The report of the SBC Sexual Abuse Advisory Group was recently released. Every church should be concerned about the findings of the report. For starters, just consider the incidence of sexual abuse in society:
- The Center for Disease and Prevention cites that 1 out of 3 women and 1 out of 4 men have experienced sexual violence involving physical contact at some point in their lives.
- The Department of Justice cites that 1 in 4 women and 1 out of 6 men are sexually abused before they turn 18.
- A study by Dr. David Finkelhor at the Crimes Against Children Research Center found that 1 out of 12 youth have experienced sexual victimization, including sexual assault (32 per 1000) and attempted or completed rape (22 per 1000).
- According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), every nine minutes, Child Protective Services substantiates, or finds evidence for, a claim of child sexual abuse.
- The American Medical Association cites that more than 700,000 women in the United States are sexually assaulted each year, or 1 every 45 seconds.
While we can be glad these statistics don’t represent what is happening in the typical SBC church, they should help us understand the level of pain many people are living with today as we try to minister to them and share the gospel with them.
However, before we completely exonerate ourselves and our churches from any responsibility for the level of sexual abuse that is occurring in our nation, we should take note of these facts from the SBC report:
- According to three insurance companies that insure a majority of Protestant congregations in the United States, there are approximately 260 annual reports of children being sexually abused by ministers or other church workers.
- Additionally, researchers Donna Eshuys and Stephen Smallbone found that, contrary to what many Christians believe, the sex offenders who are most committed to church throughout their life (what the researchers called “stayers”) accumulated the most victims and the youngest victims of all sex offenders. They found that a perpetrator’s involvement in a church community did not seem to deter their criminal sexual behavior, in fact it seemed to worsen it.
We are also all too familiar with the stories of sexual abuse of adults in churches by people in authority.
We cannot simply assume this is not and could not happen in our churches. The impact of abuse on children and adults is significant and life-long. Every church must take every precaution it can to ensure children are safe while entrusted with their care. Pastors and other adults in the church must understand and be committed to appropriate boundaries when they are working with others.
We will each answer to the Lord one day for our sins of commission and omission. To fail to do all we can to provide protections from the sexual abuse of those who place their trust in us is a serious breach of respect for their dignity as God’s image bearers. In addition, if you just need a practical motivation, failure to do all we can to protect people from sexual abuse opens a church up to significant legal charges and civil penalties. The days of sweeping this appalling, sinful behavior under the rug are finally gone. I urge you to ensure that you have done all you can.
I encourage you to read the report of the Advisory Group. It offers many excellent suggestions on prevention and ministry to victims. You can find it here. There’s more help, too. The Southern Baptist Convention has a section on its web site dedicated to providing resources for churches. You’ll find guidance for best practices and forms you can use to make sure you are adequately screening volunteers.
You should also go to the Caring Well website, created in conjunction with the SBC Sexual Abuse Advisory Group. This web site has an incredible amount of useful guidance on caring for survivors of sexual abuse. It even offers a 12-week study for churches so they can better understand the issue and how to effectively minister to those affected by this abuse. At the Caring Well web site, you can also learn more about leading your church to join the launch of the Caring Well Challenge on August 25, 2019.
Finally, make plans to attend the MTSBC breakout session at Refresh in Kalispell on October 4 on Preventing Sexual Abuse and Caring for Its Victims. You’ll get some very helpful guidance there, as well. If the MTSBC can assist you as you develop a plan of action to prevent sexual abuse and minister to victims, we stand ready to work with you and your teams, too. May the Lord help us all to ensure the highest levels of protections possible for every soul under our care.