NASHVILLE (BP) -- The Southern Baptist effort to address sexual abuse in churches has taken another step with the launch of the "Caring Well Challenge," a joint call for congregations to become equipped to prevent predatory behavior and to care for survivors.
The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and the Sexual Abuse Advisory Study announced the cost-free initiative Thursday. They issued an invitation to all Southern Baptist churches to participate. All the convention's entities, more than 35 Southern Baptist state conventions, and many Baptist associations and colleges have endorsed the "Caring Well Challenge," according to an ERLC release.
The ERLC and the Sexual Abuse Advisory Study -- which was named by Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear -- also have collaborated with LifeWay Christian Resources to produce "Becoming a Church That Cares Well for the Abused." The new, free multimedia resource is a comprehensive training curriculum that consists of a handbook with 12 video lessons from experts in a variety of areas.
Regarding the "Caring Well Challenge," Greear makes an appeal to churches to participate in a video on the initiative's website, caringwell.com
"The 'Caring Well Challenge' provides your church with a pathway to start engaging the problem of abuse," Greear says. "This is an opportunity for you to say, 'Yes, yes, our church is ready to do whatever it takes to confront the abuse crisis and to care for the abused.'"
ERLC President Russell Moore acknowledged in a news release announcing the challenge, "There is no quick fix for an issue as complex as church sexual abuse. But this initiative is an outstanding step designed to join our churches together in a common cause.
"Over the last year, I've spoken with hundreds of pastors and leaders who are determined to make this issue a priority in their churches, but are looking for tools and training," Moore said. "That's exactly what this challenge is designed to provide.
It has been a joy to partner with so many survivors and experts across many fields to design training that will give churches tools to act immediately."
A commitment to the challenge means a church will take these eight steps during the next year:
-- Commit to the "Caring Well Challenge."
-- Build a "Caring Well" team to lead the church's effort.
-- Launch the "Caring Well Challenge" on Aug. 25 or a similar date.
-- Train your team at the 2019 ERLC National Conference, which is Oct. 3-5 in Grapevine, Texas. The conference theme is "Caring Well: Equipping the Church to Confront the Abuse Crisis."
-- Equip leaders through the "Becoming a Church That Cares Well for the Abused" curriculum.
-- Enhance church policies, procedures and practices related to abuse.
-- Dedicate Sunday services on May 3, 2020, or a similar date to address abuse.
-- Reflect on the "Caring Well Challenge" at the 2020 SBC annual meeting.
On the eve of this year's SBC meeting, the ERLC and the advisory study will co-host Monday in Birmingham a panel discussion on sex abuse in the convention. The panel will feature Greear; Moore; attorney, advocate and abuse survivor Rachael Denhollander; Bible teacher Beth Moore; and Susan Codone, senior associate dean of academic affairs at Mercer University School of Medicine.
About a month after his 2018 election as SBC president, Greear announced in July the formation of the Sexual Abuse Advisory Study to address the problem. He is collaborating with the ERLC in the work of the advisory study, which has been receiving input from abuse survivors and their advocates, lawyers, pastors, law enforcement officials, counselors and denominational leaders -- a majority who are women.
Sexual abuse already was a significant issue in the SBC, but an ongoing investigative series by the Houston Chronicle, joined by the San Antonio Express-News, that began in February revealed further some of the extent of the problem in the convention and its churches. The initial articles in the series found 220 pastors and other leaders in Southern Baptist churches who had been convicted of or taken plea deals in sex crimes involving more than 700 victims. More abusers in churches, as well as some who served as missionaries with the International Mission Board, have been reported since then.
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service.