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MeToo

It happens every day. Women and children, and sometimes men, are victims of physical, sexual, mental, and other types of abuse. Many are too afraid or embarrassed to seek help. Some won’t even admit to themselves what is happening. Others turn to pastors and church leaders for help. But pastors and church leaders don’t always feel equipped to help.

For those in ministry, there is increased confusion over which incidents to report, which government officials to report them to, and when it’s appropriate to break a church member’s confidence in the sometimes competing matters of compassion and compliance.

Southern Baptists were rocked last spring when the denomination came face-to-face with the #MeToo movement sweeping the country. Paige Patterson, then president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, received sharp criticism for remarks he had made in a sermon in 2000 about his counsel to a woman regarding domestic abuse and divorce. Patterson was also alleged to have mishandled allegations of sexual assault while serving as president of another Southern Baptist seminary.

The Patterson controversy, which ended in his firing, was followed by other, unrelated allegations of sexual abuse that had gone unreported for decades. In May, Southern Seminary President Albert Mohler wrote, “The SBC is in the midst of its own horrifying #MeToo moment.”

It’s not just the denomination that’s reeling from the movement; individual churches are wrestling with the issues of domestic abuse, sexual abuse, and sexual assault, and struggling to determine the legal requirements of reporting such violence. They’re also tasked with answering a different question: How do we deal faithfully with these issues, in light of the gospel?

Reporting abuse
A recent LifeWay Research study found two-thirds of pastors say domestic or sexual violence occurs in the lives of people in their church. But half say they don’t have sufficient training to address it. And about one-third of pastors who have heard of the #MeToo movement say it has caused more confusion about the issue for their church.

One helpful resource for IBSA churches is Illinois Baptist Children’s Home and Family

Services, led by Executive Director Denny Hydrick. BCHFS is very familiar with Illinois laws regarding reporting child abuse, and also employs counselors at its Pathways Counseling Centers around the state who work with people of all ages. The agency is equipped to help IBSA churches as they wade through the proper steps in reporting abuse and caring for the abused, no matter their age.

In recent years, sexual abuse scandals in religious communities have compelled churches and clergy members to become better equipped to report child abuse. Illinois law has a long list of mandated reporters—those people required to report suspected child abuse or neglect. Members of the clergy are on the list.

The Illinois Department of Children’s and Family Services Children’s Justice Task Force directs mandated reporters to “notify authorities of suspected child maltreatment immediately when they have ‘reasonable cause to believe’ that a child known to them in their professional or official capacity may be an abused or neglected child.” Reports may be made by calling (800) 252-2873.

Domestic violence can be a more difficult topic for church leaders, because reporting isn’t generally mandated. The Illinois Domestic Violence Act (IDVA), which is used to obtain orders of protection, discusses physical abuse as well as harassment, interference with personal liberty, intimidation of a dependent, willful deprivation, neglect, and exploitation.

The act doesn’t speak directly to churches or clergy, but it may offer some guidance in defining different types of domestic violence and outlining the responsibilities of law enforcement and healthcare providers.

What about events that took place in the past? In Illinois, when abuse involves what was then a minor, “you do have a duty to report that even though it is no longer occurring,” Hydrick said.

When dealing with children, attorney Richard Baker stressed that mandated reporters have a legal obligation to report abuse within 48 hours. But the standards for reporting change when dealing with adults. Baker, a partner at Mauck & Baker, LLC in Chicago, said, “The assumption is when you are an adult you have the where-with-all to report for yourself.” (Mauck & Baker specializes in religious liberty issues, and frequently represents churches in legal matters.)

The law doesn’t mandate that a pastor has to report a woman has been abused. Baker said pastors have to take into account the setting when a woman says she has been abused. “Was it confidential? Was it a group setting? Then, there isn’t such an expectation of privacy. The context is very important.”

