NEW ORLEANS (BP) – Panelists discussed child protection and abuse prevention in ministry during a luncheon presented by the Evangelical Council for Abuse Prevention (ECAP) at the Southern Baptist Convention on June 13 at the New Orleans Convention Center.
The panel featured authors Jennifer Greenburg, Deepak Reju and Julie Lowe, as well as Kris Buchman, children’s ministry and youth consultant for the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware and member of the SBC’s Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force (ARITF).
Jeff Dalrymple, ECAP’s executive director, moderated the discussion, which was designed to equip pastors and ministry leaders with the initial knowledge they need to understand the problem of abuse and what they can do about it.
Dalrymple said ECAP was created in 2019 to provide awareness, accreditation and resources to help Christian organizations who serve kids protect the vulnerable in ministry. A committee of professionals and experts in the field of risk management and abuse prevention, as well as several frontline practitioners who work with and serve children, worked to develop child safety standards, he said.
These standards now serve as the basis of their accreditation program, which certify churches who demonstrate compliance with these standards. A copy of these standards may be downloaded for free at ecap.net/standards.
“We believe that child protection is a Great Commission issue, because children should be able to hear the Gospel and grow in discipleship in an environment unhindered by abuse,” he said.
Urging churches to be aware of the red flags of abuse, Jennifer Greenburg, author of “Not Forsaken: A Story of Life After Abuse,” said her father was sexually abusive and violent.
“These things do happen to the people around us and those we love,” she stressed.
Statistically, 1 in 4 girls and one 1 in 6 boys is sexually abused before they turn 18, Greenburg shared. Only 16 percent of child victims ever talk about their abuse, so that number is likely higher.
“That means a full quarter of women in your church likely has experienced abuse,” she said.
Buchman shared how she goes into churches of all sizes to talk about abuse prevention. Many smaller churches think it can’t happen in their church.
But, 93 percent of victims are abused by people they know, she cautioned, adding that “successful looking” people know how to groom adults so they can have access to the children.
Reju agreed, saying many think the perpetrator will be a monster, but instead, they are “professionals – people we know who are trying to look respectable and kind.”
Also, more than 40 percent of the abuse happens at the hands of other children, Buchman said.
Calling this abuse “evil” and “wicked,” Reju told attendees to “slow down and take seriously the depravity and the wickedness of this sin.”
“Our check-in and check-out systems and our background checks aren’t enough to protect children,” she said. “Every person who ministers to children needs to be trained on what to look for.”
She encourages churches to create awareness events, create standards for their church, and to pass an amendment to the church’s constitution and bylaws to require abuse prevention.
Churches should create a culture of safety in all their ministries, Buchman said. “Safety comes first, then ministry comes after that.”
She also urged churches to devise a response plan that explains what the church will do in the event of child abuse. The plan should include who will be informed, how to handle confidentiality, and what forms are necessary for documentation.
The effort is worth it, said Reju, who said he is encouraged by the church’s growing awareness about these issues. Eleven years ago, he didn’t know where to turn for resources. There were only secular materials available but now there are several, including his book “On Guard: Preventing and Responding to Child Abuse at Church,” which examines why child predators target churches and offers 11 straightforward strategies to protect children from abuse and to help young victims recover if it does happen.
Dalrymple said that the Florida Baptist Convention also has great resources to aid in this effort. In addition, other state conventions have resources, which are being compiled by the SBC’s Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force.
“State conventions are one of your biggest allies in this,” Buchman said.
Dalrymple said ECAP seeks to help churches have good and godly governance, to screen every worker, provide training to workers, and to consistently apply policies to every ministry setting where kids are present. They also advise churches to have everything in place before an incident occurs.
Have that consistency across all environments, Greenburg added. By teaching children consistently how they should be treated, they will start noticing when things are not lining up and will start feeling uncomfortable, she said.
Julie Lowe, the author of “SafeGuards: Shielding our Homes and Equipping Our Kids,” called this discomfort discernment.
Helping children understand the nature of deception and bullying and teaching God’s way instead helps them to walk in truth and not fear, said Lowe, a faculty member at CCEF and a licensed professional counselor with nearly 20 years of counseling experience.
“The world corrupts the good God creates” but kids need to know the good that He created, she said. Not doing so tells the world that we “believe more in the corruption and not the creation.”