Baptist And Reflector
NASHVILLE — As accounts of sexual abuse in churches increase, congregations are more aware than ever that background checks for volunteers and staff are now a necessity and not an option to consider.
A 2018 survey, conducted by LifeWay Research in Nashville, revealed that 12 percent of Protestant pastors say someone on church staff has sexually harassed a congregation member at some point in the church’s life, while 16 percent say a staff member has experienced sexual harassment in a church setting.
As a result of the reality of today’s world, more churches are conducting background screenings through a professional service, according to Jennie Morris of LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville.
Shelia Darden, human resources director for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, agreed, noting her office frequently gets inquiries about background checks.
The TBMB has a relationship with ClearStar, a nationally accredited background check provider based in Alpharetta, Ga. Tennessee Baptist churches and associations deal directly with ClearStar, but are able to use the TBMB’s special, negotiated rate. “It’s a simple process, especially for churches that are looking to screen volunteers,” Darden said.
Costs vary, depending upon the complexity of the background search, Darden added.
LifeWay conducts screenings with backgroundchecks.com through its OneSource program.
According to Morris of LifeWay, around half of the searches return some type of offense. Most are for minor incidents, but historically, close to 20 percent discover a misdemeanor or more serious crime.
William Maxwell, administrative director of the TBMB, emphasized that background checks “are a must for any church conducting ministry with youth or children.
“However, churches should not rely exclusively on background checks,” he stressed. “Churches should have policies in place which require at least six months of church membership, an application process, reference checks, trained supervision of everyone that works with youth or children, and a minimum of two unrelated adults in each youth or children’s class,” Maxwell said.
Vicki Hulsey, childhood specialist for the TBMB, agreed. She noted that church leaders are often surprised that the first question asked by visiting parents is no longer, “What programs do you offer for my children?”
Instead, the primary question is now, “What policies do you have in place for screening adults who work with preschoolers and children?”
Hulsey said church leaders must be able to “assure parents that the church is doing everything possible to ensure that children are safe.”
She noted that churches often tell her that sexual abuse “could never happen here – our church is too small or everybody knows everybody.”
But statistics reveal that “most children are not abused by a stranger, but by someone they know and trust,” Hulsey said.
Background checks also provide peace of mind for some churches, including Mountain Creek Baptist Church in Chattanooga, which used the LifeWay provider.
The background checks are the “first level of due diligence,” said Rachel Steele, a ministry assistant at the church. “We want to have a basic idea of who we are working with. For volunteers with kids, we need to make sure there are no offenses of note that would make it unwise to allow individuals to serve in those circumstances.”
Jim Martin, a retired deacon and Sunday School teacher at Oak Grove Baptist Church in Covington, agreed. The church added a background check requirement for all teachers of students to their child protection policy.
For information about ClearStar, call 1-877-275-7099 and let them know you are a participating TBMB church for the special rate. For more information about LifeWay’s background checks, call 1-800-464-2799. B&R — This article contains reporting by Lonnie Wilkey, editor of the Baptist and Reflector, and Aaron Earls, a writer for LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville.