In the previous article, I spelled out some weighty problems within the SBC. And I asked the question, “Do you want to do something, or do you want things to stay the same?” Since I don’t believe it’s fair to point out problems without offering solutions, I want to practice what I “preach” and spell out some ways to help.
What can be done? What can the SBC and the individual member do to correct the past and properly address the crimes? And in the present; To better protect your children, to properly respond to victims and the perpetrators?
1. Acknowledge that Sexual Abuse within the Church is a systemic problem.
Ask any alcoholic or addict, what is the first step to getting clean or sober? Their reply will be, to admit there is a problem.
One of the current problems with the SBC is that individual churches don’t believe the sexual abuse issue is “as bad” for them as it is for “others”. Despite what former SBC Executive VP, August Boto says and others think, sexual abuse within the SBC isn’t an “anomaly” nor have the victims “succumbed to an availability heuristic because of their victimization.”
Deceptions like Boto’s lead parishioners to have difficulty in believing what is factual. 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys have been or will be victims of sexual abuse and that includes SBC churches. It is either out of ignorance (not with any bad connotations, simply that they haven’t received truthful information yet), or it’s due to willful negligence like Boto’s. One can be fixed easily. The other is the challenge.
But neither will be changed by filling out online forms, or spending 45 minutes watching a video, that even a predator can declare, “Ok, we’ve read the Caring Well guide and we won’t hurt children”. Or, “We get background checks on everyone.” Background checks, while needed, are virtually irrelevant in finding sexual predators since the VAST majority have no criminal record. These things do nothing to teach, train and enact protective measures, or create critical thinking and response to abuse. That requires much more.
It requires personal, in-depth training. And that means dedicating time, resources, and introspection. These are commodities that most humans, not just Southern Baptists, have difficulty relinquishing. This is part of our biggest challenge as advocates. People being willing to humble themselves, acknowledge the systemic problem of sexual abuse within the denomination, lament the crimes, repent from inaction, and do the necessary work for actual change.
There are organizations that can help individual churches with this. GRACE is one of the reputable ones that can help.
2. Create and maintain a current Database of Known Offenders/Credibly Accused/Convicted Predators
I still find it difficult to swallow the response of SBC leaders on this one. They tell us the reason why they “can’t” do this is because the SBC has no power to do this.
The reality is a fear of lawsuits. Since when was fear allowed to dictate how the faithful live? The truth is this will require steadfastness on their part. That is hard work. And they simply haven’t chosen to work hard on this most basic of things that would better protect their children.
And this is what makes it worse (to me). The legwork for this is already, mostly done. People who care deeply have begun this work.
Will you take up their efforts as your own?
3. Provide Assistance for Victims
This seems like a no-brainer. Offering paid-for therapy to victims/survivors of sexual abuse that happened at the hands of SBC clergy. But this must be on the Victims terms, NOT the church. It should be the victim that selects the trauma-trained, trauma-informed therapist. Not someone looking out for the interests of an institution. Period.
So many victims, since they were given no proper coping skills or guidance to handle the pain of abuse, have become addicts or alcoholics trying to cover the pain. Again, this should be an easy “yes” to help those that want to find healing path.
c. Restorative Justice
The loss of jobs, families, homes, health, sanity, etc., due to suffering the effects of abuse. The church should help try to restore victims demolished lives.
Did you ever notice in stories about Jesus that He addressed immediate physical needs FIRST? Then He spoke to their spiritual needs. A person can’t think about God if they haven’t eaten. Or if they don’t know where they’ll sleep that night. Or wonder if tonight is going to be like so many other nights? Will the perpetrator violate us again?
Its time to take a cue from Jesus… After all, isn’t that what were supposed to do?
And here’s something else to ponder. For those that think “restorative justice” are foul words. Consider my own story because there are thousands more just like it.
I had huge losses of lifetime revenue due to the inability to hold a job. (Not out of laziness, but due to disability. If you really need me to spell this out for you, email me and I’ll provide the details) I had to invest what little I had in my own therapy, rehab, etc. I had no insurance, so I had to pay medical/dental/etc., out of pocket.
Which means most of my care was undone or done too late. Meanwhile, the predator guilty of hundreds of crimes against little boys told us that after he retired from fulltime SBC ministry, he claims to continue to receive funds from the denomination. If that’e true, that’s YOUR weekly offerings. How about taking that away from him, and every other known offender that receives this SBC benefit, and giving it to those that need and deserve it?!
I am NOT asking for me, but for those that are still desperately hanging on. They need and deserve it. The predator does not!
4. Stop with the Forced Forgiveness
If the SBC spent as much time giving unequivocal support to victims as they do perpetrators, this wouldn’t be an issue. But instead, it appears support will only be offered IF the victim first “forgives” the perpetrator. And almost always this is required without ANY repentance be shown or seen on the part of the perp. Again, this can be fully explained, and done so biblically, but not here in a brief article. We can direct you to those that can teach you this truth.
5. Demand Accountability for Perpetrators
Please stop demanding that victims forgive and forget. The SBC demands so much from the victims but only seems to hear the words “I’m sorry” from the perpetrator and all is restored. This isn’t biblically sound and is detrimental to the victims.
True repentance on the part of the perpetrator could be seen if they were to turn themselves in before being caught. Never again asking for a leadership position or to demand being in the presence of a minor. Or even admitting to their crimes without asking for smaller sentencing. Have you ever seen this? Neither have we…
Stop the nonsense already.
6. Focus on Child Protection not Risk Management
If the SBC genuinely wants to make things right concerning sexual abuse, they must come to terms with this:
To understand the difference between child protection and risk management because they seem to be more concerned with insurance policies than with the souls of the children and the lives that are destroyed.
The irony of this is that almost every single victim would never even think of suing, if the church had believed them, offered to help, and showed them the same love they presently show the perpetrator. The lawsuits would never exist if the victims felt any support.
These are by no means the totality of solutions to the crimes against children. But they can be a starting point. I don’t claim to have all the answers. But I do know what I do know. And I know if you begin to work on these, have a heart for the vulnerable, then you will be doing what Christ called us all to do. Protect children at all costs.
To correct a problem, it always begins with one thing…the first step. Once we address one thing, we can work on the next. Then the next. That is how we keep from becoming overwhelmed with what is ahead of us. You do one thing, you do it the right way, then you can move forward. You keep your head down and do the work.
You don’t worry about who says “this”, or who is doing “that”. You simply do what is right. Doing what is right isn’t easy. Nothing worth having ever comes easy. But doing nothing and what was easiest is what has gotten the SBC where it is today, a mess.
It’s BEYOND time to clean it up. And I ask you again, since you are the only ones that can do this…Are you willing? Do you want to help? Or do you want things to stay the same?
Be sure to read part 1 if you have not already: SBC Survivor Stories: Will the Church Be a Haven or a Hunting Ground?
Dave Pittman is the Director of Together We Heal and part of the Safeguarding Initiative Team at GRACE. He teaches churches, schools, and families how to talk with their kids about sexual abuse, how to better identify predatory behavior, and how to properly respond to those who’ve been victimized.