NASHVILLE (BP) — Baptists in Texas received the benefit earlier this month of an alliance between the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC) and Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission in the effort to educate churches about sexual abuse prevention.
The SBTC partnered with the ERLC to make the ERLC’s national conference — “Caring Well: Equipping the Church to Confront the Abuse Crisis” — one of the opportunities for sexual abuse awareness training for members of its churches. Seventy-seven pastors and volunteers from SBTC churches participated in the conference Oct. 3-5 in Grapevine, Texas.
Funding to attend the ERLC conference, cosponsored by the SBC Sexual Abuse Advisory Group, was part of an SBTC initiative this year. The effort, announced in February, underwrites training for up to five people per congregation in as many as 1,000 SBTC churches. The training — conducted by the organization MinistrySafe, which seeks to prevent child sexual abuse in church and ministry settings — may be accessed online or in sessions at different locations across the state in 2019.
ERLC Executive Vice President Phillip Bethancourt expressed gratitude for the alliance with the SBTC.
“Baptists are at our best when we work together to equip our churches,” Bethancourt said in written comments for Baptist Press. “The chance to partner with the SBTC enabled us to serve Texas churches in ways we could not have done otherwise.”
Kelly King, the SBTC’s ministry consultant for the initiative and its liaison to MinistrySafe, described the “Caring Well” conference as “very helpful and eye-opening. I had some people come comment to me, and their eyes were really big and ‘Oh, wow.’ A lot of people learned a lot of new things or some things were reinforced.”
Those who attended the conference as part of the SBTC initiative were automatically registered for MinistrySafe’s breakout training sessions held during the three-day event, but they were also able to attend all the general sessions and other breakout sessions.
The conference benefited First Baptist Church in Waskom, Texas, because it educated those who attended, “in very practical ways, on how to make our church a much safer environment for everyone,” said senior pastor Ivy Shelton.
While First Baptist has background checks and a check-in system in the children’s ministry, the conference “really highlighted the need to do so much more to protect those who might be vulnerable within our church,” Shelton told BP in an email interview. “The ‘Caring Well’ conference helped open our eyes to the great need of addressing the possibility of internal threats that are often very difficult to identify.”
Shelton and three others from First Baptist Church attended the conference. Waskom is near the Louisiana border. The church has signed on with MinistrySafe to complete its online training.
King — an adjunct teacher at Southwestern and Midwestern Baptist Theological seminaries, as well as Dallas Baptist University — expressed hope about the effort to combat sex abuse and care for its victims.
“[E]ven the small amount that was there at the [conference] relative to the whole Southern Baptist Convention, even if those people take it back to their church or back to their families and actually are more aware of and actually do something and respond more appropriately in the future, then that’s a good thing,” she told BP in a phone interview.
“It doesn’t feel like a lot of progress is being made, but you talk to individual people and you see the change in their perspectives and their reactions,” she said.
The remaining SBTC regional training events with MinistrySafe are Nov. 19 at Southcrest Baptist Church in Lubbock, Nov. 20 at High Pointe Baptist Church in Austin and Dec. 3 at First Baptist Church in Houston.
Videos of the ERLC conference sessions are available at https://www.facebook.com/erlcsbc/.