On the eve of its annual meeting in Birmingham, Alabama, the Southern Baptist Convention released a report from its Sexual Abuse Advisory Group.
The report – titled "Caring Well" – outlines the scope of sexual abuse within the SBC and the culture at large. It also talks about the harm caused by abuse of children and adults, and also recommends how churches might respond to victims and safeguard their charges from future harm.
"The sexual abuse crisis that has been revealed across America over the past few years, and in our specific context within the Southern Baptist Convention, is one that has been festering for many decades. It is not a new problem, nor a simple one. We recognize that rooting out abuse and guiding survivors toward healing will not be simple either." (Excerpt from "Caring Well" [Scope of Report])
Southern Baptist pastor and Christian apologist Dr. Alex McFarland shares that his initial reaction is positive. "This report is encouraging churches to be proactive and take a stand against this and have accountability and oversight," he summarizes. "These recommendations within the report, I think, are good and are very appropriate."
The report finds that every year, approximately 260 reports come out about children being sexually abused by Protestant ministers or other church workers. It does not break those numbers down to the problem within the Southern Baptist Convention, but reporting from the Houston Chronicle a year ago put the number at around 700 victims over the last 20 years.
"It's a terrible thing and we condemn it in the strongest possible terms, that anyone would ever be molested, violated, sexually abused," McFarland adds.
The study recommends that churches form teams of experts to respond to victims from within the church and the community at large. It outlines steps churches can take to protect children in their care and make responsible hiring and staffing decisions.
McFarland says "Caring Well" is a document that the vast majority of Southern Baptist churches that have never known abuse within their ranks can use to make sure they don't add to the problem. "What I don't want people to come away with is the idea that local congregations are havens of sexual predators, because that is simply not the case," he cautions.
The SBC's report concludes with an eight-step challenge urging all Southern Baptist churches to equip themselves over the next year to be "safe for survivors and safe from abuse."
The 2019 SBC Annual Meeting convenes today in Birmingham and concludes on Wednesday. The sexual abuse study group's report appears on Wednesday afternoon's agenda.