The matter of “context” has become an issue, as some people have become concerned that public confession by an adult in a small group setting about being abused, for example, might require church leaders to notify authorities. Some church leaders in other states have suggested that is the case in their states, making sharing of personal information by group participants dicey. But, following Baker’s advice, don’t jump to conclusions just yet. Yes, it’s a gray area and laws are expanding. Baker noted new questions are being raised and precedents are being set. “[But] there are differences in religious and professional contexts,” he said.

When there are questions about what is mandated by statute, “I always go back and look it up,” he said. Licensed counselors and medical professionals have their own legal reporting standards, which are different from ministerial ethics.

Bring it to light
“We’ve heard stories in other denominations of ignoring these things or covering them up, but I think as Christians we need to be proactive in not covering them up,” Hydrick said. “I think we have to recognize sin and call it sin. We need to address sin in our own lives and churches.”

Baker argues for transparency. “Transparency in policy is a very wise thing. Everybody wants to deny and hide things under a rug, but that’s not good in the long run. We have to err on the side of love.”

This summer, messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention in Dallas approved a resolution “On Abuse.” Messengers to the IBSA Annual Meeting will be asked to consider a similar resolution next month.

In the SBC resolution, messengers voted to “condemn all forms of abuse and repudiate with a unified voice all abusive behavior as unquestionably sinful and under the just condemnation of our Holy God.” The resolution also called on “pastors and ministry leaders to foster safe environments in which abused persons may both recognize the reprehensible nature of their abuse and reveal such abuse to pastors and ministry leaders in safety and expectation of being believed and protected.”

In short: Baptist pastors are not priests, and the pastor’s office is not a confessional, but adult victims of abuse still have the priviledge of confidentiality about what may have happened to them. In contrast, alleged perpetraitors, especially in cases involving children, do not. That’s when “mandatory reporting” applies.

SBC President J.D. Greear recently announced the formation of a Sexual Abuse Advisory Committee (see column at left). And Baptist Press reported at last month’s Southern Baptist Executive Committee meeting that Gateway and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminaries have begun partnerships with Ministry Safe, a sex abuse prevention organization, to add sexual abuse and harassment prevention training to their course offerings.

The Southern Baptist Convention provides a list of resources for sexual abuse prevention on their website, sbc.net. For more information about background checks, protecting children and vulnerable adults, creating a safe environment at church, and more, go to sbc.net/churchresources/sexabuseprevention.asp.

Be ready

Denny Hydrick of Illinois Baptist Children’s Home and Family Services suggests these four steps for churches in handling domestic and sexual violence:

1. Pastors should be aware of local resources before an issue arises. Is there a nearby domestic violence shelter, and if so, how does a person make a referral? Build relationships with local law enforcement professionals. Know other social service supports, like the local Child Advocacy Center or the State’s Attorney’s office, who may also employ a victim’s advocate.

2. Keep numbers on hand. These contacts are listed on Illinois’ Department of Human Services website:
• For suspicion of child abuse or neglect – (800)-25 ABUSE

• Imminent harm or danger of any person – 911

• Abuse of a person with mental illness or developmental disability – (800) 368-1463

• Domestic Violence Helpline – (877) 863-6338

• Elder abuse – (866) 800-1409

3. Keep an updated list of local mental health and social service professionals. BCHFS is always willing to assist pastors in handling concerns with children and families, Hydrick said. Contact BCHFS at (618) 382-4164.

4. Get assistance. Often in domestic violence situations, even the best intentions of providing for safety can lead to an increase in violence. Make sure you work with a person with experience handling domestic violence situations.

Hydrick cautioned, “Safety must always supersede an ethical dilemma that may be present. There are ways to assess safety, but that should be done by a trained professional.”

More than half of American churchgoers say their political views match those of most people at their church, according to a new survey by LifeWay Research. And 57% of Protestant churchgoers under 50 say they prefer to go to church with people who share their political views. “Like many places in America, churches are divided by politics,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. “And churchgoers under 50 seem to want it that way.”

