I had the humbling honor a few months ago of being asked to contribute to the Caring Well Abuse Report, which was being developed by the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), and the Sexual Abuse Advisory Group. That report was released this past Sunday! My contribution is on Page 19.
Whether you’ve survived abuse or not, I’m sure you’ve endured hardships, so you’ll know what I’m talking about when I say what an encouragement it is to see the suffering you’ve endured put to good use. When our sorrow enables us to sympathize, our experience empowers us to advise, or our struggles strengthen us to give others a helping hand, there’s a validation and a God-given assurance which I find healing. So it has been for me contributing to this report alongside my brothers and sisters in the SBC.
Now, the Caring Well Abuse Report is 52 pages long, and it is jam-packed with information. So I’m going to give you a quick rundown of a few highlights that were particularly meaningful to me. Of course, the whole thing is worth your read, whether you’re Southern Baptist or not. In fact, I’d say that the advice in this report could easily benefit any church, and even many businesses and community groups. But without further ado, here’s my rundown:
- I appreciate how the Introduction, Page 6, clarifies that abuse is not an evil indigenous to the SBC, nor the Church of God. As I like to say, “The Church is not of this world, but we are in it.” And so, if the world around us is riddled with abuse and pernicious strains of sin, we need to be ready and able to address both the victims and the sinners with the love of the Gospel and God’s own passion for justice and truth. This isn’t a new trend, or a modern political movement. It’s literally the same issue the story of The Good Samaritan begs: What will you do when you encounter the beaten and grievously wronged?
- The report then goes on to describe the scope of the problem. Pages 10-14 include statistics from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) which cites that 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have experienced sexual violence at some point in their lives. The Department of Justice cites that 1 in 4 women and 1 out of 6 men are sexually abused before they turn 18. I would note that while this report focuses on sexual abuse, domestic violence and non-sexual child abuse are also widespread issues. The CDC states that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men have experienced violence at the hands of a spouse or intimate partner, and approximately 50% of child abuse victims are male.
- Page 16 features the story of a male abuse survivor, and I cannot tell you how important this is. Male abuse – whether it happens during childhood or adulthood – is a horrendously underreported and underrecognized travesty. While I was researching for my book I interviewed hundreds of abuse survivors, and was surprised that over half the people who reached out were men. None of them had ever reported, and a few had never told anyone before me.
- Page 17 catalogs an non-exhaustive list of common church failures. It took a great deal of introspection and humility to consider, analyze, and publish these. I would point out that these vulnerabilities and failures are not unique to the SBC. Any church can fall into these ruts of complacency, poor judgement, and sin. So again, I’d encourage all churches, not just SBC congregations, to benefit from this resource.
- Page 18, Russell Moore condemns several teachings of Biblical Patriarchy and some “Thick” Complementarianism, including the unbiblical ideas that …
A) women are not created in the image of God
B) all women are to submit to all men.
These are called a “misapplication of complementarian teaching,” and also notes the minimization of sin. This is excellent, and I find it so refreshing and relieving to see it in print!
- Page 19 – My Contribution!
- Pages 21 & 22 – Russell Moore addresses the autonomous structure of the SBC and how such autonomy has been misused in some churches:
“This structure should be utilized to allow each pastor to provide the justice and healing needed to stop abuse, turn perpetrators over to the justice system, and provide safe havens for victims Instead, leaders in some churches have provided cowardly cover for perpetrators and have claimed to be dispensing mercy while withholding it from victims, and instead allowing injustice and evil to flourish.” Moore goes on to recommend that such churches should be disfellowshipped: “A church that excuses, say, sexual immorality or that opposes missions is deemed out of fellowship with other churches The same must be true of churches that cover up rape or sexual abuse.”
- Page 22 – I love this quote: “Victor Vieth has challenged the church to “not do anything new but rather something very old … to return to the message of Jesus and center our responses to child abuse on the words and actions of Christ.” I agree 100%. We need to avoid the error of letting abuse seem like a brand new problem, or act as if advocating for victims is a modern political or social justice novelty. Though trending and critical right now, abuse has plagued the people of God since Cain murdered Abel. Helping the weak and vulnerable isn’t a revolutionary new concept. It’s our heritage.
- Pages 28-29 – These pages share two perspectives of the same tragic story from a mom and dad (who is a pastor) whose 9-year-old son was molested at a youth summer camp. I am very encouraged that the SBC is giving male victims and parents a voice. As I mentioned above, roughly 50% of child abuse victims are male, yet most people seem to believe that abuse is predominantly committed against females. Getting this stat out there not only helps a very underrecognized demographic of victims, but potentially empowers people to more quickly recognize abusers who target boys.
- Page 33 says, “Some may need help discerning their legal options for reporting and holding their perpetrator accountable.” YES! When I was 19 or 20, I was told that the statute of limitations was already up for me, so I did not report. Unfortunately, that was not true. It actually ran out some time after I turned 21, but I didn’t realize that until years later. Had I known that at the time, I could have prosecuted.
Also on this page, I love the advice of involving men and women in the recovery process. I feel it’s important, because as a victim, it’s so easy to develop a distrust of one gender or the other, or people who resemble our abuser. Countering this natural instinctual fear by socializing and working alongside a diverse group of advocates is healthy and important.
- Pages 34 & 36 feature some wonderful contributions from my friend, Megan Lively. What a warrior she is!
- The remainder of the report outlines measures churches can take to reduce the likelihood of abuse in their midst, as well as manage abusive situations when they do occur. It also highlights the new (100% FREE!) Church Cares Curriculum which the ERLC recently released (with collaboration from by friend, Rachael Denhollander), in addition to The Caring Well Challenge.
As I mentioned, this is a very truncated rundown of what I personally found interesting and encouraging in the Caring Well Abuse Report. There is much more packed into this resource which pastors, churches, parents, and congregants will find useful, educational, and applicable. It’s free to download, so go get it!
You can read more about the Caring Well Abuse Report here.