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Sex abuse to be ERLC’s national conference focus

NASHVILLE (BP) — The crisis of sexual abuse in churches has convinced the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission to change the topic of its 2019 national conference.

The ERLC announced Tuesday (April 30) the theme of this fall’s event will be “Caring Well: Equipping the Church to Confront the Abuse Crisis.” The conference — offered in partnership with the SBC Sexual Abuse Presidential Advisory Study Oct. 3-5 at the Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention Center in Grapevine, Texas — will focus on preventing sexual abuse in churches and ministering to survivors of such abuse.

The ERLC had previously announced this year’s conference would be on “Gospel Courage: Truth and Justice in a Divided World.” News reports and developments within the convention in recent months regarding sex abuse persuaded the entity to alter the theme.

The ERLC “came to a realization” as it planned a conference on Gospel courage, the entity’s president, Russell Moore, said.

“That is, the scourge of sexual abuse in churches is the very embodiment of the need for Gospel courage,” Moore said in an April 30 news release. “Combating abuse takes clear eyes, resolute focus and a willingness to engage in painful, complicated questions. This is a critical season for churches seeking to address this crisis.

“As we thought about this, we realized if we want to talk about courage, then we owed it to our churches and the world around us to talk about courage in light of this area of great need,” he said. “So that’s what we’re going to do. I look forward to this event with the hope that it will be one more step toward combating the satanic evil of sexual abuse.”

Speakers at the sixth annual conference will include Moore and:

— 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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other speakers will include experts on sexual abuse, survivors of abuse, advocates for victims and pastors, 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.

Sexual abuse already was a significant issue in the SBC, but a February investigative series by the Houston Chronicle, joined by the San Antonio Express-News, revealed some of the extent of the problem in the convention. The investigation 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.

About a month after his 2018 election as SBC president, Greear announced in July the formation of the sexual abuse study to address the problem. He is collaborating with the ERLC in the work of the advisory study, which is receiving input from abuse survivors and their advocates, lawyers, pastors, law enforcement officials, counselors and denominational leaders — a majority who are women.

At the SBC Executive Committee meeting in February, Greear presented 10 calls to action based on initial recommendations from the advisory study.

A new curriculum — “Becoming a Church That Cares Well for the Abused” — will be unveiled at the SBC annual meeting June 11-12 in Birmingham, Ala., as a result of the partnership between the ERLC and the advisory study. The material is designed to prepare pastors and other leaders to respond properly to initial abuse reports.

The ERLC and the advisory study will co-host June 10 in Birmingham a panel discussion on sex abuse in the SBC. The panel will feature Greear, Denhollander, Russell Moore and Beth Moore.

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