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New IBSA training helps ministry leaders prevent sexual abuse

Child Protection“You’re not going to leave this training feeling uplifted.”

Mark Emerson introduced a new IBSA workshop on creating a safe environment for children with a sobering series of statistics:

  • 90% of sexual abuse victims are abused by someone they know and trust.
  • 66% of those victims don’t report the abuse until they are an adult.
  • Just 10% of offenders ever come into contact with the criminal justice system.

Emerson, IBSA’s associate executive director for the Church Resources Team, teamed up with Next Generation Ministries director Jack Lucas to offer the training at First Baptist Church in Morton May 16. The workshop was held as the Southern Baptist Convention considered its response to sexual abuse involving SBC leaders and churches. The denomination took action at its June annual meeting, including a “Caring Well Challenge” designed to help churches prevent future abuse and care well for survivors

In Morton, Emerson and Lucas shared that there are 60 million sexual abuse survivors in the United States. An astonishing one in five Americans will be sexually abused before the age of 18. Statistically, that data means 14 people in the average IBSA church are survivors of sexual abuse.

“Part of the problem is in our churches we don’t want to acknowledge that there is a problem,” Lucas said. “It happens in small churches, in large churches, small towns, and in big cities.”

A recent LifeWay Research study found 32% of Southern Baptist churchgoers believe many more Protestant pastors have sexually abused children or teens than have been brought to light (43% disagreed and 25% said they don’t know). Of those surveyed, 4% said they knew of someone attending their church who had sexually abused a child, but it has not yet come to light.

“Perceptions are reality,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. “When almost a third of churchgoers sense there is an avalanche of abuse and assault cases coming, Protestant churches must address this head-on, even if few say they actually know someone whose abuse is still hidden.”

Identify ‘grooming’ behavior
At the IBSA training, Emerson and Lucas identified three types of abusers. The first is the abduction offender who has no previous relationship with the victim. Abduction offenders comprise 4% of abusers. More common is the peer-to-peer offender. “All bad behavior of a sexual nature is not from adults,” Lucas noted. “There’s been a 300% increase within schools in the last 3-4 years. More than 50% of reported abuse cases in Illinois are actually peer-to-peer.”

The third, most dangerous type is the preferential offender—someone whose victim knows and trusts them. One statistic says 90% of child victims of sexual abuse know the perpetrator. “Check-in systems do not work against preferential offenders,” Lucas said. “We can’t recognize the risk visually. We have to recognize risk behaviorally.”

That’s why it’s so important that churches learn to recognize the grooming process, the IBSA trainers said in Morton. “Grooming” refers to tactics an abuser uses in his or her relationship with a child to facilitate abuse.

When an offender is seeking to abuse a victim, he or she is generally looking to do so through deception, not violence, Emerson explained. And the abuser isn’t just grooming the victim, but also the gatekeepers—a pastor, the parents, church leaders. Grooming is about gaining access to the kids, and groomers often seek out career and volunteer opportunities related to children in churches.

“If there is somebody taking pictures, too much interaction, making friends with a couple to make friends with their child…You need to take note,” Emerson said. “There’s always that guy. If it’s done over the top you’ve got to take note of that.”

Emerson further described the groomer as someone who “appears helpful, trustworthy, and kind. He’s already picked out the child at your church. He knows what the targeted child wants or needs. He is skilled at age-specific communication.”

Groomers often target children who are:

  • unconnected, on the fringe, or in need;
  • seeking someone to follow or trust;
  • from a broken family or single-parent home, or seeking a father figure; or
  • already involved with alcohol or drugs, or pornography.

According to Emerson, a groomer will seek to introduce nudity and sexual touch into the relationship. He’ll do this through barrier testing and erosion, such as taking a child or youth home by himself after an event. Sexual discussion and joking will seep into conversations. Playful touch and “accidental nudity” might be introduced. He will create a culture where nudity and sex is acceptable or cool, including sharing magazines and movies.

Once he has succeeded in abusing his victim, the groomer will work to keep the victim silent through shame, embarrassment, and threats.

Create safer policies and procedures
Emerson and Lucas urged churches to have child protection policies in place, including a purpose statement and clear definition of terms. “When you say child, youth, adult, staff, volunteer, approved worker, who are you talking about?” asked Lucas. “What do we mean when we say ‘child’? Is an adult someone age 21 and above?”

