Dear Sojourn Family,
This weekend, the Houston Chronicle published a devastating article about decades of sexual abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention. It is devastating not only because of the crimes themselves, but also because of the response of pastors and church leaders. Many victims were shamed, made to feel at fault, and given horrible counsel in response to their reports of abuse.
It is clear from the article that these weren’t isolated cases. Instead, it reveals a pattern of abuse and cover-up that extends to some of the highest levels of leadership inside the SBC. Pastors who committed abuse were quietly sent off to other ministries. Victims were told to keep silent. Further abuse was perpetuated on other victims.
We want to say in the strongest way possible that we stand with the victims. Christians should be thankful for reporting like this that exposes systemic sin; it’s the only way it can be purged out of our institutions. We must pray that justice is served where possible, and that throughout our denomination, there is repentance and reform.
We also want to communicate to our members that we are committed to preventing abuse and to pursuing justice when and if abuse should take place. To that end, we want you to know:
- We conduct criminal background checks on all of our staff and on volunteers who serve in our Kids’ ministry.
- We require mandatory reporting to the authorities if there are any reports of child abuse. This means we call Child Protective Services (as directed by law enforcement). Moreover, every children's ministry volunteer is trained on how to recognize the signs of abuse and how to report.
- We counsel separation for adult victims of domestic violence, and we encourage victims of abuse both to make police reports and to consider pressing charges.
- We are working with counseling professionals to equip our staff and key volunteers how to identify signs of abuse and how to better serve victims.
- We have a strict attendance policy for registered sex offenders. Offenders can only attend public Sojourn gatherings when accompanied by an assigned escort. They are not allowed to enter restrooms unattended, and they are never allowed in parts of the building used for children's ministry or youth ministry.
Our hope is that, in the near future, the Southern Baptist Convention would adopt better policies and strategies for preventing and reporting abuse, and for preventing abusers from being able to drift from church to church without accountability. In his own article in response to the Chronicle’s, Dr. Russell Moore writes this:
Our denomination now has a Sexual Abuse Presidential Study Group assigned with investigating all options and reviewing what other denominations and groups have done to keep track of abuses, while hearing from law enforcement, psychological and psychiatric experts, survivors, and many others.
Our approach is seeking to encourage policies and practices that protect children and the vulnerable from sexual abuse in autonomous but cooperating churches, all the while promoting compliance with laws and providing compassionate care for those who have survived trauma. True, we have no bishops. But we have a priesthood of believers. And a key task of that priesthood is maintaining the witness of Christ in the holiness and safety of his church. That means training churches to recognize sexual predation and how to deal with charges or suspicions when they emerge, and equipping churches to stop the pattern, in their church or from their church to others.
This is a hopeful development, and we look with eager expectations towards the recommendations this Study Group puts forth. We pray as well that the Convention would implement them swiftly.
If you or someone in your family has suffered from abuse in the church, we urge you to come forward. We want to hold ourselves and our leaders accountable, and we desperately want to protect our members from predators in our midst.
Likewise, if you are a victim who has suffered silently, our doors are open as pastors. We are here to pray, to listen, and to serve you in any way we can.