Try not to yawn. This isn’t as controversial and contentious as the database or survivor fund (delayed until next year) but may be more helpful in addressing the sex abuse issue.
The Sex Abuse Task Force issued five “challenges” to state conventions. State conventions are in a better position to handle many issues with churches because (a) they are closer to them, and (b) there are actual evaluations of churches before they are allowed to be a part of the state convention. No church has to affiliate with a state convention but almost all do.
Here are the things the SATF requests of the state conventions:
1. We request that state conventions consider having a designated, trained staff person or independent contractor to receive calls regarding allegations of sexual abuse and provide initial guidance. We request this person be trained in trauma to be able to assist both survivors and churches, and will be able to assist submitters who may need help in filing an allegation report with the appropriate party.
This makes good sense. My state, Georgia, has staff that is assigned this duty, along with other responsibilities. As one of the larger state conventions, we could dedicate a person to this, or farm the assignment out. Frankly, a pastor who gets a call about abuse is often unsure what steps to take first. The individual would also direct the person making the allegation to the proper places.
2. We request that state conventions, in consultation with Lifeway and the Executive Committee, add a series of questions on the Annual Church Profile regarding background checks and sexual abuse training.
The response rate for churches on the ACP has been dropping and churches do not have to answer all the questions. I’m not sure if my church would answer a bunch of questions about sex abuse. No church has to do background checks or training, but should. It isn’t stated but may I ask? Is this a prelude to excluding churches for noncompliance? ACP data is weaponized in some areas also. But, let Lifeway and the EC ask whatever they want. State conventions already filter out some questions and change others.
3. We request that state conventions maintain a list of professionally trained, licensed, trauma-informed Christian counselors in their respective states for those churches who voluntarily seek assistance as they minister to survivors.
Sounds good. The issue of “trauma-informed” is a concern to some. I don’t know if this is a formal certification or just a tag that some counselors append to their credentials.
4. We request that state conventions establish a self-certification program for churches, including “best practices” in survivor care, hiring, investigatory protocols, and training for prevention.
Back when I stirred myself as pastor to be diligent about having a good Vacation Bible School, I was aware of Lifeway (or their predecessor) prescribing a list of things a church should do to have a proper VBS. If we can encourage churches to do best practices for VBS, we can do the same for sex abuse. If my state put out a list of “best practices” I’d certainly want to know about it. I don’t know if I would want to be on a list of such “self-certified” churches, nor would want my state to make this a requirement for membership in the convention. I don’t want bureaucrats checking boxes for my church, but I’d appreciate help in doing the right things.
5. We request all state entities and committees provide training regarding sexual abuse prevention and survivor care to their denominational workers, as well as background checks, as part of their orientation and selection.
My state has been providing training for over a decade. It seems that MinistrySafe, which I used and implemented in my last church is not approved by the SATF or some of their members. I’d like to know why. I thought their training was excellent, of reasonable cost, and covered all the points. That aside, this is a good thing for state conventions to do to assist their churches.
As I have followed all the SATF discussions, one thing that stands out is this: there is a singular lack of recognition that the great majority SBC churches are small – 100 or less. Big and megachurch people mostly populate these task forces. Perhaps there is a disconnect. These suggestions for state conventions would help in that regard. The states fully recognize that they serve mostly small churches with single fulltime clergy staff.