A manual providing guidance on hiring staff members and selecting volunteers is the latest Southern Baptist resource designed to help churches prevent sexual abuse.
The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) – in cooperation with the Sexual Abuse Advisory Group – released the “Caring Well Hiring Guide” Aug. 31 as part of the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) ongoing effort to equip congregations to thwart sex abuse and to minister to survivors of abuse. The free guide describes itself as “a first step for church leaders on what to consider” when seeking, screening and choosing staff or volunteers.
The multi-faceted “Caring Well” endeavor, which was inaugurated two years ago in response to reports of abuse among Southern Baptist churches and entities, includes an eight-step challenge in which churches can participate to prevent predatory behavior and to care for survivors.
“[H]iring well is central to caring well” for Southern Baptist churches, ERLC President Russell Moore said. “This new resource will help our churches create safer environments and minister better to survivors.”
The “Caring Well Challenge,” he said in a news release, “continues to be critical work for the ERLC. Our mission is to help churches apply the moral demands of the gospel and, without a doubt, equipping our churches to be a refuge for the vulnerable is part of that calling.”
His hope, Moore said, is “that with this guide, elders, leaders and search teams will resolve to hire men and women of character who will help their congregations become a church that cares well for the abused.”
The new, 18-page document on hiring provides guidance on establishing a screening process for employees and volunteers, formulating questions for written applications, instituting background checks, performing reference checks, reviewing Internet activity, conducting in-person interviews and administering orientation and training. It also offers guidance on identifying grooming practices used by predators with children.
The guide “walks church leaders step by step through creating a screening framework,” said Travis Wussow, the ERLC’s general counsel and vice president for public policy, in an Aug. 31 article at ERLC.com. “Whether you’re a small church who is considering the hiring process for staff and volunteers for the first time or if you are reviewing existing policies, this guide will walk you through practical steps to hire well.”
According to the ERLC, the guide is likely to prove especially helpful to executive pastors, children’s ministers, student ministers, human resources directors and volunteer coordinators.
The report relies on input from such specialists as Samantha Kilpatrick, a lawyer and former prosecutor who advises religious organizations on preventing abuse; Victor Vieth, who has trained child-protection professionals from every state; and Faye Scott, long-time children’s minister at First Baptist Church in New Orleans.
J.D. Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in the Raleigh-Durham, N.C., area, formed the Sexual Abuse Advisory Group shortly after his first election as SBC president in June 2018. In cooperation with the ERLC, the group received input from hundreds of people, including abuse survivors and their advocates, law enforcement officials, counselors, pastors, denominational leaders and lawyers.
The collaborative effort has produced a series of resources to address what has been revealed in recent years to be a significant problem among Southern Baptists. The resources have included:
- “Becoming a Church That Cares Well for the Abused,” a comprehensive training curriculum published in 2019.
- A 52-page report from the advisory group to the SBC in June of last year.
- The “Caring Well Challenge,” a year-long, eight-step initiative that began in August 2019.
- The ERLC’s October 2019 national conference, “Caring Well: Equipping the Church to Confront the Abuse Crisis.”
- The November 2019 release of “The Introductory Guide to Caring Well: A Resource to Help Churches Care Well for Survivors of Sexual Abuse and Implement Policies and Procedures to Prevent Abuse.”
- The recently published Spanish version of the handbook for “Becoming a Church That Cares Well for the Abused.”
Information on participating in the “Caring Well Challenge” for churches may be accessed at caringwell.com.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)