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‘Caring Well’ conf. on sex abuse passes 1,300 registrants

NASHVILLE (BP) — More than 1,300 people have registered for a Southern Baptist-sponsored, national conference on sexual abuse in churches.

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) — in partnership with the Southern Baptist Convention’s Sexual Abuse Advisory Study — will host “Caring Well: Equipping the Church to Confront the Abuse Crisis” Oct. 3-5 at the Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention Center in Grapevine, Texas. The ERLC’s sixth annual national conference, set to be its largest in attendance, will focus on preventing sexual abuse in churches and ministering to survivors of such abuse.

ERLC President Russell Moore described this as “a critical season for churches seeking to address this crisis.”

“Combating abuse takes clear eyes, resolute focus and a willingness to engage in painful, complicated questions,” Moore told Baptist Press in written comments. “I’m grateful to have so many men and women of Gospel courage and seasoned experience on these issues joining us in October. And I look forward to our conference with the hope that it will be one more step toward combating the satanic evil of sexual abuse.”

The goal of the conference, said ERLC Executive Vice President Phillip Bethancourt, is “to ensure that churches are doing all they can to be safe for survivors and safe from abuse.”

“As attendees listen to survivors and learn from experts, they will leave equipped to make practical changes in their churches,” Bethancourt said in a written statement.

In addition to Moore and Bethancourt, confirmed speakers include:

— J.D. Greear, SBC president and pastor of The Summit Church in the Raleigh-Durham, N.C., area, who initiated the SBC Sexual Abuse Advisory Study.

— Rachael Denhollander, attorney, advocate and abuse survivor who was the first gymnast to go public with charges against USA Gymnastics team doctor and serial abuser Larry Nassar, who is serving life in prison.

— Gary Haugen, founder and chief executive officer of International Justice Mission, the world’s largest anti-slavery organization.

— Beth Moore, popular Bible teacher with Living Proof Ministries and survivor of childhood sexual abuse.

— Diane Langberg, psychologist and speaker who is widely recognized for her 45 years of work with trauma and abuse victims.

— Ronnie Floyd, SBC Executive Committee president.

— Jackie Hill Perry, poet, speaker and artist with Humble Beast Records.

— Ben Mandrell, new LifeWay Christian Resources president.

— Jennifer Michelle Greenberg, writer, music artist and abuse survivor.

Others among the more than 40 speakers will include experts on sexual abuse, pastors, survivors of abuse and advocates for victims, according to the ERLC. Among the topics addressed by speakers, panels and breakout sessions will be sexual abuse and the SBC; listening to survivors; lamenting abuse; caring well for victims as a church; partnering with law enforcement and social services; church practices; response protocols; and theological and church polity issues.

The conference will follow more than a year of growing awareness of sexual abuse in churches and responses to the crisis by the SBC and its entities. Among the developments:

— Greear formed the Sexual Abuse Advisory Study in July 2018 shortly after his election as SBC president. Working in collaboration with the ERLC, the fluid study group has received input from hundreds of people, including abuse survivors and their advocates, lawyers, pastors, law enforcement officials, counselors and denominational leaders.

— In February, the Houston Chronicle — joined by the San Antonio Express-News — began what is now an ongoing series on sexual abuse in Southern Baptist churches. The initial articles in the series found 220 pastors and other leaders in Southern Baptist churches who had been convicted of or taken plea deals in sex crimes involving more than 700 victims. The series has since reported on more abusers in churches, as well as some who served as missionaries with the International Mission Board.

— At the SBC Executive Committee meeting in February, Greear presented 10 calls to action based on initial recommendations from the Sexual Abuse Advisory Study.

— LifeWay, the ERLC and the advisory study announced June 6 the release of “Becoming a Church That Cares Well for the Abused,” a free, comprehensive training curriculum that consists of a handbook with 12 video lessons from experts in a variety of areas.

— The ERLC and the advisory study also announced June 6 the “Caring Well Challenge,” an invitation for churches to become equipped to prevent predatory behavior and to care for survivors by participating in an eight-step program in the next year.

— The Sexual Abuse Advisory Study issued a 52-page report June 8 that recommended several steps of action intended to help thwart abuse and to care for survivors. The Advisory Study made a presentation at the SBC’s annual meeting June 12.

— The ERLC and the advisory study co-hosted June 10 on the eve of the SBC meeting a panel discussion on sex abuse in the SBC.

— Messengers to the SBC meeting approved June 11 amendments to the SBC constitution to specify sexual abuse and discrimination based on ethnicity are grounds for a church to be deemed as “not in friendly cooperation” with the convention. They also voted to amend the SBC’s bylaws to reshape the Credentials Committee into a standing panel to inquire into and recommend actions regarding incidents of sexual abuse, racism or other issues that call a church’s relationship with the SBC into question.

Information on and registration for the conference are available at erlc.com/upcoming-events/2019-erlc-national-conference.