The next step is to define what it means to be an approved worker. This entails an application, background check, reference check, and safety training. “MinistrySafe is the best one we have found,” Lucas said, referencing the national organization dedicated to equipping churches in the area of preventing sexual abuse and ministering to victims.

A group tasked with studying abuse in Southern Baptist churches released in June a free 12-session video curriculum for churches. “Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused” is available at churchcares.com.

There are some policy points that must be mandatory for churches, Emerson and Lucas said. For example, a two-adult rule protects children and the church, while also shielding workers in the room from a false accusation. If at all possible, do not put spouses together, the trainers advised. They also encouraged:

  • a minimum 6-month attendance rule for all workers;
  • approved-worker status;
  • clear sight lines into each classroom; and
  • check-in and release procedures.

If abuse has occurred, it’s important that churches offer professional counseling for those who are suffering, Lucas said. “In the life of a victim, something is really wrong and we as a church need to love that victim. We need to show them we care and want to protect them.”

For more resources on preventing sexual abuse in your church and caring well for survivors of abuse, go to IBSA.org/protect.

High court sends case back to Court of Appeals
Aaron and Melissa Klein lost their Oregon bakery and were required to pay $135,000 for refusing to create a cake for a same-sex wedding in 2013. Now the U.S. Supreme Court has sent their case back to the Oregon Court of Appeals for reconsideration in light of the Court’s decision in favor of fellow baker Jack Phillips last year.

Illinois Baptist pastor urges prayer for churches in the state
Abortion-expanding legislation, high-profile pastoral failures, and a pending statewide “exodus” are a few of the concerns cited by Chicago pastor Nathan Carter. “Yet Christians must not despair or retreat,” Carter writes in his call to prayer on ERLC.com.

Baptists lament past failures on abuse, commit to care well in the future
Meeting in Birmingham for their annual meeting last week, Southern Baptists approved an amendment to the SBC Constitution that specifies sexual abuse as grounds for discontinuing cooperation with a church. They also voted to establish a standing committee to investigate claims of misconduct against churches related to abuse and other issues.

Bishops vote to create abuse hotline
U.S. Catholic Bishops approved at their annual meeting the creation of a hotline to receive allegations of sexual abuse or abuse cover-up. The hotline will be operational in a year, according to U.S. News & World Report, and will cost about $50,000 a year to run.

LifeWay presidential search team to report June 28
Trustees of LifeWay Christian Resources will gather for a special meeting June 28 to consider a report from the search team looking for the Southern Baptist entity’s new president. Former President Thom Rainer announced his retirement last August and served through February of this year.

Sources: Christian Post, Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Illinois Baptist, U.S. News & World Report, Baptist Press

Ahead of Birmingham meeting, Executive Committee may also reword proposed amendment
The Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee will meet prior to the denomination’s annual meeting this month to consider new measures to combat sexual abuse. One potential option: A standing committee to assess claims of church misconduct brought at annual meetings and at other times during the year for alleged departures from Southern Baptist polity, doctrine, or practice.

“Over the last year,” SBC President J.D. Greear told Baptist Press, “it has become clear the SBC needs a clearer process for responding to abuse, as well as qualified individuals speaking into the process who ensure that we are a convention of churches who adhere to the legal standards of reporting abuse.

“This standing credentials committee is an important step in that direction.”

Trump makes impromptu visit to Virginia church
President Donald Trump was prayed for by Pastor David Platt Sunday during a surprise visit to McLean Bible Church. The visit coincided with evangelist Franklin Graham’s call to pray for the President on Sunday, June 2. After criticism, Platt shed light on the President’s visit and the prayer in a letter to his congregation.

Illinois lawmakers approve expanded abortion, legal pot, and sports betting
Over the last few days of their spring session, the Illinois legislature moved forward on several high-profile issues of concern to conservative and Christian voters, including the Reproductive Health Acts, which pro-life advocates have called one of the nation’s most extreme abortion laws.

More state leaders sign laws to restrict abortion
Missouri Gov. Mike Parsons and Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards signed legislation last week to ban abortion early in pregnancy, joining five other states who approved similar laws this year.

Millennial non-Christians show more spiritual curiosity than older adults
Barna reports that young non-Christians have more conversations about faith than do older non-believers, and they are more interested in learning what Christianity could mean for their lives.

