By Pam Durso and Stephen Reeves
The stories continue to show up in our news feeds. The sheer number of stories about sexually abusive ministers seems overwhelming, and every day we are more aware of how pervasive this horrific problem is in our world, in our nation, and in our circles.
How churches respond to reports of abuse is critical, and how churches prepare and educate their staff members and congregants is critical as well. In October 2018, Baptist Women in Ministry and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s joint Clergy Sexual Misconduct Task Force released 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 in 4 parts, a total of 24 minutes in length. It 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. Both videos and written resources are available at www.cbf.net/safechurches.
These resources are free and are easily downloadable, and the website includes links to organizations and programs designed to prevent abuse of children. These resources are being used and have been endorsed by “Minister Champions,”—Baptist pastors and leaders who have watched the video and reviewed the written resources with their staff, personnel committee, or other small group of leaders.
“Many churches have finally begun to take the safety of children seriously, but clergy sexual abuse of adults has been either hidden or normalized. This series of videos and articles offer stories and definitions that serve as a helpful starting point for everyone in a faith community to better understand what clergy sexual abuse looks like and the circumstances that leave people vulnerable to it. The Policy and Prevention Guide provided thoughtfully walks through church policies on everything from instituting preventative measures to responding to allegations. It’s past time for all of us to take these issues seriously and act to make our communities safe for everyone.”—Rev. Dr. Amy K. Butler, senior minister, The Riverside Church, New York, New York
“You don’t have to live in Houston or have read the three-part Houston Chronicle series on sexual abuse in Baptist churches to know that clergy sexual misconduct is real and is a real possibility in any church. You do have to have your head in the sand to know those facts and to choose to do nothing about them in the only place where you can have real influence: your local church. Responsible churches need separate policies to protect the children in their care and policies to ensure their clergy know and adhere to appropriate boundaries. Baptist Women in Ministry and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship have spent the past three years developing resources to help your church write such policies. These are not copy-and-paste documents that absolve the church from hard thinking; instead the Clergy Sexual Misconduct Task Force has developed a list of tools to help your church write policies that work for you. South Main is using these tools to update our own policies because we want to be healthy in every aspect of our church’s life. I encourage you to go and do likewise.”—Steve Wells, pastor, South Main Baptist Church, Houston, Texas
“At First Baptist Church, Columbia, Missouri, our clergy, administrative assistants, members of our church council, and personnel committee went through the Safe Churches and Ministers resources together. These resources sparked much needed conversation about the prevalence of clergy sexual abuse, which, for us, was an important call to action. We realized the preventative measures we have in place are inadequate and our reporting mechanism needs to be publicized in the congregation. We left committed to putting clearly policies in place and continuing the conversation. I am grateful to Baptist Women in Ministry and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship for putting together this much needed resource on clergy sexual abuse.”—Carol McEntrye, pastor, First Baptist Church, Columbia, Missouri