Editor’s note: This story was updated Oct. 16, 2023, to include information from Oklahoma.
Over the past several years, Southern Baptists state conventions and associations have been taking significant steps to prevent abuse within their churches and provide support for survivors. While the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) has faced criticism for its handling of sexual abuse cases in the past, many state conventions are now prioritizing abuse prevention and survivor care.
Here is a sampling of the efforts made by various state groups to address this issue and protect the vulnerable within our congregations.
Alabama Baptists have a webpage dedicated to helping churches be safer places, which includes resources to help churches create protection policies such as a screening form, permission for background and credit checks and a covenant of ministerial ethics. The convention also offers tools to implement the plan such as a sexual harassment policy, social media policy and computer and internet use policy. Additionally, the Alabama Baptists State Board of Missions offers a discount for churches to provide training and resources to prevent sexual abuse in churches.
Alabama Baptists have also established a Sexual Abuse Task Force, which challenges church leaders to continue the work of preventing sexual abuse in churches. They have released a joint statement expressing their sadness and grief over reports of sexual abuse and how they were handled. Furthermore, Alabama law requires pastors, church staff and volunteers to report suspicions of child abuse.
The Florida Baptist Convention has established an affiliate relationship with the Evangelical Council for Abuse Prevention (ECAP), a partnership that provides access to exclusive resources for child safety programs, training events from experts in the field and discounted admission to ECAP events. The Florida Baptist Convention has committed $30,000 in financial resources to aid churches that desire to develop robust abuse prevention.
The Florida Baptist Convention has also adopted a special committee report regarding sexual abuse policies and procedures. The committee was authorized by the convention to address abuse allegation reporting, survivor care and prevention within the state convention. Additionally, the Florida Baptist Convention offers child protection training to raise awareness for abuse prevention and child protection. It also provides ministry leaders with resources to assist them in prevention and connect ECAP with area churches.
The Georgia Baptist Mission Board offers a program called “Reduce the Risk,” which is designed to help churches train pastors, staff members and volunteer leaders every year with ease. This program is available through Ministry Grid, which is an online platform that provides training resources for churches.
Georgia Baptists also provide free access to a Sexual Abuse Awareness Training. This training is designed to help churches prevent sexual abuse and care for survivors.
The Illinois Baptist State Association (IBSA) encourages churches to study and establish effective policies for security and childcare, including check-in and check-out procedures. It also recommends background checks for all workers, including fingerprint checks of the FBI database and examination of the Sex Offender Registry maintained by the Illinois State Police.
IBSA provides SafeChurch, a program designed to help churches prevent abuse and protect their members. The program includes training on recognizing and responding to abuse, creating a safe environment for children and vulnerable adults and developing policies and procedures to prevent abuse.
IBSA is also part of the Caring Well Initiative, which is a unified call to action for churches to confront the abuse crisis.
The Kentucky Baptist Convention is offering training on sexual abuse prevention, response and care to church staff and lay leaders. The training covers child sexual abuse in Christian environments, understanding offender behaviors and the grooming process, appropriate prevention and responding to allegations, as well as understanding a trauma-informed response and care for survivors.
The Kentucky Baptist Convention has also established a Sexual Abuse Task Force to help churches prevent and respond to sexual abuse. It has prepared a handbook to help churches prevent and respond to sexual abuse, with a particular emphasis on caring for survivors. Additionally, Kentucky Baptist leaders are responding to charges of sexual abuse in a number of Southern Baptist churches across the United States.
Maryland and Delaware
The Baptist Convention of Maryland and Delaware (BCM/D) approved a constitutional change that requires churches to take steps toward preventing sexual abuse and caring for survivors. The BCM/D also provides initial and ongoing training for staff, volunteers and church members that raises awareness and shares effective actions to prevent incidents. Pathways is a resource they use that provides churches with a clear and concise plan to prevent sexual abuse and care for survivors.
The BCM/D is part of the Caring Well Initiative. The convention is also able to leverage faith-based and community initiatives which support several programs in mental health services, substance abuse prevention and addiction treatment at the national, state and local levels.
N.C. Baptists have created a guide to help survivors of sexual abuse. The guide provides information on how to determine the classification of the information that is shared with you, how to report the information, how to listen and provide counsel, how to train the leaders within your women’s ministry and how to refer to a counselor.
They also provide resources to help churches by providing training to help churches recognize and prevent abuse, as well as care for those who have been affected by abuse.