Sources: Baptist Press, Christianity Today, McLean Bible Church, Illinois Baptist, Barna Research

Giving is up amid declines in baptisms, membership, and worship attendance
The most recent Annual Church Profile reports collected by the Southern Baptist Convention show continued decline in key markers, including a 3% decrease in baptisms from the previous year. And Christianity Today noted membership fell to 14.8 million in 2018, the lowest since 1987.

“As we look forward, it is time to press reset spiritually and strategically in the Southern Baptist Convention,” said SBC Executive Committee President and CEO Ronnie Floyd. “Prioritizing and elevating the advancement of the good news of Jesus Christ into every town, city and county in America, as well to every person across the world, must be recaptured by every church.”

>Related: New data from the General Social Survey says just over half of people who were Southern Baptists at 16 still are as adults.

Churchgoers split on existence of undiscovered sexual abuse by pastors
Nearly all churchgoers say their church is a safe place where children and teenagers are protected from sexual abuse, according to a new survey by LifeWay Research. But almost one-third (32%) also believe many more Protestant pastors have sexually abused children or teens than we have heard about, while 37% disagree and 31% say they don’t know.

Texas lawmakers pass ‘Save Chick-Fil-A’ bill
A so-called “Save Chick-Fil-A” bill was approved May 22 by Texas lawmakers, prohibiting government entities from acting against businesses and people because of their associations with religious organizations. The bill is connected to the chicken chain following the San Antonio airport’s decision to deny space to Chick-Fil-A based on its support for traditional marriage. Gov. Greg Abbott is expected to sign the bill into law.

Younger Americans find more meaning in work than religion
Americans under 40—less likely to say religion is important to them—are finding more meaning and identity in the companies they work for and the jobs they do, Fast Company reports.

-Baptist Press, Christianity Today, LifeWay Research, Fast Company

Baptists authored bill now before Texas Senate
Southern Baptists initiated a measure they hope the Texas Senate will vote to approve before the May 27 end of their current session. The bill, Baptist Press reported, would protect charitable organizations, their volunteers, and independent contractors from liability when disclosing credible sexual abuse allegations to prospective employers, even when no criminal charges have been filed against the accused.

The Texas House of Representatives unanimously approved the bill May 8.

Harvest pulls MacDonald’s sermons
Three months after firing Pastor James MacDonald, Harvest Bible Chapel in Chicagoland has removed audio and video versions of his sermons from their online channels. The church also won’t move forward with plans to distribute MacDonald’s “Walk in the Word” digitally, Christianity Today reported.

Freed woman’s attorney takes up another blasphemy case in Pakistan
The attorney for Asia Bibi, who was imprisoned for years on charges of blasphemy, said he will help the woman who now occupies her prison cell.

States consider Bible classes in public schools
Several states are now offering elective Bible and religion classes for public school students. The Washington Post explains how it works in two school districts in Kentucky, and how advocates are working to pass similar legislation in more states.

Survey: Growing diversity has advantages and challenges, Americans say
Americans have complicated views about the country’s growing diversity, Pew Research reports. Among the findings of a new survey: three-quarters of people say it’s important to promote diversity in the workplace, but only 24% believe companies should take race and ethnicity into account along with qualifications when it comes to decisions about hiring and promotions.

-Baptist Press, Christianity Today (2), USA Today, The Washington Post, Pew Research

Supreme Court will hear funeral home case
The U.S. Supreme Court announced Monday it will consider whether the country’s job discrimination laws apply to sexual orientation and gender identity. One case they’ll hear concerns a Michigan funeral home sued after firing a transgender employee.

Easter marked by mourning in Sri Lanka
Almost 300 people were killed and hundreds more injured in a series of suicide bombings in Sri Lankan churches and hotels. While no group has yet taken responsibility for the attacks, officials were warned churches could be targeted by a radical Islamist group, Christianity Today reported.

The nation of 21 million people is on Open Doors’ 2019 World Watch List, which profiles the 50 most dangerous countries for Christians.

Sovereign Grace responds to renewed calls for investigation
A network of churches headquartered in Louisville, Ky., said last week that an outside investigation into whether church leaders covered up sexual abuse would represent a “theological capitulation” that “would ultimately dishonor Christ and harm the cause of the gospel.”

Sovereign Grace Louisville, one of 72 churches in the evangelical network, was referenced by Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear in a February report in which he called on the SBC Executive Committee to consider whether 10 churches had dealt appropriately with allegations of sexual abuse. The bylaws workgroup of the Executive Committee later reported that the Sovereign Grace matter merited further inquiry.