Search committee named to find next Southwestern president
A committee of nine Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary trustees has been appointed to find the Fort Worth school’s next president. The committee is tasked with finding a replacement for Paige Patterson, who was moved to emeritus status in May and terminated a week later, after coming under fire for his response to alleged sexual assault on the campus of Southeastern Seminary, where he previously served as president. The Southwestern committee includes an Illinois Baptist—Denise Ewing of First Baptist Church, Winthrop Harbor.

Southern Baptist chaplain exonerated
A U.S. Army chaplain accused of discrimination has been cleared of all charges, Baptist Press reported. Chaplain Jerry Squires told a soldier earlier this year he couldn’t perform a marriage retreat for her and her same-sex partner; he also rescheduled the event so another chaplain could perform the retreat. The Army dropped its investigation Aug. 24 after determining Squires had handled the matter in accordance with military policy.

Christian leaders advocate for refugees
A group of evangelical leaders, including Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore, sent a letter to the federal officials in August asking them to consider opening U.S. borders to 75,000 refugees for resettlement in fiscal year 2019. The number is about 50,000 higher than a limit reported being considered by the Trump Administration, The Christian Post reported.  

Illinois churches ready families for fall with shoes, haircuts, backpacks, and prayer
Across the state, churches launched students and families into the back-to-school season with a number of outreach initiatives tailored to specific needs in their communities. In Harrisburg, Dorrisville Baptist Church gave away more than 500 pairs of gym shoes while in Chicago, Another Chance Baptist Church sent kids back to school with backpacks and new glasses. Read about back-to-school outreach and more from IBSA churches in the current issue of the Illinois Baptist, online at ibonline.IBSA.org.

-LifeWay Research, Baptist Press (2), The Christian Post, Illinois Baptist

No girls allowed?

Lisa Misner —  July 26, 2018

Pence to take SBC stage Wednesday
The announcement that Vice President Mike Pence will address the Southern Baptist Convention June 13 met with some pushback from Baptists who say his appearance ties the denomination to a particular political party, and to divisive rhetoric that goes against the mission of the church. But a motion to replace Pence’s address with a time of prayer failed on the convention floor Tuesday.

Related:

  • At a panel discussion in Dallas, former SBC President James Merritt said the #metoo movement is a “wakeup call” for pastors.
  • Christianity Today reports that women—and the church’s response to abuse—are garnering “unprecedented attention” at this year’s annual meeting

Masterpiece baker: ‘My religion can’t be hidden’
Back at work at his Masterpiece Cakeshop, Jack Phillips views his faith in a new light after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled he was within his rights when he refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. Phillips says he’s learned his faith—while deeply personal—can’t be hidden from view.

Ex-LGBTQ Christians rally against bill criminalizing same-sex change
California Assembly Bill 2943, which would ban faith-based efforts to counsel members of the LGBTQ community, will be up for debate before the state’s Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday. If passed, the bill will criminalize “sexual orientation change efforts” by making it illegal to distribute resources, sell books, offer counseling services, or direct someone to a biblically-based model for getting help with gender confusion and homosexuality. Ex-LGBTQ activists and ministry leaders are working to make sure the bill is voted down.

Jockey praises ‘Lord and Savior’ after win
After winning the Belmont Stakes, Mike Smith, the jockey riding Justify in Saturday night’s race, told reporters, “First off, I want to thank my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.” Justify led all the way in New York’s Belmont Stakes on his way to becoming racing’s 13th Triple Crown winner. Smith, 52 and a devout Christian, is the oldest jockey to win the Triple Crown.

Sources: Illinois Baptist, Christian Post, Christianity Today, Colorado Public Radio, CBN (2)

The Briefing

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include a June statement from Paige Patterson’s attorney, Shelby Sharpe. His statement is available in full at Baptist Press.

Southwestern trustees issue unanimous decision to terminate president emeritus
The executive committee of the trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary unanimously resolved to terminate former president Paige Patterson May 30, following weeks of controversy and a previous decision to remove him from office and name him president emeritus.

According to a statement from the trustees, the decision was based on “new information…regarding the handling of an allegation of sexual abuse against a student during Dr. Paige Patterson’s presidency at another institution and resulting issues connected with statements to the Board of Trustees that are inconsistent with SWBTS’s biblically informed core values.”

