- The study is about “sexual misconduct” a broad category that includes sexual harrassment, abuse, etc.
- Surveys did not ask respondents if they were victims “of child sexual abuse or sex assault because of mandatory reporting requirements.”
- While the survey was of Protestant churchgoers, there are more Southern Baptist respondents than random sampling would yield. When weighted, the responses are sufficient (LR says) to be accurate in regard to Southern Baptists.
Some interesting results:
High percentages of churchgoers say that Most churchgoers think “someone sharing that they had experienced child sexual abuse or sexual assault would be treated by their church with respect and sympathy.” My anecdotal experience and knowledge of such things over the past decade is that victims almost universally complain about their treatment by their church or the church where they were victimized. Most churchgoers, I’d speculate, haven’t given this a lot of thought and answers may merely convey optimism and confidence that their church would respond properly.
Very high percentages of respondents think their church is a “safe place where children and teens are protected from child sexual abuse in church.” I classify this along with the belief of most churchgoers that their church is friendly and welcoming though guests and new members, the people whose opinions on this are most important, would disagree. A pastor or staff member or knowledgable outsider should make a sober assessment. Until I implemented a comprehensive child protection policy (not the written doc but actual, accountable changes) I’d have to say my churches were not altogether safe places for a number of reasons.
About one in six respondents “agree some attendees express physical greetings in ways that seem more than a simple gesture.” The survey suggests, guestures such “prolonged hugs, rubbing of the back, etc.” If your pastor or a staff member is given to prolonged hugs and back rubs, I suggest you put an end to it. It is inappropriate and sends the wrong signals. The old lady that ‘hugs your neck’ and spews snuff on you is OK. Don’t try to change her, just endure it. This business of prolonged, full-body hugs is not appropriate church behavior.
A very large percentage of churchgoers “disagree that church leaders would try to cover it up if sexually inappropriate things happen at their church.” Ah, what the average pewsitter doesn’t know. The record is saturated with examples of churches minimizing and covering up all kinds of inappropriate things. While I appreciate that churchgoers have confidence in their leaders, I don’t have full confidence that church leadership will be open and transparent with the congregation on these deplorable things. Church leaders are inclined to act in their own bests interests, just like normal folks.
87% say their church is likely (68% very likely) to report suspicions of abuse/neglect to the appropriate authorities. I hope that the climate and understanding of such things has changed such that this statistic is true. I fear that more than one in eight churches where there are suspicions of abuse/neglect would choose to handle it privately and not report.
If a pastor at their church was accused of sexual misconduct 75% would want a careful investigation. Abuse and victim advocates have focused on this survey question and result, concluding that what it means is that 75% of churchgoers would want a careful investigation instead of reporting to law enforcement. I think this is a flawed question, “sexual misconduct” being overly broad. If a child reported sexual misconduct by a staff member, that’s a possible crime and should be reported.
81% consider their church at least somewhat prepared to protect children from sexual abuse in ministry programs. I can’t imagine telling a family visiting with children that they can be confident that my church is somewhat prepared to protect their kids. The pastor should see that the church is informed about measures to protect children and members should insist on the same. Talk about it early and often. Drill it into parents, volunteers, and staff members.
The final report of this study may be found in the article Churchgoers Split on Existence of more Sexual Abuse by Pastors.
What I’d like to know is the percentage of SBC churches have had to deal with a case of child sex abuse in their church by either a pastor or volunteer. No one has this datum. J. D. Greear has called for our Annual Church Profile to be updated to “ask about abuse.” The Sex Abuse Advisory Group is looking at this but will not have anything to report on this point in Birmingham. I can’t imagine most churches voluntarily reporting to their state or the national convention that their church has had a case of sex abuse. Guess we will see what the SAAG says about this in due time.
This is a fairly long study, the download comprising 120 pages. LifeWay Research leads with this headline: Churchgoers Split on Existence of More Sexual Abuse by Pastors. I can guarrantee that there will be more. LifeWay’s question asks about “many” more, a rather subjective amount. I guess it’s a measure of the congregation’s understanding of this business.
It is noted that some sex abuse victims and victim advocates have criticized the study for not using standard methodology. I suppose they mean the methodology that used an “online survey of 1,815 Americans” where “respondents were invited to participate from a large national panel.” Perhaps further explanation from critics will come soon.
Every church, large or small, should have child protection plans and policies and should see that they are followed. My church uses MinistrySafe at a modest annual cost. There are alternatives. The SBC will have our own curriculum soon, Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused. Since this hasn’t been released, I can’t evaluate it.