Editor’s note: On September 19th, an in-person MinistrySafe training event with attorney and MinistrySafe founder Greg Love is available to all Arkansas Baptists. This training will be helpful for pastors and church staff, student and children’s leaders, safety and security volunteers, and lay leaders of your church. You can register for the training which will take place at the ABSC from 10 am -2:30 pm (lunch provided) at www.absc.org/mst.
In advance of Love’s visit to Arkansas, he was asked to share some of his insights on the important issues surrounding sexual abuse.
On Sept. 19, the Arkansas Baptist State Convention will host an event to equip ministry leaders with information and instruction regarding the ongoing challenges related to child sexual abuse prevention and care. The event will also address new challenges faced by churches related to child sexual abuse: peer sexual abuse, reporting, insurance requirements, and more.
The challenge of child sexual abuse is not solved in Nashville or Little Rock – it is solved on a church-by-church basis, requiring good instruction and good resources. The instruction will be provided by Gregory Love, 30+ year sexual abuse lawyer and Director of MinistrySafe. Love will finish the event discussing state-of-the-art resources and how Arkansas Baptists have discounted access.
Challenge: the risk of child sexual abuse in the ministry settings is ongoing.
Solution: the challenge of sexual abuse is solved at the church level.
In the last ten years, our culture has experienced repeated clarion calls for change in the Church, calling ministries to:
-implement effective systems for sexual abuse prevention;
-understand and comply with legal reporting requirements; and
-create pathways of healing and care for abuse survivors.
Denominational leaders are saying the right things, but the headlines and allegations continue to reveal that the Church’s sexual abuse crisis is very much alive and ongoing. Why? Sadly, the messaging from denominational leaders is rarely reaching those who can actually make a difference: significant change must occur at the church level.
CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE PREVENTION
Church denominations universally condemn child sexual abuse, issuing resolutions and proclamations. The problem, however, is not resolved at the denominational level; instead, it must occur at the church level. Each church must implement an effective Safety System meant to prevent child sexual abuse and respond appropriately to allegations of abuse.
An Effective Safety System
Where child sexual abuse is concerned, an effective Safety System includes:
-Sexual Abuse Awareness Training
-Skillful Screening Processes and Training
-Appropriate Criminal Background Checks
-Tailored Policies & Procedures, and
-Systems for Monitoring and Oversight
For many denominations in the United States, MinistrySafe is the exclusive or preferred provider for resources related to child sexual abuse risk. Currently, MinistrySafe provides Safety System resources to over 25,000 ministries, adding an additional 200 churches per month. Through MinistrySafe, churches are training more than 55,000 staff members and volunteers each month. That sounds – and is – meaningful; but given that over 350,000 churches provide ministry services to children in the United States alone, churches that are proactive in addressing this risk are a drop in the proverbial bucket. This reality is continually revealed when ministry leaders contact the law firm (Love & Norris) seeking guidance in the midst of a crisis; crisis that is both predictable and preventable.
It Won’t Happen Here
Typically, the breakdown occurs at the church level, where children are gathered, where workers are trained concerning this risk (or not), where workers are screened (or not), and are appropriately supervised with children or students (or not).
Many churches work under the false assumption that ‘sexual abuse won’t happen at my church’ – until it does.
Sexual abuse is not limited to any racial, ethnic, or socio-economic class. It is no respecter of any religious denomination or creed. Sexual abuse can happen anywhere.
Parents want their children to participate in ministry programs for the positive experience of Christian growth, fellowship and spiritual mentoring. Obviously, this positive experience is shattered if a child is sexually abused while participating. In addition, when a child reports abuse within his or her core environment – the home in which the child lives – only to be disbelieved or minimized, that child is left to cope without meaningful help, resources or advocacy.
Sexual abuse should never occur in ministry contexts, but the church and Christian ministries continue to experience its devastating impact. Families and lives have been devastated, churches of all denominations have experienced its far-reaching consequences, and ministries have been destroyed.
Unfortunately, the problem is growing.
Within the past fifteen years, verdicts, judgments, or settlements exceeding hundreds of millions of dollars have been levied against churches for sexual abuse allegations related to children participating in ministry programs.
The church and its children are increasingly endangered by sexual predators whose opportunity to ensnare children elsewhere is growing smaller, while the church opens its doors to anyone. Sexual abusers looking for access to children will gravitate to activities and organizations where there are fewer protective measures in place. Many secular organizations have responded to this inevitable truth by implementing policies and training to reduce risk. Ministries, however, tend to do less, failing to recognize the risk or laboring under the misconception “it won’t happen here.”
Standards of care embraced by secular child-serving entities have risen dramatically in the past 15 years. Secular organizations have grown far more sophisticated in screening employees and volunteers, creating policies and procedures that protect children from abuse, and implementing effective oversight and program accountability. These measures protect staff members and volunteers from false allegations, which are rare, while safeguarding children in child-serving programs. As public awareness and secular standards of care rise, sexual abusers look for access to children in places where protections are few: the church.
Kimberlee Norris and Gregory Love are partners in the Fort Worth, Texas law firm of Love & Norris [https://www.lovenorris.com ] and founders of MinistrySafe [ https://ministrysafe.com], 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.