In response to recent articles related to sexual abuse in Southern Baptist churches, many stakeholders are asking, “What is Texas Baptists doing?”
Even before these most recent articles were published, Texas Baptists has equipped church leaders and congregations in preventive measures. For instance, over the last three years, Texas Baptists churches have benefitted from the convention’s relationship with MinistrySafe, an industry leader in sexual abuse prevention.
MinistrySafe designed a Five-Part Safety System to help churches prevent children from being sexually abused. MinistrySafe was founded by Greg Love and Kim Norris, trial attorneys in Fort Worth, Texas, who represent victims of sexual abuse and, specifically, matters related to child sexual abuse. They are both active leaders and seminar presenters to secular and ministry organizations who focus on the prevention and appropriate response to child sexual abuse.
MinistrySafe has been presented over the last three years to members of approximately 150 Texas Baptists congregations desiring to be on the preventive side of abuse. However, 150 churches represent a small number of the 5,300 Texas Baptists-affiliated congregations.
Texas Baptists Executive Board voted in February to renew our relationship with MinistrySafe and have leveraged this heightened awareness by continuing training opportunities around the state. For example, in early March, 105 people attended the MinistrySafe seminar held at East Texas Baptist University in Marshall. However, not only congregations from East Texas attended but also several churches from the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex were present as well. Greg Love, one of the founding attorneys of MinistrySafe, led this five-hour training on how to implement policies and safety systems to create the most secure environments possible for our children and teenagers.
One of the main concepts discussed in Love’s presentation was that of “grooming” a child. This involves befriending and establishing an emotional connection with a child, and sometimes the family, to lower the child’s inhibitions with the objective of sexual abuse. Love’s metaphor for helping churches guard against child predators was that of a fence. We build fences based on the type of person or exploiter we are attempting to keep away from the people we love and value. The Five-Part Safety System demonstrates how churches must have several levels of fencing such as awareness training, policies and procedures, background checks, skillful screening, and monitoring and oversight.
One of the interesting dynamics I observed at the MinistrySafe training was the small number of pastors in attendance. While it is important for staff and lay-people to attend the MinistrySafe training, I encourage every pastor to attend as well. As an Area Representative of Texas Baptists, and an interim pastor, I attended the recent workshop because I needed to go through this training again, and I wanted to communicate the high priority I place on this training to those who attended from my church. It is one thing to give lip service to what we say is important; it is another thing to lead by example. As we implement the proposed systems of MinistrySafe, I will not be the one who is hesitant to enact these processes; I will be leading the charge.
Congregations must do all they can to create the safest environment possible for children and those most vulnerable to sexual abuse. One child or individual harmed is one too many.