DULUTH — Georgia Baptist Executive Director W. Thomas Hammond Jr. has issued a statement reviewing the Mission Board’s long-term commitment to addressing sexual abuse.
“One victim is one too many. We are committed to doing everything we can to create a safe environment for everyone,” he told The Index.
The announcement comes about a week after Hammond contacted two Georgia Baptist churches that were listed without prior contact as to having potential ongoing sexual abuse issues.
The full statement follows:
J.D. Greear and the Sexual Abuse Advisory Group are taking bold new steps to address the scourge of sexual abuse within the Southern Baptist Convention and providing leadership to bring about change. In Georgia, strong efforts have been underway for several years; I am continuing that resolve and pursuit.
Before describing the ongoing efforts being pursued by the Georgia Baptist Mission Board over the last seven years, I must first address the recent matter involving Trinity Baptist Church in Ashburn, Georgia.
Like many, I learned from media reports of ten Baptist churches that warranted inquiry related to sexual abuse issues. Two of those churches were in Georgia. I reached out to both churches to open a communication line while gathering the information related to each.
To begin my fact-gathering about Trinity Baptist Church, I reached out to Pastor Rodney Brown. In the midst of that, I made a mistake, and I’d like to take the opportunity to address it. Hopefully, this will clarify any confusion for victims or Southern Baptists who are rightly concerned that we address the devastation of sexual abuse with unflinching resolve.
In my initial contact with Pastor Brown, I expressed my desire as executive director to initiate a line of communication between my office and his church. In the midst of that conversation, I told him I was praying for him, the church, and that I was sorry for the way this came about. I realize now this wording has been rightly received by survivors and concerned Southern Baptists as insensitive and inappropriate. They’re right; it was. For that, I ask forgiveness, and to anyone who has suffered at the hands of abusers, I want you to know my resolve to address this issue in our churches and my openness to hear from you. I should have been more careful not to leave the impression that I was more concerned about a church or a process than the priority of one abuse victim.
I want to apologize for the confusion I have created.
With respect to Trinity Baptist, Pastor Brown confirmed to me yesterday what he’d stated to Baptist Press: that a staff member admitted to being a sexual abuser, and furthermore, remained in a leadership position at Trinity. Today, I also learned from the pastor that the perpetrator has been dismissed and instructed not to return. It is my expectation that there is more work to be done at Trinity and more healing to be experienced by the victims; I am committed to both efforts.
I agree wholeheartedly with the calls to action from President Greear and the Sexual Abuse Advisory Group recently unveiled, as well as the sentiment our president expressed earlier this week, saying that “churches who face accusation should be eager to demonstrate that they are above reproach in their commitment to protect the vulnerable and expose abusers.” Any sexual abuse in our churches must be rooted out with the most tenacious determination possible. To that cause, I want to reiterate my strongest possible resolve, which has only been strengthened over the last several weeks.
In June of 2018, the Southern Baptist Convention met in Dallas and resolved as follows: that church and ministry leaders have an obligation to implement policies and practices that protect against and confront any form of abuse (Resolution No. 2).
I, and the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, support Resolution No. 2. In fact, the GBMB has been training and equipping ministry leaders to understand, prevent, and correctly handle sexual abuse issues since 2013.
Below are examples of efforts that have been underway in Georgia for years:
- Beginning in 2013, outside experts have been engaged to train all GBMB staff regarding sexual abuse prevention and reporting.
- The professionals at MinistrySafe have been engaged to provide over 40 regional Church Safety Workshops over the past several years. In a Church Safety Workshop, ministry leaders are trained to understand facts about sexual abuse and sexual abusers, the grooming process, common grooming behaviors, peer sexual abuse, impact of abuse on child victims and adult survivors, Georgia reporting requirements, and more. Three such workshops were just provided in Georgia last week – and are open to all denominations.
- In addition to equipping Georgia churches, the GBMB employs a robust system to screen and train all staff and volunteers that participate in GBMB-related programs (camps, disaster relief, retreats, and more).
- Together with FBC Atlanta, the GBMB hosted the first-ever Sexual Abuse Summit – an all-day event providing in-depth instruction to ministry leaders, including understanding sexual abuse risk in ministry, creating an effective safety system, how to identify an abuser through an effective screening system, changes in the law, and the importance of reporting.
- Both live and online, the GBMB has provided Sexual Abuse Awareness Training to over 6,000 leaders that serve churches, camps, disaster relief efforts, schools, daycares, and other ministries.
- The GBMB provides ongoing live webinar training by legal experts to Baptist Collegiate Ministry personnel in correctly understanding and following Georgia reporting requirements, most recently in December of 2018.
- The Georgia Baptist Mission Board is the only major Georgia denomination to support the passage of HB 479, the Hidden Predator Act. This bill will hold abusers accountable and provide victims access to the justice system in Georgia.
- The financial investment is approaching $250,000 since 2013; the staff time invested is extraordinary.
Like J.D. Greear and the Sexual Abuse Advisory Group, the Georgia Baptist Mission Board is committed to addressing the scourge of sexual abuse within the Southern Baptist Convention. The efforts listed above are ongoing; the GBMB will continue these and other efforts into the future.