Caring Well is the abuse resource and effort that resulted from the joint work of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and the ad hoc Sex Abuse Advisory Group appointed by SBC president J. D. Greear. The Caring Well initiative was presented at the SBC Convention this past June with considerable fanfare and strong attendance. The ERLC’s conference last month was on the subject of abuse and was very well attended by SBC pastors and others.
This week a new Caring Well guide (free, downloadable pdf) was released. I’ve downloaded it and looked it over. It is brief (23 pages) but thorough. The guide covers all the steps that pastors and churches would need to review and implement including having a Caring Well church team, screening policies, best practices, disclosure, reporting, insurance, and the like. It looks good and is aimed at churches.
The cold realities of our system are that every church is independent, makes their own hiring, supervising, and firing decisions, has or lacks written policies on abuse, makes their own decisions about these any every other matter that pertains to their congregational life. No one in Nashville decided this. It’s the reality of our convention of cooperating, autonomous churches. It cannot be ignored that the median SBC church is about seventy folks, probably in pews, for the main weekly worship service. That church may or may not have a full time pastor.
That said, how has the Caring Well challenge been received by SBC churches?
According to the Baptist Press story written by Tom Strode, BP Washington correspondent, “about 750 churches” are participating in the Caring Well Challenge. While that number is less than two percent of all SBC churches, my guess is that the churches participating are much larger than the average SBC church (about 125 on Sunday morning). I’d speculate that in addition to the national SBC, the 41 SBC state conventions and 1,126 local SBC associations are all on board with encouraging churches of every size to use the resources.
Many SBC institutions require students and faculty to do some level of MinistrySafe training. While that is a very good resource, Caring Well is designed to be more comprehensive. I have some familiarity with both. I’d expect that Caring Well will be required for SBC institutions and mission board appointees.
Many sex abuse survivors and advocates have called for a national, SBC Executive Committee funded, independent review board to receive reports and maintain a database of abusers. There is nothing like this in Caring Well. The enhanced SBC Credentials Committee, seen as a way to address churches that have or are dealing with abuse cases more quickly (no SBC committee or entity can deal with individuals who are pastors, only churches), does not investigate churches or pastors and has no power other than to exclude a church from the national SBC. I voted for the changes to the committee at the convention but I’ll have to be convinced that this approach will work well and smoothly. We will see, I suppose. The committee is working on policies and procedures, I understand.
If the SBC brain trust, whomever that might include, had a meeting to decide how to help SBC churches become more safe regarding sexual and other abuse, what would they come up with? I can’t think of any better resources or any better program to get these resources into the churches than Caring Well. Critics abound, though, to the surprise of no one. The question is often, “What is the SBC going to do about this or that case of abuse?” I wouldn’t say that it is the wrong question but it is a question that cannot be answered.
The better question is, “What are you and your church doing about abuse?”