SBTC Sexual Abuse Advisory Committee ready to present report to messengers

GRAPEVINE—At the 2021 Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Annual Meeting, messengers approved the formation of a Sexual Abuse Advisory Committee (SAAC) to research the convention’s practices and future opportunities to resource affiliated churches in preventing, responding to, and reporting sexual abuse.

As this year’s annual meeting in Corpus Christi approaches, that committee is prepared to share its findings with messengers.

“Our team approached this incredibly important task prayerfully and seriously,” SBTC President Todd Kaunitz said in a statement being released with the report. “As a network of churches, we have the responsibility to assist local churches by providing resources and training opportunities to protect their most vulnerable members from abuse and, in the event that abuse occurs, to provide resources to help the church respond both spiritually and lawfully in a way that gives proper physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual care to everyone affected.”

Said SBTC Executive Director Nathan Lorick: “I am grateful for the many hours of work the advisory committee has invested in helping the SBTC be better prepared to assist local churches in dealing with sexual abuse. Our desire is to be a valuable resource for churches as they seek to protect the vulnerable and minister to those who have experienced abuse.”

The full text of Kaunitz’s statement, the motion authored by Michael Criner (senior pastor, Rock Hill Baptist Church, Brownsboro) and approved by last year’s messengers, and the findings and recommendations of the SAAC can be found below:

SBTC Sexual Abuse Advisory Committee Report

At our 2021 SBTC Annual Meeting I was given the assignment by our messengers to assemble an advisory committee for the purpose of having the Convention research and provide critical resources to affiliated churches as they work to prevent, respond to, and report sexual abuse. Our team approached this incredibly important task prayerfully and seriously.

As a network of churches, we have the responsibility to assist local churches by providing resources and training opportunities to protect their most vulnerable members from abuse and, in the event that abuse occurs, to provide resources to help the church respond both spiritually and lawfully in a way that gives proper physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual care to everyone affected.

In addition, the committee has also reviewed the Convention’s internal policies and procedures for handling reports of abuse. We were encouraged that as an entity, the SBTC has historically strived to operate with the utmost integrity, intentionality, and godliness; this was exemplified in how the staff cooperated and assisted throughout the work of the committee. Through our research and study of the Convention’s internal policies and practices, we have identified some recommendations that we believe will make churches and the ministries those churches accomplish through the Convention even stronger and more effective moving forward.

Todd Kaunitz
President, Southern Baptists
of Texas Convention

Motion approved by messengers at the 2021 SBTC Annual Meeting in Flint, TX

My name is Michael Criner a messenger from Rock Hill Baptist Church in Brownsboro. In light of the recent conversations happening within the SBC in regard to sexual abuse, and because the SBTC has been proactive and strategic in her efforts toward righteousness and holiness. After consultation with the leadership of the SBTC…

I, therefore, in the interest of protecting the vulnerable populations among the churches of the SBTC, I move that the newly elected convention president form an advisory committee which will gather information regarding the convention’s efforts to assist churches in matters related to sexual abuse.

Specifically, the committee will focus on three areas:

  1. the convention’s best practices in helping churches prevent sexual abuse;
  2. the convention’s best practices in training churches regarding reporting requirements along with an effort to review the convention’s policies and procedures when abuse cases are reported at the convention level or to convention personnel; and
  3. the convention’s best practices in equipping churches to honor, care for, and minister to those affected by sexual abuse, including but not limited to survivors and families of survivors.

The committee will also study the various partner relationships the convention currently has with

organizations who work in the arena of sexual abuse and sexual abuse prevention, gathering information on how best practices among these organizations compare and contrast with approaches of other organizations who do similar work.

The size of the committee will be determined by the newly elected president but should include at least one trauma-informed counselor and one SBTC church member who has worked as a survivor advocate.

The advisory committee shall bring its report, along with any recommendations, to the 2022 annual meeting of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

COMMITTEE REPORT

The Theological Foundations

This sexual abuse advisory committee was appointed by the President at the direction of the 2021 messengers to the SBTC Annual Meeting. Because the SBTC is a confessional family of churches, the committee’s recommendations were shaped by four doctrinal convictions expressed in the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. It is our desire that beginning with these four guiding convictions will promote unity in our SBTC family regarding how our shared theological commitments shape this important issue.

