By Baptist and Reflector staff
The document titled, “Encouragements to Associations, State Conventions, and Churches Regarding Abuse of Minors,” is authored by The Southern Baptist Conference of Associational Leaders (SBCAL) and the Officers of the SBC Fellowship of State Executives. The organizations state in the document that the intention is to support associations, state conventions and churches in the prevention of sexual abuse and to encourage the protection of minors. The statement is not intended as a mandate, leaders from both organizations said.
“We recognize we have no authority over any Baptist entity,” said Ray Gentry, SBCAL’s executive director. “But we also recognize our responsibility to serve churches. We want every church to be a safe place for everyone, especially children.”
The statement was initiated when Southern Baptist Convention President J. D. Greear asked SBCAL if the organization would form a task force to explore ways associations could assist churches with prevention, protection, awareness, education, ministry care, and healing in support of the prevention of sexual abuse and for the protection of minors.
“We gladly agreed to do so,” said Gentry. “Upon completion of our report, led by Kevin Carrothers of Illinois, we shared it with the state executive directors. They asked if we would work together and make the statement a joint report, which we were happy to do.”
Randy C. Davis, president and executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board and current president of the SBC Fellowship of State Executives, said the intention of the two groups coming together “is to continue reminding those who are on the front lines of training workers and caring for children to be diligent.”
“These encouragements are elements many associations, state conventions and churches have employed for years,” he added. “However, we offer them as reminders that we must be diligent and eradicate abuse completely. Even one instance is one too many.”
Gentry stated the process of creating the document is an example of Southern Baptists cooperating and collaborating to accomplish a needed objective.
“In this case,” he said. “The objective is making sure our churches are safe places for children and youth to hear and see the gospel lived out.”
The full statement reads:
Encouragements to Associations, State Conventions, and Churches Regarding Abuse of Minors
The Southern Baptist Conference of Associational Leaders (SBCAL) and the Officers of the SBC Fellowship of State Executives join together to make a statement in support of the prevention of sexual abuse and for the protection of minors. As organizations, we recognize our respective entities have no authority over any Baptist body. However, our intention is to offer encouragement to associations, state conventions, and churches to diligently guard those whom God has given to us for the purpose of ministry.
- 1. We encourage associations and state conventions to practice the regular reviewing, updating, or creating worker policies and guidelines for all staff, association/convention/church leaders, and youth/children volunteer workers.
- 2. We encourage associations and state conventions to take the initiative and advocate for comprehensive screening processes for all staff, association/convention/church leaders, and youth/children volunteer workers to address such things as:
- Understanding the need for a written application.
- Discovering when and how to check references.
- Researching prior church membership and volunteer work, especially with minors.
- Conducting internet research for potential news stories containing allegations of sexual misconduct for any potential staff member of volunteer.
- Calling for background checks.
- Linking to and utilizing the U. S. Department of Justice National Sex Offender Public Website posted on the Sexual Abuse Prevention page on SBC.net and to viable public databases of sexual offenders in a church or ministry setting as they may be developed.
- Conducting personal interviews with applicants.
- Implementing at least a six-month rule of association/membership before service and participation begins in a ministry position.
- 3. We encourage associations and state conventions to conduct local and national criminal background checks, and where appropriate, child abuse background clearance for all staff, leaders, and youth/children volunteer workers. This practice should be encouraged as part of a plan to protect children.
- 4. We encourage associations and state conventions to promote to churches a two-person rule of supervision. This practice, designed to protect minors from abuse and workers from accusation, calls for at least two, non-related adults who have successfully completed the screening process to supervise minors at all times, whether on or off the premises, in rooms, vehicles, or other enclosed spaces. In situations where the two-person rule is impossible or impractical, alternatives (such as a floating observer) should be considered.
- 5. We encourage associations, state conventions and churches to develop policies regarding digital and electronic communication. Communicating with minors, especially with youth in the digital age (text message, email, communication apps, and social media) is common among youth pastors and other staff that work with children and youth. Such policies will help set boundaries for both the adults and minors involved.
- 6. We encourage associations, state conventions and churches to develop policies or statements of affirmation which could include the following:
- Affirming the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message with a specific reference to Article XV, or a clear statement denouncing all forms of abuse.
- Requesting an endorsement of the local church for any church member asked to participate in any leadership or volunteer role in the association, and disclosure by the church of any negative criminal/child abuse background checks about that person.
- Reporting criminal sexual misconduct to the proper legal authorities as required by law.
- Relieving temporarily persons accused of sexual misconduct from leadership and service positions pending a thorough investigation and review of the circumstances.
- Communicating honestly and transparently with any church or association attempting to conduct a background check, and disclosing information about any person accused of abuse who left before a resolution of the charge occurred.
- Creating a discipline or separation process for churches that demonstrate wanton disregard for or indifference toward sexual predators remaining in leadership roles or having contact with minors, or persons failing to follow the child abuse laws of the state.
- 7. We encourage associations, state conventions and churches to proactively educate association, convention and church workers/volunteers about the seriousness of abuse and provide resources to enable a church to protect minors and vulnerable adults.
- 8. We encourage associations, state conventions and churches to provide or facilitate localized and ongoing training for all staff, association/church leaders and youth/children volunteer workers in preventing, recognizing, reporting, and dealing with abuse.
- 9. We encourage associations and state conventions to have an association and/or state convention team work with ministry partners equipped to aid churches who experience abuse situations in handling these incidents with integrity, compassion, transparency, and in accordance with the law. These teams or external ministry partners may also seek to facilitate opportunities for on-site Christian counselors to minister to the church on a case-by-case basis.
- 10. We encourage associations and/or state conventions to assist churches in developing a plan for ministering to sex offenders in the church by observing such things as the following:
- Understanding what the spectrum of the term “sex offender” means.
- Developing procedures which provide accountability to the offender/abuser and safeguards for all members, especially children and vulnerable adults.
- Creating a covenant between the offender and church leadership that defines the boundaries of participation, allowing church leaders to apprise others in the congregation as necessary, permitting church leaders to contact probation officers and others assigned to work with the offender and state consequences if the covenant is violated, such as being prohibited from attending church or accessing church property.
- Designating one or more accountability partners to assist the offender in not yielding to temptation.
- Restricting any contact with minors.