Two Southern Baptist seminary presidents have apologized for their support of C.J. Mahaney, former president of the network and current lead pastor of Sovereign Grace Lousiville.

Church membership down nationwide
Half of American adults are members of a church, according to new data from Gallup. The percentage is 20 points lower than it was 20 years ago, and mirrors the trend toward non-affiliation with a religion. Twenty years ago, 8% of Americans said they had no religion, Gallup reported, but the current share is 19%.

Annual study details Americans’ relationship with the Bible
More U.S. adults are engaged with the Word of God, but fewer are Bible-centered, according to Barna’s 2019 State of the Bible survey. While 59% believe the message of the Bible has transformed their lives, 35% of adults report never using it.

Sources: USA Today, The Christian Post, Christianity Today (2), Open Doors USA, Gallup, Barna

Pro-life organizations urge advocates to visit lawmakers this week
As Illinois lawmakers consider abortion legislation one lobbyist called “more extreme than New York’s,” pro-life advocates will be in Springfield Wednesday, March 20, for a “Lobby Day” and rally outside the Capitol.

Court finds in favor of ministers’ housing allowance
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit unanimously reversed an earlier lower court ruling that found the ministers’ housing allowance unconstitutional. The tax exemption permits “ministers of the gospel” to exclude for federal income tax purposes a portion or all of their gross income as a housing allowance. The Seventh Circuit’s decision rejected claims by the Freedom From Religion Foundation that the tax law grants a government benefit to a religious group.

Seminary answers Facebook’s questions
Gateway Seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention responded to inquiries from Facebook about a post the school tried to boost on the social media site (Facebook refused). The post included this quote from President Jeff Iorg: “Holding the line on positions based on timeless biblical standards as an ultimate authority has been and always will be important.” Facebook asked questions about the seminary and Iorg, the president wrote later, “to establish we are a valid company, not a hate group or a foreign entity.”

Texas bill would protect churches that report sexual abuse
Southern Baptist pastors have proposed legislation in Texas that would allow churches to disclose allegations of sexual abuse without fear of civil liability. “I don’t think that it solves all of the problems related to abuse and sexual misconduct,” said Pastor Ben Wright, who helped initiate the bill. “But it does help churches and organizations know that if they pass on information that they believe to be true, that they have good reason to believe is true, it helps them know that they will be shielded from potential lawsuits.”

Most churches report little growth, few conversions
A new study by LifeWay Research found 6 in 10 Protestant churches are plateaued or declining in attendance and more than half saw fewer than 10 people become new Christians in the past 12 months.

-Illinois Baptist media, FactsandTrends.net, Baptist Press (2), LifeWay Research

 

 

 

 

 

 

Who’s at your table?
A new Barna study found one-fourth of households with practicing Christians are “spiritually vibrant,” meaning families pray and read the Bible together, talk about God regularly, and open their doors to non-family guests. They also eat together, researchers found—63% of vibrant households eat breakfast together, and 75% share dinner.

College dean quits after school blocks Chick-Fil-A on campus
Rider University’s Cynthia Newman announced she will step down as a dean at the New Jersey school after a popular fast food chain was removed from a list of possible on-campus offerings. Chick-Fil-A got favorable reviews on a student survey last year, but was removed from a second survey because of its CEO’s much-publicized views on marriage.

Georgia church fires staff member accused of abuse
One of the Southern Baptist churches named in newspaper investigation of sexual abuse has terminated a staff member who allegedly admitted he had assaulted young people, Baptist Press reports. Trinity Baptist in Ashburn, Ga., was one of 10 churches identified in a February report in the Houston Chronicle as having ignored claims or dealt inappropriately with charges of sexual abuse.

>Related: Response to abuse spurs debate over Baptist process, polity

Baker reaches truce in legal battle over cakes
Jack Phillips has ended his legal battle with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, but the six-year conflict raised questions—many still unanswered—about a proprieter’s right to limit business based on religious conviction, Baptist Press reports.

UK rules could protect minors from internet porn
New guidelines in the United Kingdom will require users of free online pornography sites to verify they are legal adults, possibly serving as a gatekeeper for younger users.

Living in the aftermath: Pastor recounts Alabama tornadoes
Kevin Webb, associate pastor at Lakeview Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala., writes that many in his community are still reeling from tornadoes that killed 23 people earlier this month.

