NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–The June/July issue of SBC Life features an eight-page pull-out special report on child sexual abuse aimed at urging churches — and assisting them in doing so — to take steps in protecting children from sexual predators.
The section consists of seven stories, including a heartbreaking testimony from a woman who was sexually abused as a child, a testimony from a former social worker who worked on child abuse cases and an article from the co-founder of a ministry that seeks to educate churches about the problem.
In addition, the special report — titled “Protecting Our Children: Accepting the Responsibility, Embracing the Privilege” — includes practical advice for churches and church members on how to prevent sexual abuse within their congregations — and what to do if it does occur. The special report amplifies resources already available, including one — www.sbc.net/localchurches/ministryhelp.asp — that includes a list of ways to prevent child sexual abuse.
Studies show that between 25 and 33 percent of girls and 5 to 15 percent of boys will be sexually abused by the age of 18 — the majority of them being abused by family members or trusted family friends, the special report says.
The special report will be available at the SBC annual meeting in Indianapolis but also can be viewed online at www.SBCLife.net or www.SBC.net, and ordered by calling 866-722-5433. Also, copies of the special report are included as a pull-out section in the June/July issue of SBC Life mailed to every Southern Baptist church.
“The Apostle Paul reminded us that followers of Jesus are to cast off deeds of darkness (Romans 13:12), to put on the armor of light (Romans 13:12) and to walk as children of light (Ephesians 5:8),” said Roger S. (Sing) Oldham, executive editor of SBC Life and vice president for convention relations for the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee. “It is our hope and prayer that this issue of SBC Life will assist our churches in shining the light so that countless numbers of children will be spared the horror of abuse at the hands of a trusted spiritual leader.”
The special report consists of:
— The testimony from a woman who was abused, beginning as a 10-year-old, by her father — the church pastor. The abuse continued until she was around 17. When she finally made public her secret years later, other women in her church came forward to tell stories of how they also had been sexually abused by other men in various churches in the past. Her name was changed in the SBC Life story.
“God will not bless our churches if we do not deal with the sin of these offenders and call for true repentance,” she writes. “… Churches are finally starting to address the problem that there are many victims who are hurting and need healing; but too often churches excuse the offender, enabling him to continue in his abuse of others.”
— Observations on Isaiah 1:17 (“Seek justice, encourage the oppressed….) and how it relates to the topic of sexual abuse.
“Our Father is still concerned for those who are victims of violence and oppression,” John Revell, editor of SBC LIFE, writes. “God still expects the oppressor to be brought to justice. He does not equate forgiveness with the absolute elimination of consequences. Yet, if we remain silent in our churches, justifying inactivity with an anemic and truncated reference to ‘forgiveness,’ our claims of loving and obeying God ring hollow.”
— Insights from a woman who worked 10 years as an adult probation officer dealing directly with sexual abuse cases. The writer, Janice LaRoy, is an office and editorial assistant in the SBC Executive Committee’s office of convention relations.
“[W]e must recognize that the problem is real — not just ‘out there,’ but even in our churches,” LaRoy writes. “I faced this reality one day at the probation office when, much to my surprise, a man who had just received felony probation for sexual abuse of a minor walked in — and he was from my own church! … I wish this were the only case I had encountered involving members of evangelical churches, but it wasn’t.”
— An article by Dale Ingraham, co-founder of Speaking the Truth in Love Ministries, examining Jude 4 and its warning against evil in the church and urging churches to deal with sexual predators in their midst. Ingraham and his wife, Faith, co-founded the ministry to address the sin of sexual abuse in the body of Christ.
“Tragically, when we deny the sin, it enables offenders to continue in their sin and further intimidates victims into not speaking up. They fear no one will believe them,” Ingraham writes. “… We must humble ourselves and admit there is a problem, which means that we no longer deny, excuse, or minimize the sin.”
— An article by Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, examining the plight of abused children from the perspective of a commitment to the sanctity of human life.
“It is paramount that the body of Christ do all it can to protect these little ones, from insuring that the church and all her ministries are a place of comfort and safety to reaching out to new moms and dads who are — more often that not — suddenly overwhelmed by the challenges of parenthood,” Land writes. “A church that allows any child to be harmed through negligence or neglect soils its witness in the community and brings public disrepute to God.”
— An article examining appropriate steps for screening prospective staff and volunteers. It was written by Joe Langford, president & CEO of Florida-based Edge Information Management, Inc., a national provider of background screening and drug testing for employers.
“When it comes to protecting the lives and safety of our children, aren’t these steps reasonable?” he asks at the end of his article. “If taking these steps can help prevent our children from being exposed to the unimaginable, isn’t it worth the extra effort?”
— An article by SBC general counsel James P. Guenther looking at the steps and procedures a church should follow if an incident of child abuse is discovered.
“While it is vitally important to the victim that reports be made, it is also important to the church and to its witness,” Guenther writes. “Failure to report a crime ends up hurting all parties involved. Believers have a special responsibility to take the right road — the road of obedience both to biblical teaching and the law.”
Through the special section, Oldham said, “We wanted the issue to do five things: demonstrate that child sexual abuse is a real problem that faces our churches through testimonies from a victim and a social worker; remind our readers of the biblical commands to promote justice, protect the vulnerable and guard our churches from sinful practices; underscore that we have legal duties to protect the innocent and report the guilty; provide practical steps churches can take to make their ministries as safe as possible for children; and point readers to resources provided by Southern Baptist Convention entities and state conventions.”
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.