Last week, the Southern Baptist Convention Sexual Abuse Task Force released a set of recommendations for state conventions, entities, and other Baptist agencies to respond to and prevent abuse. NC Baptists are wholeheartedly committed to accepting each of the five challenges for state conventions and encouraging other state conventions to do the same. We will continue to strengthen ongoing efforts to care for survivors of sexual abuse and protect the vulnerable among us.
Over the past few years, NC Baptists have developed resources to care for survivors and provide safety and security in churches. Caring Well documents were also made available. In November 2021, NC Baptists passed a motion directing Executive Director-Treasurer Todd Unzicker to conduct a comprehensive review of all internal policies, procedures, and external documents related to sexual abuse prevention and survivor care. The review is currently underway, with the assistance of Guidepost Solutions.
It can be easy to think, “Abuse could never happen in my church. We all know each other. It is this mindset, however, that makes churches a target for predators. Churches must plan and create safe ministry environments to prevent such acts.
We have a biblical mandate to protect”the least of them.” We also need to protect our gospel witness to the world by putting in place safeguards to prevent abuse in our churches. Parents will likely expect a plan to protect children and teens from abuse. A well documented and executed plan also serves as a deterrent to predators.
Predators thrive in environments devoid of accountability. We cherish our policy, but our policy can never be an excuse for a lack of accountability. NC Baptists are on a mission together serving local churches to be the safest place in their location and a haven for the injured.
What are the first steps your church can take to make your ministry environments as safe as possible?
- Write policies and procedures. Describe your plan to protect children and adolescents. This step is critical. Forming a team to complete the job can help. Consider including a staff member, deacon, or school team member, as well as parents and teachers who will be affected by the expectations and who can advocate for change. Your church may consider having the policy reviewed by legal counsel. Ask the church’s governing body to vote for its implementation.
- Create an application to serve. Applications should be completed by anyone who may teach or have access to children and adolescents. Include permission to perform a criminal background check. Ask for the candidate’s addresses over the past seven years, looking for gaps in the timeline. Ask for at least three references, including at least one who has witnessed the applicant’s work with children, one who can speak to personal character, and one who has known the person outside of the church. References or former employers may be reluctant to share information for fear of being held liable for defamation. To protect references and receive complete and transparent information, churches may require applicants to sign a release form that releases any liability to previous employers, organizations, or references. Additional application sections may include a statement of faith or areas of ministry or religious service with previous children.
- Veterinary volunteers to serve. After receiving a signed application, complete a criminal background check from the Sexual Abuse Registry. NC Baptists use first point scouting. A more complete list of companies that provide this service can be found here. Churches must also follow up with reference checks and an in-person interview. Complete the verification process with training. Consider implementing a mandatory waiting period before volunteers can begin serving. A waiting period allows other adults to get to know the volunteer and can be an additional deterrent against abuse.
- Train volunteers. Training volunteers on the expectations of a safe ministry environment is important for compliance, which you hope will protect your children and youth. For help designing a training module, contact Cheryl Markland.
- Plan monitoring of policy application and compliance. Failure to follow policies can become grounds for litigation if a minor is abused. Failure to comply also allows groomers to test the boundaries of the church in their efforts to gain access to a child or adolescent. Have a plan to implement the policy created by your church.
- Rate your establishment. It is strongly recommended that windows be added to every doorway of the facility to allow clear lines of sight into spaces where abuse could occur. Establish a schedule for locking doors and limiting access to areas reserved for children.
- Expect to receive an allegation of abuse. What if the unthinkable happens and your church learns of an allegation of child abuse? Follow these action steps (listed under the question, “What do we do if an allegation of abuse occurs in our church?”).
For further assistance, please contact Cheryl Markland, [email protected]or visit ncbaptist.org/abuse.