Article written by Tom Strode, Baptist Press and originally published at baptistpress.com
NASHVILLE (BP) – The Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee voted Tuesday (Sept. 20) to add a sexual abuse awareness day to be known as Caring Well Sunday to the SBC Calendar of Activities.
Approval of the recommendation that the last Sunday in September be set aside for the emphasis was the latest action taken within the convention in an effort to help churches prevent abuse and care for survivors of abuse. The first Caring Well Sunday on the SBC calendar will be Sept. 24, 2023.
SBC Executive Committee Chairman Jared Wellman expressed his gratitude for the passage of what he described as a “really important motion.”
While observance of emphasis Sundays on the SBC calendar is optional, it is important “just to encourage us to consider putting these on our church calendars, especially this one in light of the season that we’re in,” Wellman told Executive Committee members after the vote.
“In our churches, obviously we want to be building a culture that addresses and prevents abuse,” he said. “And this is a really great educational opportunity, and I know some of our entities are going to be providing educational materials.”
One of those Southern Baptist entities expected to develop resources for Caring Well Sunday is the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), which has been active the last four years in helping the convention and its churches attempt to combat sexual abuse.
“The church should be known as a place that epitomizes the phrase ‘caring well,’ and our hope is that churches across our convention will recognize and participate in Caring Well Sunday,” said Brent Leatherwood, the ERLC’s newly elected president, in written comments for Baptist Press.
“So many of our congregations have taken proactive steps to prevent abuse and to care for survivors through initiatives like the Caring Well Challenge that taking a day to recognize and participate in this vital work only furthers the culture of care our churches are already establishing,” he said.
“Caring well” became an umbrella term for a multi-faceted endeavor to respond properly to reports of abuse among Southern Baptist churches and entities. Then-SBC President J.D. Greear inaugurated a response to increasing reports of sexual abuse by establishing the Sexual Abuse Advisory Group after his election in 2018.
The ERLC and the advisory group collaborated in multiple ways on the initiative, including development of the Caring Well Challenge, a year-long, eight-step effort to assist churches in being safe for survivors and in preventing abuse. They also produced various resources, such as a comprehensive training curriculum for churches. In October 2019, they cohosted a national conference known as “Caring Well: Equipping the Church to Confront the Abuse Crisis.”
Though sexual abuse already was a significant issue in the SBC, an ongoing investigative series by the Houston Chronicle, joined by the San Antonio Express-News, that began in February 2019 revealed further some of the extent of the problem in the Convention and its churches. The initial articles in the series found 220 pastors and other leaders in Southern Baptist churches who had been convicted of or taken plea deals in sex crimes involving more than 700 victims.
Among the steps taken since then to address sexual abuse:
- In response to a motion at the 2021 SBC meeting, the ERLC’s trustees voted last September to commit the entity to an assessment of sexual abuse in the convention and approved $250,000 as an initial investment in that effort.
- In October 2021, the Executive Committee’s trustees voted to waive attorney-client privilege for an independent, third-party investigation of the committee called for by messengers to the SBC meeting in June.
- In June of this year, messengers to the SBC meeting overwhelmingly passed two recommendations from the Sexual Abuse Task Force, which had been appointed by then-President Ed Litton. The messenger-approved recommendations were for the creation of a “Ministry Check” website to share “properly vetted information” and for the formation of an Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force (ARITF). The ARITF is to oversee an independent contractor’s establishment of the “Ministry Check” website.
The messengers’ June 2022 votes followed a 288-page report called for by messengers to the 2021 SBC meeting that found mishandling by a few senior Executive Committee leaders and outside counsel of sexual abuse allegations.
On Monday (Sept. 19), Michael Criner, chairman of the SBC’s Committee on Nominations, told BP the panel “will implement a vigorous vetting process” to make certain nominees to trustee boards agree with the Convention’s commitment to addressing sexual abuse.
The Committee on Southern Baptist Relations presented the recommendation for the Executive Committee to establish Caring Well Sunday on referral from a motion at June’s SBC meeting. The dates for the emphasis in future years after 2023 are Sept. 29, 2024; Sept. 28, 2025; Sept. 27, 2026; and Sept. 26, 2027.