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Preventing abuse in the church


Kentucky Baptist leaders are responding to charges of sexual abuse in a number of Southern Baptist churches across the United States. Two churches in Kentucky were named in a report released by the Executive Board of the Southern Baptist Convention in late February. The board said it is investigating the charges and how the churches are dealing with them.

Curtis Woods, co-interim executive director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention, said, "As a Christian leader and former child abuse prevention social worker, I grieve with thousands of Kentucky Baptist churches over the devastating effects of immorality in any sphere of human existence, especially when children are victimized by predatory adults."

The Houston Chronicle released a series of stories in early February detailing a year long investigation of abuse cases connected to Southern Baptist churches, pastors and leaders. The paper said about 220 Southern Baptist church leaders have been convicted of sex crimes in the past 20 years. They reported the cases affected more than 700 victims.

KBC Ministry Transition Specialist Peggy Berry has worked with quite a few Kentucky churches that have dealt with situations involving abuse. She believes good can come from the stories released by the Houston Chronicle, if anything it's waking people up and making them ask questions.

"It's happening," Berry said. "It's real and it could be going on in your church no matter how big or small. What you take away is beware, be clear and be educated when it happens."

Berry advised churches to work on coming alongside the victims, specifically knowing what to say, how to say it and when to say it.

While many churches are grieving and praying for victims, their families, and the abusers and their families, the reports are also propelling churches toward training and prevention.

"Churches are realizing they need to make tangible steps to better protect their children and families," said KBC Children and Student Ministry Consultant Matt Flanagan. He's received many calls from concerned Kentucky Baptist churches in recent weeks.

Flanagan said churches can help one another as they learn ways to screen pastoral staff and volunteer candidates, and even sharing information through reference checks. "Our state is blessed with a network of children and student ministers to serve as partners in helping other churches implementing these important plans."

Flanagan suggested church leaders check out the Church Security Conferences coming this May in Bowling Green and Winchester. A seminar will be available focusing on security essentials in children's ministries. A similar track will be added to the KBC's Equip Tour and include both children and students ministries.

"There are many who want to do harm and would see the church as an easy target. The church must be committed to do everything possible to provide a safe space for families to be involved in discipleship and ministry in their local church," Flanagan said.

Woods pointed out that while the KBC can provide training, consultation and even point people to trusted counselors, the local church must lead the way in protecting potential victims.

There are plans to present a resolution at the KBC Annual Meeting scheduled for November in Lexington, Woods said. "The Resolutions Committee will be working to encourage churches to be biblically faithful in their responsibility to protect those entrusted to their care."

In 2013 the SBC passed a resolution On the Abuse of Children. The resolution states that churches should not attempt to handle any allegation of sexual abuse as an internal matter; it should report immediately to law enforcement.

In Kentucky, anyone who suspects child abuse or neglect is legally mandated to contact the Kentucky Department for Community Based Services, said Laura Chowning of Prevent Child Abuse Kentucky.

"Churches should have policies, clearly communicated to the entire church, of the best practices set in place to protect children," said Chowning.

Sing Oldham, vice president for Communications and Convention Relations at the SBC Executive Board, calls churches to "establish policies minimizing the likelihood that any church leader or volunteer will be alone with other individuals in an unsupervised manner."

He recommends churches use two-person teams, open-door policies and create social media protocols to create an environment to guard against the possibility of abuse.

Woods says the charge of Isaiah 1:17 to learn to good, seek justice, correct oppression, bring justice to the fatherless and plead the widow's cause can only be accomplished if all Kentucky Baptists lean in.

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