  1. Humanity. Humanity “is the special creation of God, made in His own image” (Article III) with inherent dignity and respect. Key Implications: Both survivors and offenders are God’s image bearers. Survivors are to be loved, nurtured, and cared for toward healing. Offenders are to be biblically confronted and called to repentance.
  2. Sin. Human beings have inherited “a nature and an environment inclined toward sin” (Article III) leaving them capable of unspeakable evil. Key Implications: Both the abused and the abuser have been deeply impacted by sin and need ongoing ministry. Churches should not quickly dismiss an accusation and should take allegations seriously.
  3. Salvation. Salvation “is offered freely to all who accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.” It includes sanctification, a work of the Holy Spirit, by which progress is enabled “toward moral and spiritual maturity,” continuing “throughout the regenerate person’s life” (Article IV). Key Implications: Those who commit sexual sin in any form, including sexual abuse, should repent and pursue holiness in Christ.
  4. The Church. Churches are “associated by covenant in faith and fellowship of the gospel” who exist as the Body of Christ (Article VI). Key Implications: Churches must be a refuge of grace and truth to the hurting and broken. Churches exemplify this by reserving the offices of pastor and deacon to the scripturally qualified (“above reproach”), implementing clear protocols for repentant and unrepentant offenders, and acknowledging the biblical role of government as a God-ordained servant for good and for the restraint of evil (Article XVII).

The Research

The Advisory Committee’s work focused on five areas of attention derived from the motion. The below statements are summaries of the research findings and influenced the committee’s recommendations. Recommendations can be found [below].

  1. Prevention. Churches should be vigilant in regularly training all their people – leaders, employees, volunteers, members, adults, adolescents, and children (in age-appropriate ways) – to recognize unsafe practices, grooming behaviors, and warning signs and to take appropriate action. Churches should also develop appropriate, open lines of communication for both children and adults who suspect sexual abuse.
  2. Ministry. Churches should work to create a culture of care for survivors of sexual abuse. Policies should include those that help leaders and volunteers recognize signs of abuse. Churches should consider sharing resource lists of vetted counselors, care ministries, and support groups. Practices should include connecting with local agencies to provide resources for survivors and their families. Clear and appropriate boundaries for sex offenders must be established and maintained.
  3. Training. Churches should establish clear policies regarding response to sexual abuse allegations including the Texas mandatory reporting responsibility of all people. Churches should educate their employees, members, and volunteers that every person has the obligation to report abuse or neglect, even if only suspected, to appropriate authorities in accordance with Texas Family Code Sec. 261.101. Churches should establish annual reviews of their reporting and responding procedures. Parents and legal guardians should be educated on and regularly reminded of the church’s policies and procedures. Churches must cooperate with local law enforcement and Child Protective Services.
  4. SBTC Policies and Practices. Convention employees should regularly be trained on mandatory reporting protocols and reminded of internal policies and practices. The SBTC should consider adding a protocol to existing policies that demonstrates appropriate care for employees who are survivors of sexual abuse. Staff should also continue and strengthen their practice of reporting, recording, and following up with claims of sexual abuse.
  5. SBTC Ministry Partnerships. The SBTC works with MinistrySafe to provide training for SBTC employees and volunteers, as well as church leaders and volunteers, in the area of abuse prevention and awareness. While the committee is thankful for the work of MinistrySafe, it recognizes its limitations as a stand-alone training resource in the area of sexual abuse. The SBTC should consider establishing working relationships with other organizations that it can recommend to assist churches in the areas of peer-to-peer abuse prevention and awareness training, caring well for the abused, trauma-informed care, addressing pornography addiction, and establishing relationships with local law enforcement and legal representation.

The Recommendations

Recognizing that each church is autonomous and controls its own ministry, activities and staff, the Advisory Committee recommends these steps in connection with their assignment from the 2021 Annual Meeting messenger body.

  1. We recommend the SBTC contract with a designated consultant(s) and/or organization(s) to aid the convention and its member churches regarding matters of sexual abuse.
  2. We recommend the SBTC, in consultation with experts in the field, develop a church resource guide for (a) assisting churches in training their congregations for sexual abuse prevention, (b) ministering to sexual abuse survivors and their families, (c) protocols for sexual abusers and accused sexual abusers in the church, and (d) appropriate reporting of suspected sexual abuse in accordance with state law.
  3. We recommend affiliated churches and SBTC staff cooperate with the Southern Baptist Convention’s “Ministry Check” effort.
  4. We recommend the SBTC strengthen its internal policies and practices regarding reporting sexual abuse, accessibility of resources to affiliated churches, and informing staff of available resources and services.

Todd Kaunitz, SBTC President
Justin Arnold, Chairman
Michael Criner
Adam Mason
Joyce McKinley
Christy Piles
Spencer Plumlee
Tamera Turner

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