A sobering time for Baptists, but a chance to get it right

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Every once in a while, moments arrive that have a different feeling. Often it’s difficult to go back and see when things could go in one direction or the other for an individual and organization. Other times, it’s easy to see.

The message presented by Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear Monday night could indeed be seen as a watershed moment for the SBC. It just depends on our response.

The “our” I mention is what can make things difficult. Our polity fights back against a top-down way of doing things. Power in our Convention, the kind from which long-term change happens, lies with the individual. It stays with the messenger who shows up and votes with his or her yellow ballot.

And that’s where Southern Baptists are going to turn around the perception others may have of us when it comes to child safety and sexual abuse. Our president is right. Now is not the time to give excuses or comparative justification regarding sexual abuse among ministry leaders. It’s a time to listen. And, it’s a time to take steps and become more vigilant than ever when it comes to protecting the most vulnerable in our churches.

Abuse prevention not something new for Georgia Baptists

For Georgia Baptists, this effort has been going on several years now. In 2012 the Georgia and Oklahoma Baptist conventions were the first to partner with MinistrySafe, a Texas-based organization dedicated to provide child abuse prevention training and resources for churches.

Through the partnership, churches have had access to training and resources for abuse prevention. All state convention employees have gone through extensive training as well on abuse prevention. Last fall, the Mission Board adopted an updated Child Protection Policy signed by all employees.

The biggest takeaway from all of the training – and believe me, there’s a lot – was that the background check is just the beginning. For a long time, probably like you, I thought that was all you needed to be a part of a ministry for children and youth. And let’s face it, a lot of churches didn’t even do that.

Those next steps and the ongoing process to keep your church safe can be made at the several upcoming MinistrySafe training sessions across Georgia.

The importance of the background check as a starter has taken root. Now, we need for all the steps beyond that to do so as well. That means vigilance in monitoring areas where children and youth congregate. It requires asking for references from volunteers and then calling those references. Those are just a couple of steps. My church, for example, has a rule where at least two adults must be in a room with children.

Maybe you, as I have, keep recalling Matthew 18:6. Jesus said being tied by your neck to a stone and tossed into the sea was better than the punishment for harming a child. In the Houston Chronicle report, a psychiatrist depicts the abuse delivered by a member of the clergy as “lethal.” With a child’s brain still developing, that sense of betrayal will forever be associated with faith.

Brothers and sisters, we can’t allow that to be part of our testimony.

I believe Georgia Baptists will respond to this the right way. I know churches have already taken tremendous steps to shore up child safety. And yes, that includes churches that have had to deal with these tragedies in their past.

The buildup to this point has taken a lot of time. As such, it’s naïve to think our response should be short-lived. Never again can churches afford a lax approach, however unintentional, to the safety of their people.

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