Reasons for Encouragement and Optimism
By Gregory Love & Kimberlee Norris
June 10, 2022
Many Baptist leaders and congregation members were discouraged after the release of the Guidepost Solutions Report on May 25th, investigating actions of the SBC Executive Committee related to sexual abuse. The Report focused on sexual abuse RESPONSE and PREVENTION — followed by recommendations for each. As it relates to sexual abuse prevention, there is reason for optimism.
SEXUAL ABUSE RESPONSE
The Guidepost Solutions Report (‘Report’) clearly indicated that there is work to be done regarding correctly and compassionately responding to those who report sexual misconduct — in any form. There appears to be great momentum to outline appropriate and sustainable processes for responding to allegations of sexual misconduct; the Caring Well materials provide an excellent starting point.
CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE PREVENTION
With respect to sexual abuse prevention in SBC churches, there is reason for optimism: significant work is already underway.
MinistrySafe was founded by Gregory Love and Kimberlee Norris, sexual abuse trial attorneys with more than 60 years combined experience addressing sexual abuse issues. MinistrySafe provides comprehensive training, screening, background checks and policy forms supporting safety systems that reduce the risk of child sexual abuse. The MinistrySafe 5-Part Safety System provides best practices for sexual abuse prevention, and is in use, and in some cases required, by church denominations throughout the United States.
Ongoing Child Protection Efforts in Baptist Churches
The Guidepost Solutions Report described significant failures and missed opportunities at the Executive Committee level. Fortunately, child sexual abuse risk is not solved at the Executive Committee level; rather, it’s solved at the church level. While the Executive Committee failed to resource ministries at the church level, other SBC entities have worked diligently to resource Baptist churches, camps and children’s homes with resources to prevent child sexual abuse.
It has become clear that the primary challenge to child sexual abuse prevention exists at the church-level: ministry leaders failing to implement effective measures to protect children from sexual abuse.
SOLVING THE PROBLEM
In 2012, MinistrySafe founder Gregory Love addressed all SBC State Executive Directors in Oklahoma City concerning the risk of child sexual abuse in ministry programs. In this meeting, Love described the challenges to Baptist ministries, the preventative measures offered by MinistrySafe, and the need for action.
Four State Conventions Immediately Responded
Several Executive Directors immediately embraced the challenge: Dr. J. Robert White (Georgia Baptist Mission Board), Dr. Anthony Jordan (Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma), Dr. Rick Lance (Alabama State Board of Missions), and Dr. J.D. “Sonny” Tucker (Arkansas Baptist State Convention). Other State Baptist Conventions soon followed
The initial four Executive Directors asked for a plan to equip churches. The plan was straightforward: train all state convention staff, followed by Church Safety Workshops in geographically diverse locations within each state, to ensure that all Baptist leaders (including bi-vocational pastors) had access to good instruction and resources. These Executive Directors didn’t hesitate; in the years that followed, even in the midst of the pandemic, MinistrySafe presented more than 40 live and online events in Georgia, 25 in Alabama, 20 in Oklahoma, and 18 events in Arkansas.
Since 2012, MinistrySafe has presented more than 250 live trainings for Baptist ministry leaders throughout the country — typically hosted and funded by State Conventions, GuideStone or other Baptist organizations.
Other State Conventions Followed
Other State Baptist Conventions soon followed suit, providing MinistrySafe training and resources to churches and Baptist ministries. These conventions include: Alaska Baptist Convention (ABC), Baptist Convention of Iowa (BCI), Baptist Convention of Maryland Delaware (BCMD), Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT), Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC), Baptist State Convention of Michigan (BSCM), Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, California Southern Baptist Convention (CSBC), Colorado Baptist General Convention (CBGC), Dakota Baptist Convention (DBC), Hawaii Pacific Baptist Convention (HPBC), Illinois Baptist State Association (IBSA), Kansas Nebraska Convention of Southern Baptists (KNCSB), Kentucky Baptist Convention (KBC), Louisiana Baptist Convention, Mississippi Baptist Convention (MBC), Missouri Baptist Convention, Montana Southern Baptist Convention (MTSBC), Nevada Southern Baptist Convention, South Carolina Baptist Convention, Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia (SBCV), and State Convention of Baptists in Indiana (SCBI).
This is not a challenge unique to Baptists; every denomination is struggling to overcome church-level ministry leaders’ failures to prioritize sexual abuse prevention.
Hope for SBC Churches
Notwithstanding challenges at the Executive Committee level, many State Baptist Conventions, Baptist Associations, LifeWay, NAMB, Baptist seminaries and GuideStone have effectively resourced hundreds of Baptist ministries and trained thousands of ministry leaders.
For example, in the past year:
- More than 2,500 Baptist churches trained more than 75,000 staff members, volunteers and parents online, with MinistrySafe resources.
- More than 1,500 new Baptist churches partnered with MinistrySafe to protect children from child sexual abuse, many with discounted pricing provided by State Baptist Conventions.
- LifeWay trained hundreds of staff members in preparation for the 2022 camp season.
- North American Mission Board (NAMB) trained dozens of new church plant families.