Oklahoma Baptists have made a priority of investing in training for church staff and volunteers in the areas of preventing sexual abuse and caring for abuse survivors. Over the last several years, regional events have been offered for churches and associations. In the last six months alone, approximately 3,700 online courses have been completed and funded by Oklahoma Baptists on the topic of sexual abuse awareness and peer-to-peer abuse awareness. More than 2,400 Oklahoma Baptists’ church staff and volunteers completed these courses without charge to the local church.
In the past year, Oklahoma Baptists’ Abuse Prevention Task Force created and distributed a comprehensive Abuse Prevention and Response Guide for churches in print and digital form. This resource, which includes research-based, biblically-informed recommendations and best practices, has been utilized by other states.
Oklahoma Baptists offers financial assistance for counseling for abuse victims, their families, and the local church when abuse occurs and has established a telephone hotline to which abuse concerns can be brought.
Pennsylvania and South Jersey
The Baptist Resource Network of Pennsylvania and South Jersey is focusing on creating awareness of abuse issues and vulnerabilities in churches, as well as providing information and resources for churches to be compliant and safe. Some of the specific actions the network has taken include:
- Making it a requirement for all affiliated churches to have protocols in place for the security of minors and vulnerable adults, as already required by state law.
- Promoting local resources available to individuals and churches, such as Keep Kids Safe, Pennsylvania, which explains state laws and procedures governing child protection and the reporting of child abuse, and the PA Family Support Alliance, which provides education, support and training programs to make Pennsylvania safe for children.
- Offering ministry and care for those affected by abuse, recognizing the seriousness of these issues.
In addition to these efforts, the Baptist Resource Network has also partnered with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) to utilize resources such as the SBC’s guide on preventing abuse, which provides information on topics like preparing church leadership for disclosure by a sexual abuse victim, screening and training volunteers and more. This collaboration with the SBC allows the BRN to leverage the expertise and resources of a larger network in their efforts to prevent abuse in churches.
The Tennessee Baptist Mission Board (TBMB) provides resources to help churches prevent abuse and care for survivors. These resources include training and education on how to recognize and prevent abuse, as well as how to care for those who have been affected by abuse.
In 2019, TBMB developed a task force composed of Baptist physicians, therapists, student and children’s ministers and pastors to develop increased resources for Tennessee Baptist Churches. The information gathered by the task force is provided on the TBMB website as a starting place for church leaders. In November 2022, the Tennessee Baptist Convention presented a sexual abuse report, urging the adoption of best practices to prevent abuse. The task force was asked to evaluate the process of how the Tennessee Baptist Convention responds to allegations of sexual abuse and to evaluate the best practices to prevent abuse.
The Southern Baptist of Texas Convention (SBTC) offers Sexual Abuse Awareness Training, which is a 1.5-hour online course designed to help churches prevent sexual abuse and care for survivors. The SBTC also provides training and resources to help churches prevent sexual abuse and care for survivors
The SBTC assists churches with awareness and education on the topic of sexual abuse prevention, specifically in ministry contexts. It offers resources and training to help churches prevent abuse and care for survivors.
The Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT) equips churches to combat sexual abuse through a proactive strategy of protection, reporting and caring well.
Through a relationship with MinistrySafe, the BGCT provides numerous no-cost training opportunities to affiliated churches, covering topics including a 5-Part Safety System, Skillful Screening and more. Online resources explain when and how to report abuse and the biblical principles behind reporting.
Texas Baptists Counseling Services provides financial support and referrals to its state-wide network of more than 250 licensed counselors for abuse survivors, their families and others impacted by instances of abuse across the Texas Baptists family.
The BGCT has also produced a new 35-page sexual misconduct handbook outlining steps for abuse prevention and appointed a new Sexual Abuse Task Force to be comprised of executive board members, pastors, and licensed counselors to provide ongoing guidance in addressing the Convention’s abuse response.
SBC Virginia provides resources to help churches prevent abuse and care for survivors. These resources include training and education on how to recognize and prevent abuse, as well as how to care for those who have been affected by abuse. One of the programs offered is Safe Church Training, which is a comprehensive program designed to help churches prevent abuse and protect their members. The training covers topics such as recognizing and responding to abuse, creating a safe environment for children and vulnerable adults, and developing policies and procedures to prevent abuse.
SBC Virginia has also established a Sexual Abuse Task Force to help churches prevent and respond to sexual abuse. The task force provides resources and training to help churches create safe environments for their members.
Editor’s note: This story was updated after initial publication to include information from the Baptist General Convention of Texas.