So. Baptists launch 'Caring Well Challenge' to combat abuse within churches

Nearly 9,000 Southern Baptist messengers at the 2019 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting June 11, 2019, vote to pass an amendment regarding churches and sexual abuse. | Van Payne

Southern Baptists will take part in the 'Caring Well Challenge' on Sunday, an initiative aimed at equipping congregations to care for survivors of abuse and prevent it from happening within the church.

Following reports of sexual misconduct at churches in recent years, the Caring Well Challenge is but one element of a larger denominational push to confront the issue, particularly the failure of church leaders to protect victims and prevent the perpetrators from harming others, the Baptist Press reported on Thursday.

The challenge is being launched on Sunday at 750 churches nationwide; participating congregations will begin an eight-part, 12-month program.

The Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and The Sexual Abuse Advisory Group announced the initiative earlier this summer, and encouraged every Southern Baptist church to participate. Thirty-seven Baptist state conventions and other Baptist associations and colleges are also encouraging the effort.

"I am grateful so many churches are committed to the challenge to become safe for survivors and safe from abuse," Russell Moore, president of the ERLC, said in a statement to the Baptist Press. 

"This unified call to action, the 'Caring Well Challenge,' is a resource to equip churches to do everything we can to combat the satanic evil of sexual abuse. I pray this coming Sunday is a significant first step as churches across our convention launch many needed efforts," Moore added. 

The program serves as a "pathway" for churches to begin engaging the problem of abuse, SBC President J.D. Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Durham, North Carolina, says in a promotional video about the challenge. 

The Caring Well website emphasizes that church leaders should acknowledge during the service the need for churches to become aware about, prevent, and respond to reports of abuse. This is particularly important for survivors because it might be the first time when an issue that has affected them so profoundly is given attention from leadership, the site notes.

Cases of sexual misconduct and abuse, particularly how some churches have failed to respond to it, came to the fore within the SBC in the weeks leading up to its annual meeting in June 2018.

Around that same time, an audio recording was released of a nearly two decades old interview with former SBC President and then Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson sharing what many saw as poor advice to a woman who was being abused by her husband. Patterson subsequently backed out from giving the keynote address at that year's annual meeting. At that time he was also fired from his position as president of the seminary after past reports and accusations of students' sexual misconduct at the seminary re-emerged. 

Since then, several cases of abuse within SBC churches and affiliated organizations have come to light, precipitating denominational efforts to combat the problem.

Beginning in February, the Houston Chronicle published the first article in its six-part investigative series on abuse within SBC churches. The SBC Sexual Abuse Advisory Group was formed in response the newspaper's coverage.

In June, the advisory group released its report, also called "Caring Well," which contains three sections that cover understanding the problem, how to care for abuse victims, and preventing abuse.

The group's report also explored how theology and church teachings were misapplied and used to abuse in addition to how the SBC's governance structure has complicated the problem.

In October, the ERLC will be hosting a Caring Well conference on preventing abuse and caring for survivors in Dallas, Texas.

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