Our flagship and by far largest entity, the International Mission Board, published a statement on child abuse and sexual harassment. The board says,
The IMB is committed to zero tolerance for child abuse and sexual harassment among our personnel. Further, the IMB is committed to communicating clearly and cooperating with our partners to guard against child abuse and sexual harassment.
The policy provides that,
- IMB personnel are subject to immediate dismissal for such offenses.
- IMB will comply with mandatory reporting on such things.
- IMB has a dedicated phone number for reports of abuse.
- IMB is committed to providing “compassionate care to anyone who has experienced child abuse or sexual harassment.”
- IMB requires volunteers to undergo a “3-part background screening (criminal background check, references, and an interview)” as well as training.
- IMB “strongly encourages any church, entity, or other employer who is considering working or partnering with a former IMB personnel to contact IMB to obtain a reference on that individual.”
The policies look thorough and IMB has had some experience with matters returning to embarrass them along these lines. As the SBC entity with far more employees than any other, one would expect, sadly, that there would be cases of sexual harassment and child abuse among personnel.
The prickly problem with eliminating child abusers and sexual abusers and others from our ranks is that offenders rarely encounter the criminal justice system. When we do background checks in our churches as a method of screening staff and volunteers, we can expect to catch less than ten percent of abusers. Interviews with prospective staff or volunteers may, if a skilled and knowledgeable interviewer is involved and takes care to be thorough, screen out a few others. The use of references is the third method of screening and, as we generally employ it, is appallingly inefficient in finding offenders.
One major problem is that when a church finds or suspects an offender they are quite likely to get rid of him or her without reporting and without retaining some record of the issue. As a result there is a likelihood that offenders will be passed along to another church or ministry position in another location, one where the offenses or credible reports of such are not known. This would be more likely in cases of adult, consensual sins rather than criminal acts. One hopes that all of our churches understand that a report of child sex abuse by a church volunteer or staff member should be reported to law enforcement.
IMB’s policy recognizes that there are cases that might fall into the cracks. In recognition of this here is what they do:
However, in some cases, an individual has resigned before IMB can terminate the individual, or the IMB does not find out about the misconduct until after the individual has left service with IMB.
Therefore, IMB strongly encourages any church, entity, or other employer who is considering working or partnering with a former IMB personnel to contact IMB to obtain a reference on that individual. Reference requests can be submitted to IMB’s HR department at email@example.com. IMB quickly responds to all reference requests by providing a release for that former personnel to sign authorizing IMB to share information from its HR file. In most all cases, IMB will have positive information to share. However, in the rarer cases where IMB has information to share concerning child abuse or sexual misconduct by that former personnel, or the former personnel refuses to sign the release, then the church, entity, or employer will be in a better position to evaluate a future relationship with that former IMB personnel.
Note the plain statement (the emphasis is mine) that IMB will share information concerning child abuse or sexual misconduct by former personnel if that person has signed a release that authorizes IMB to do so. And if the former personnel refuses to sign a release, IMB will inform the church, entity, or prospective employer of the fact that the person for whom they are seeking a reference has refused to allow IMB to do so. Only a very foolish prospective employer will not then query their applicant about the reasons why.
The difficulty with church-to-church staff movement is that it is (at least in my experience) somewhat unusual for a church to contact their candidate’s former church for a reference. Part of the reasoning is that the prospective pastor doesn’t want his current church to know he is looking to move, or other reasons. Even if contact was made it is quite common for a church to force a staff member to resign with the understanding that they will provide at least a neutral recommendation to his next church. Often, churches justify this (particularly in the cases of sexual immorality or other non-criminal staff offenses) on the basis of not wanting to destroy a minister’s ministry. This is mixed up thinking and should stop.
Establishing an SBC database for offenders is a related question and has too many variations to properly discuss here but IMB’s policy would go a long way to assisting churches and entities in eliminating abusers and sexual offenders from our ministry ranks. I see no reason why IMB’s policies on this shouldn’t be replicated by all of our entities.
Or else we will have a stream of embarrassments that generate more stories like this one.