Sources: Barna, Associated Press, Baptist Press (2), Relevant, Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission

SBC workgroup clears 6 churches, says 3 warrant further inquiry
During a Feb. 18 report in Nashville, Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear named 10 Southern Baptist churches mentioned in a recent newspaper report on sexual abuse, asking the SBC Executive Committee’s bylaws workgroup to determine whether the churches have operated with a faith and practice closely aligned to the SBC’s adopted statement of faith.

The workgroup responded Feb. 23, reporting that while three of the churches warrant further inquiry, six do not. The response was met with dismay and outrage by victims and advocates, including Rachael Denhollander, a member of Greear’s Presidential Study Group on Sexual Abuse.

“J.D. Greear and some leaders have been seeking expert/survivor help and moving forward with firm first steps to change,” Denhollander tweeted. “The EC has undermined and destroyed that effort. I hope these mistakes are due to lack of learning and that they will withdraw, seek help and remedy these errors.”

Illinois Disaster Relief volunteer childcare room brings peace after shooting
Three days after a gunman killed five people at an Aurora manufacturing plant, Illinois Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers were on the scene to minister to grieving families.

Methodists vote to uphold Biblical sexuality
The United Methodist Church on Tuesday voted at its international conference in St. Louis, Mo., to apply its standards on Biblical marriage and sexuality more consistently throughout the denomination, according to World Magazine.

Executive Committee: Presidential nomination coming ‘very soon’
Illinois Baptist pastor Adron Robinson said the SBC’s Executive Committee has identified “God’s candidate” for their presidential vacancy. Robinson, search committee vice chairman and pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Country Club Hills, said Feb. 19 the search committee cannot announce the candidate’s name yet because they have not officially notified the person of their intent to nominate him.

10-year-old advises SBC leaders on value of kids in ministry
Ten-year-old Zak McCullar brightened the Executive Committee’s February meeting with his presentation in favor of a Children’s Ministry Day across the Southern Baptist Convention. McCullar, who made a motion supporting the idea during last summer’s SBC annual meeting, spoke to the EC during their final session Feb. 19.

Greear: ‘Abuse is never the fault of the abused’
One day after two newspapers released an investigation into sexual abuse in Southern Baptist churches, Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear urged victims of abuse who haven’t reported it to reach out for help. “Abuse is never the fault of the abused,” Greear said in an article co-authored with biblical counselor Brad Hambrick. “The appropriate response of anyone who is representing Jesus to you should be care and compassion.”

The article includes resources for finding help to deal with the trauma of abuse, and also counsel for pastors and church leaders. “People in our churches and community need to know that we are concerned about their safety, not about our reputation,” Greear and Hambrick wrote. “The way we respond in this moment—either in protecting and caring for victims, or defending ourselves and our institutions—will either obscure or adorn the gospel we claim to preach.”

IBSA releases statement on abuse
Following the Houston Chronicle’s report on sexual abuse, the Illinois Baptist State Association urged churches to employ a rigorous screening process for potential staff and volunteers.

“As one national leader pointed out, Southern Baptist churches do not have bishops, but are a priesthood of believers,” the statement reads. “That means all believers in Jesus Christ are personally responsible to God, and as church members are responsible to and for each other. As such, we all must take care to protect each other, especially children and the vulnerable. In addition, when local church leaders become aware of abuse or the potential for abuse, they should deal swiftly and legally with the perpetrators.”

Millennials lukewarm on evangelism
Nearly half (47%) of practicing Christian Millennials believe it’s “wrong to share one’s personal beliefs with someone of a different faith in hopes that they will one day share the same faith.” Barna Research also found that despite their hesitance, the overwhelming majority of Millennial Christians believe witnessing about Jesus is part of being a Christian.

Greear names diverse Committee on Committees
Reflecting his commitment to promote diversity in Southern Baptist leadership, SBC President J.D. Greear named a 2019 Committee on Committees he said is “truly a reflection of Christ’s kingdom.” The group will nominate members of the Committee on Nominations who will, in 2020, nominate trustees for the boards of SBC entities. The committee includes two members from each Baptist state convention; Illinois’s representatives are Michael Allen, pastor of Uptown Baptist Churh in Chicago, and David Sutton, pastor of Bread of Life Missionary Baptist Church in Chicago.

5 moments from the National Prayer Breakfast
The Feb. 7 gathering included bipartisan prayer, reports The Christian Post, along with worship led by Chris Tomlin, a testimony from a Christian doctor who helped fight Ebola, and a plea to end human trafficking.