Patterson was named president emeritus of Southwestern May 23 after trustees deliberated for 13 hours in a meeting to address Patterson’s comments on women and domestic abuse. The day of the meeting, the Washington Post published a report claiming Patterson in 2003 told a student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he was president at the time, not to report an alleged rape to the police. The student, Megan Lively, later identified herself on Twitter.

Trustees reported after their May meeting that Patterson had complied with reporting laws regarding abuse and assault, but later indicated their findings dealt with a 2015 rape reported at Southwestern. While it was reported to the authorities, trustee chair Kevin Ueckert said following the decision to terminate Patterson, the former president sent an email to the chief of campus security that discussed meeting with the student alone so he could “break her down” and “that he preferred no officials be present.”

“The attitude expressed by Dr. Patterson in that email,” Ueckert said, “is antithetical to the core values of our faith and to SWBTS.”

On Monday, June 4, Patterson’s lawyer, Shelby Sharpe, issued a media release defending Patterson against alleged “wide-spread misrepresentation and misinformation.” Among Sharpe’s claims, “No reasonable reading of” correspondence from Patterson’s personal archives suggested Megan Lively “reported a rape to Dr. Patterson” in 2003 when he was Southeastern’s president “and certainly not that he ignored” such a report, “as is alleged.”

Sharpe also said “Dr. Patterson explained the full context” of a 2015 email concerning a rape allegation by a female student at the Fort Worth seminary, including his alleged statement that he wanted to meet with the accuser alone to “break her down.” Patterson’s explanation was “to the apparent satisfaction of the full board, as evidenced by the fact that the full trustee board voted to name Dr. Patterson ‘president emeritus’ instead of terminating him.”

Patterson is still slated to preach at the 2018 Southern Baptist Convention in Dallas this month, a role he was elected to at last year’s annual meeting. SBC President Steve Gaines said in May that in order for Patterson not to preach, messengers in Dallas would have to vote to remove him, or Patterson would have to step down.

In other Southwestern news, Nathan Montgomery, the seminary student and dining hall employee who lost his job after retweeting an article calling for Patterson’s retirement, has been reinstated as an employee.

Church apologizes for treatment of abuse victim
Immanuel Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., issued a detailed statement of apology and repentance to the Washington Post regarding how church leaders reacted to former member Rachael Denhollander, who was the first woman to publicly call attention to Larry Nasser’s horrific abuse of gymnasts. Immanuel’s statement reads in part, “…we had failed to serve the church we love, and we had failed to care adequately for the Denhollanders in a time of deep need.”

Baker wins high court case
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled June 4 in favor of Jack Philips, the Colorado baker penalized by his state for refusing to make a cake for a same-sex wedding. The 7-2 decision is a win “not only for those of us who are Christians who hold to a pro-marriage, pro-family viewpoint,” said Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore, “but also for all Americans for freedom of conscience and freedom of speech.”

American Bible Society adopts employee doctrinal statement
Even 200-year-old organizations aren’t too old to tweak their employee policies, leaders at the Philadelphia-based American Bible Society have decided. Effective next year, ABS will adopt an “affirmation of biblical community” and ask employees “to uphold basic Christian beliefs and the authority of Scripture, as well as committing to activities such as church involvement and refraining from sex outside of traditional marriage,” Christianity Today reports.

-Baptist Press, Immanuelky.org, The Christian Post, Christianity Today

 

 

Baptist Press | With hopes of catalyzing “a fresh wave of evangelistic passion,” the Southern Baptist Convention’s evangelism task force has finalized its recommendations to the convention and will release them a week before the SBC annual meeting in Dallas.

The task force, appointed last June by SBC President Steve Gaines, held its third and final meeting May 14-15 at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. In addition to adopting its recommendations unanimously, the 19-member group elected Southern Baptist Theological Seminary administrator Adam Greenway as vice chairman. Southwestern Seminary President Paige Patterson is chairman.

