God’s word is serious about the problem of sin. Only the cross of Christ can cure our sin problem. Yet, even after conversion, life in a fallen world requires the mortification of sin. John Owen’s oft quoted exhortation, “Be killing sin, or sin will be killing you,” is a word spoken to church folk! The lesson is stark and simple; We can’t give sin any room to grow, or grow it will.
On Feb. 10, The Houston Chronicle published a story that drew attention to the sad reality that many Baptist churches have given room for sin to grow. The article, “Abuse of Faith. 20 Years, 700 victims: Southern Baptist Sexual Abuse Spreads as Leaders Resist Reform,” draws attention to leadership failures throughout the SBC. We must not dismiss this issue or try to make excuses. Some church leaders in the SBC have not responded appropriately to abuse. Moving forward, as Missouri Baptists, all of us must stand up for those who are at risk.
Missouri Baptists have been on the front line of defending children for 133 years. The Missouri Baptist Children’s Home has been light in the darkness for vulnerable children since 1886. I recommend every Missouri Baptist read Russell Martin’s excellent article on the homepage of the MBCH website that addresses concerns raised in the Houston Chronicle’s article. The MBCH is a rich resource for our churches. I recently had an opportunity to visit with Brother Martin in person at the MBCH main campus in Bridgeton. I requested he compose a series of bullet points on this issue for Missouri Baptists to consider. Please hear his warnings and implement as much of this wisdom in your ministry context as possible.
1. Churches and ministries must acknowledge the potential for sexual abuse.
2. The church should be the one place where people can be safe.
3. The church must take the lead in the protection of children and families.
4. Every church and ministry should have a child abuse prevention program.
5. Policies and procedures must be followed in every case; no exceptions.
6. Policies and procedures should be reviewed and updated on a regular basis.
7. Elements in policies and procedures should include:
a. Screening (interviews, background checks, checking references, etc.)
d. Abuse notification and reporting
e. Requiring church staff and volunteers undergo training
8. Some people are mandated reporters due to their vocation or position; but it is everyone’s Christian duty to immediately report any abuse or suspected abuse, even if he or she does not fall into the category of a mandated reporter.
9. Calls to the state hotline to report abuse or suspected abuse (800-392-3738) are confidential.
12. The church must take the lead in responding to this issue and MBCH is a resource.
13. MBCH stands ready to provide Stewards of Children Training – training on how to prevent, recognize, and respond appropriately and responsibly to child sexual abuse.
14. Churches may want to partner with other community organizations (schools, for example) to offer this training to a broader audience.
15. MBCH also stands ready to assist victims of sexual abuse and their families with information, through direct service, and/or through referrals.
16. Churches can call MBCH at 800-264-6224 to get more information on training opportunities. The same number can be used by victims or victims’ families for information.
A sterling example of how churches can partner with the MBCH to combat child abuse and promote awareness can be found at FBC Diamond in Southwest Missouri. Brother Ron Crow has partnered with the MBCH to facilitate a training in his community using Stewards of Children material. The curriculum “teaches adults how to prevent, recognize, and react responsibly to child sexual abuse.” This format would work well in any size church/community in Missouri. Proactive measures like this show genuine concern for hurting people in our cities and communicates that the leaders of MBC churches are not “resisting reform,” as The Houston Chronicle’s article asserts.
Let us live out James 4:10 and “humble ourselves before the Lord.” As Missouri Baptists, we will not be “exalted” by our Lord if we don’t “cleanse our hands . . . and purify our hearts” (James 4:8). The Houston Chronicle article causes us to “mourn and weep” and has “turned our joy to gloom” (James 4:9). But if we will trust in the Lord, obey our conscience, and utilize the resources the Lord has provided us through organizations like the MBCH, we will honor Christ and help rescue those at risk.