The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention has put together a guide designed to provide a starting point for church leaders who are working to implement effective policies and procedures in their congregations in order to care for survivors and prevent future abuse.
“We want to make sure that our churches are safe from abuse and safe for survivors of abuse,” said Travis Wussow, the vice president for Public Policy and General Counsel of the ERLC. “It starts with those who we have serving in our churches. Our prayer for this hiring guide is that it will equip churches with tools to make wise and careful hiring and volunteer placement decisions.”
The abuse has happened with both fulltime staff and volunteers, he said. “We have to be careful with volunteers too, volunteers serving kids ministry, VBS (Vacation Bible School), and so on.”
The country has undergone widespread sexual abuse in all areas of society. One out of three women and one out of four men have experienced sexual violence involving physical contact at some point in their lives. Churches, big and small, are not immune to incidences of sexual abuse, Wussow said.
“What we tried to do with the guide is ask the questions that churches of all sizes need to be asking,” he said. “As your church builds up in size, you have the follow-up questions you need as your church grows to make sure you’re doing what you need to be doing to make sure your church is safe.”
Personnel committees that often handle hiring at smaller churches could benefit from the guide, Wussow said.
“The biggest fear that a lot of committees have is not what they know but what they don’t know,” he said. “This hiring guide is meant to break things down and make it simple. It gives churches a good place to start and we link out to other resources. I think even for a large church, we think there is something in this hiring guide for everybody.”
The guide also provides forms to give liability protection for churches.
Wussow said predators are looking for “soft targets, places they feel they can get away with abuse undetected.”
He said when a church has a hiring process that confronts the applicant with a series of questions, with a written application, it sends the proper message. “They know there’s going to be a criminal background check; they know there’s going to be a reference check. They know that the church has a set of policies in place in terms of how your ministries run.”
Wussow said with that measure, a deterrent has been established against someone who wants to come to the church with the intent of abuse.
“Ultimately our goal is to make sure that abusers know that your church is not a place where if you try something, you’re going to get away with it.”
He also said the ERLC is launching the guide to point churches toward the Caring Well Challenge, a yearlong process that takes churches to a place that is safe from abuse for survivors. More information on the Caring Well Challenge can be found at caringwell.com
Churches can download the guide by clicking here.