“We finalized several affirmations and denials regarding biblical evangelism that we believe will be readily embraced and adopted by the messengers of the SBC at our upcoming meeting in Dallas,” Gaines, pastor of Memphis-area Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn., told Baptist Press in written comments. “We also set forth several recommendations that relate to Southern Baptists on multiple levels. We believe these will strengthen and enhance our evangelistic efforts as we move forward to reach our world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Greenway, dean of Southern’s Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Ministry, said the meeting “was characterized by constructive conversations about our report and recommendations.”

“The evangelization of the world remains our top priority as a convention of churches, and the prayer of all of us serving on this task force is that God will use our efforts to help bring us together by renewing our passion for and increasing our effectiveness in bringing people to Christ,” Greenway told BP in written comments.

Dr. Doug Munton, Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church of O’Fallon, Illinois

Task force member Doug Munton (left) said he is “encouraged by the brothers on the evangelism task force. They love the Lord, the SBC and the Gospel. It is my prayer that we see renewed passion for evangelism and the work of the Great Commission.”

The task force “has worked hard and prayed hard,” Munton, pastor of First Baptist Church in O’Fallon, Ill., told BP in written comments. “We know that we need a fresh wave of evangelistic passion, but we also need the presence and power of God. We won’t get it all right, being imperfect members of an imperfect convention in an imperfect world. We do pray we bring encouragement to the SBC to refocus our attention and energy on reaching the lost with the Gospel.”

The task force is scheduled to report Wednesday morning, June 13, at the SBC annual meeting.

Gaines thanked Southern Baptists for their prayers on behalf of the task force and requested continued prayer “for the SBC as we renew our commitment to take the Gospel to all people everywhere.”

-From Baptist Press, BPNews.net

The Briefing

Beth Moore pens open letter on sexism
A member of The Gospel Coalition’s Council has released an open letter, giving an apology to noted evangelical Bible teacher Beth Moore over the sexism she has experienced in some church leadership environments. Moore, the founder of Living Proof Ministries, penned an open letter describing her experiences of misogyny within certain conservative evangelical circles.

Patterson comments draw range of women’s responses
A growing group of Southern Baptist women called for Paige Patterson to be removed as president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) due to what they claimed was his “unbiblical view of authority, womanhood, and sexuality.” An open letter from Southern Baptist women objecting that Paige Patterson has been “allowed to continue in leadership” despite his statements on sexuality and domestic abuse garnered more than 1,800 signatures in its first 24 hours online. Other Southern Baptist women defended Patterson’s character without affirming all his specific comments.

IL senate bill requires schools to teach LGBT history
The Illinois Senate approved a bill requiring all public schools in the state to teach about the contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in history. The bill would require that textbooks “accurately portray the diversity of our society, including the role and contributions of people protected under the Illinois Human Rights Act, and must be non-discriminatory as to certain characteristics under the Act.” It would also become effective be July 1, 2019.

Disney ends Christian concert after 35 years
After 35 years, Disney World says it will no longer host the Night of Joy Christian music festival. The annual event held in early September started in 1983 and drew popular Christian artists like TobyMac, Amy Grant, Steven Curtis Chapman, MercyMe, Jars of Clay, and Michael W. Smith. Despite the cancellation, Disney says various Christian groups and artists will still continue to hold concerts at the resort in Florida.

Trump reveals White House Faith Initiative
President Donald Trump has marked the National Day of Prayer with a new policy designed to protect faith groups and their involvement with the American government. After over a year of ad-hoc meetings with evangelicals, the White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative will formalize his administration’s ties with faith leaders and offer faith-based organizations equal access to government funding.

2018 SBC Credentials Committee announced, Tellers also named
Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines has announced appointees to the 2018 Credentials Committee. Gaines has also named tellers for the SBC 2018 annual meeting June 12-13 in Dallas.

Sources: Christian Post (2), Baptist Press (3), CBN, Christianity Today (2), Washington Post

Compiled by Andrew Woodrow, IBSA Multi-Media Journalist