- Baptist seminaries — including Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS), Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (MTBS), Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS), New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS) and Gateway Seminary — trained hundreds of students with MinistrySafe’s online Sexual Abuse Awareness Training as a requirement of new-student orientation or graduation.
- GuideStone, once again, emphasized sexual abuse prevention and response in its Employee Benefits Summit (EBS), attracting and equipping ministry leaders from across the country.
Implementing an effective safety system aimed at preventing child sexual abuse carries inherent challenges. Some believe the most significant challenge is accessibility and cost of resources. After working with churches for more than three decades, our experience indicates that the real challenge is priority: actual motivation at the church level to prioritize prevention.
Availability of Resources
The Guidepost Solutions Report included a comprehensive list of proposed resources to prevent child sexual abuse. The majority of recommendations related to prevention were appropriate: training, sample policies, best practices, protocols, screening forms (and training in the use of those forms), criminal background checks and more. These protocols are already in use by thousands of Baptist ministries across the country utilizing MinistrySafe resources.
Upon receiving the Guidepost Solutions Report, the MinistrySafe team prepared analysis of the Report recommendations and existing MinistrySafe resources: Guidepost Solutions Report – Observations and Guidance Regarding Recommendations. Access that analysis here.
MinistrySafe provides a comprehensive online system managing each safety system element referenced. As well, MinistrySafe resources are integrated into many church management software systems, or accessible through the MinistrySafe Control Panel.
Cost of Resource
Access to the MinistrySafe system involves an annual fee of $250 per year and $5 per person upon completion of Sexual Abuse Awareness Training online. Additional trainings supporting the 5-Part Safety System are likewise available online, including: Skillful Screening Training, Parent Training, Reporting Child Sexual Abuse, Creating Policies & Procedures, Understanding Criminal Background Checks, Child Safety Workshop, Third-Party Use of Facilities and MinistrySafe Institute. MinistrySafe membership includes access to an entire library of sample policy forms, screening forms and informational materials.
Many Baptist State Conventions have negotiated discounted rates for churches and camps within their respective states. Other State Conventions — Alabama, Texas (BGCT and SBTC), California, Oklahoma, Hawaii and Georgia — have established scholarship funds to subsidize costs for churches seeking sexual abuse prevention resources. (See Video Communication from Dr. Rick Lance — ALSBOM). The Missouri Baptist Convention invested to equip Baptist churches in Missouri and Montana.
MinistrySafe has donated more than 100 memberships and thousands of trainings in the past 12 months to church plants and churches struggling in the aftermath of the COVID pandemic. In addition, insurance carriers and brokers are picking up costs for preventative resources. Currently, Philadelphia Insurance Companies pays all MinistrySafe membership and training costs for any PHLY-insured church or ministry. As well, Church Mutual and GuideOne provide discounted access to MinistrySafe resources.
THE REAL CHALLENGE
For three decades, MinistrySafe has equipped churches and Christian ministries with resources that reduce the risk of child sexual abuse. Over the course of time, it has become clear that the primary challenge to child sexual abuse prevention exists at the church-level: ministry leaders failing to implement effective measure to protect children from sexual abuse. Why does this failure persist?
False Sense of Security
Many ministry leaders think child sexual abuse is a significant problem — but not ‘our problem.’ Some believe sexual abuse risk is solved by criminal background checks, matching tag systems, or basic security protocols premised upon ‘stranger danger’ — the idea that the danger to children is posed by those outside the ministry. Some ministry leaders believe it’s possible to ‘spot an abuser.’
Through training, these misconceptions are being dispelled.
The real challenge boils down to this: ministry leaders failing to make child sexual abuse prevention a priority. Understanding and preventing sexual abuse is possible; but prevention will not occur without priority. This is not an intuitive risk: the Church will never accidentally get this right.
Understanding and preventing sexual abuse is an issue of first importance, but for many ministry leaders, it simply isn’t. This is not a challenge unique to Baptists; every denomination is struggling to overcome church-level ministry leaders’ failures to prioritize sexual abuse prevention.
Sadly, sexual abuse prevention and response were not prioritized by the SBC Executive Committee. Fortunately, many Baptist leaders, entities and organizations have expended a great deal of effort and expense to address child sexual abuse risk, and those efforts are ongoing. Sexual abuse prevention has been a significant priority for State Baptist Conventions, NAMB, LifeWay, Southern Baptist seminaries, GuideStone and hundreds of Baptist churches. Clearly, there is more work to be done, but many Baptist churches and entities are not at the starting line: rather, they are running the race.
Kimberlee Norris and Gregory Love are partners in the Fort Worth, Texas law firm of Love & Norris and founders of MinistrySafe, providing child sexual abuse expertise to ministries worldwide. After representing victims of child sexual abuse for more than two decades, Love and Norris saw recurring, predictable patterns in predatory behavior. MinistrySafe grew out of their desire to place proactive tools into the hands of ministry professionals.
Love and Norris teach the only graduate-level course on Preventing Sexual Abuse in Ministry Contexts as Visiting Faculty at Dallas Theological Seminary.