As you may recall, I was blessed with the opportunity to attend the Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting in Anaheim, CA this past summer as a Messenger representing Redeemer Bible Church. While there were many topics discussed at this event, the main focus was determining how the SBC was going to respond to the findings of the Guidestone Solutions Report detailing years of improper handling of sexual abuse cases by cooperating churches and SBC leadership.
What I will remember as one of the most meaningful moments of my life took place on the second day of the vote when I raised my ballot in support of the recommendations of the Sexual Abuse Task Force.
Throughout the weekend I had the chance to meet with survivors and those who have been working to make churches a safe place for survivors and a place safe from predators. These experiences caused me to realize that merely raising my hand was an empty gesture without working to implement change on a grassroots level.
Upon my return, I drew up a list of recommendations for our elders which included implementing the Caring Well Challenge here at Redeemer Bible Church––a recommendation with which they unanimously agreed.
To address the issue of abuse in the SBC and its member churches two things need to happen. One, there needs to be a systematic change of policies and procedures. More importantly, we must change the culture that has allowed predators to flourish.
Here are a few staggering statistics from the SBC of Virginia:
- Child check-in systems are good, but only 4% of cases result in abductions.
- Background checks are important, but less than 10% of abusers encounter the criminal justice system.
- Policies are beneficial, but they must be contextualized and take into account how sexual predators commit their crimes.
But prevention is just one part of addressing abuse in the church. We must also meet the needs of survivors. One in four women sitting in our pews and one in six men have been victims of abuse.
For those of you asking how the Gospel fits in with all of this, I will share survivor and advocate, Rachael Denhollander’s words, “Trauma survivors are the unreached people group of our time. We expect missionaries to contextualize their people groups. We must do the same for the one in four and the one in six.”
The gospel calls us to champion the dignity of all people, including the vulnerable in our midst that have experienced abuse.
You will be hearing a lot about the Caring Well Challenge over the next year. At last Sunday’s Business Meeting, I gave a brief presentation explaining the history of the program and what it means for our church going forward.
At the 2018 Southern Baptist Annual Meeting, a motion was made to form a presidential task force to address the issue of abuse. In the fall of 2018, SBC President J.D. Greear, in partnership with the Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission (an SBC entity), appointed a Sexual Abuse Advisory Group with the purpose of evaluating needs in this area and addressing opportunities to strengthen and enhance churches’ care for survivors, prevention, and response to abuse.
During the first phase of this process, the SBC Sexual Abuse Advisory Group interviewed hundreds of survivors, advocates, outside experts, and pastors to hear their stories and learn from their viewpoints.
From this, the Advisory Group sought to develop resources and recommendations to equip SBC churches with the tools, strategies, and partnerships to more effectively care for survivors and to prevent abuse before it occurs. It was out of this effort that the Caring Well Challenge was birthed.
The Caring Well Challenge is a unified call to action on the abuse crisis in the Southern Baptist Convention. It provides churches with a simple, adaptable, and attainable pathway to immediately strengthen their efforts to prevent abuse and care for abuse survivors.
Committing ourselves to being a part of this initiative provides our church an opportunity to link hearts and arms with, and to continue to learn from, other churches as we strive to be vigilant in caring for one another, particularly those who have been or are being abused in our church.
Over the next year, we will be implementing the eight steps of the Caring Well Challenge. The first of which will be building a Caring Well Team that will coordinate this ministry. They will lead our efforts to equip our leaders to care well for the abused and to enhance our policies, procedures, and practices related to abuse. This team will be introduced to the entire church body on The Caring Well Challenge Launch Sunday and will be available as a resource for our members.
I’ll close by sharing the words of Immediate Past SBC President Ed Litton. He began by reading Matthew 9:35, “‘Jesus continued going around to all the towns and villages, teaching in the synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dejected, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest.'”
He continued, “The word for compassion translates to a ‘moving of the intestines.’ Jesus experienced what we would call a ‘punch to the gut’ when he looked upon the crowds. If you see someone who needs something, don’t let your eyes look away. If we are not moved to action we will become indifferent. We need to also see the harvest of those that are burdened and broken down by their past trauma. We need to bring them to the only One who can truly heal their pain.”
I am honored and humbled to be able to serve our church body by coordinating the implementation of the Caring Well Challenge at Redeemer Bible Church and look forward to sharing more details in the weeks and months ahead.
Heather Ablondi–SBC Messenger