocacy for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
Pam Durso is executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry.