Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Training presented at West Cullman Baptist Association

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Lee Wright, Alabama State Board of Missions Church Health and LeaderCare Department (Sara Gladney for The Cullman Tribune)

CULLMAN, Ala. – The West Cullman Baptist Association invited Lee Wright with the Alabama State Board of Missions to give a seminar Thursday on Child Sexual Abuse Prevention. He discussed policies and tools recommended by the State Board of Missions to help churches be safe places for children.

The decision to hold the training was influenced by the recent uncovering in the Southern Baptist Convention of hundreds of instances of sexual abuse of children by church members. The Southern Baptist Convention is the largest denomination of Protestants in the U.S.

(source: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/may/23/southern-baptist-convention-sex-abuse-victims)

In May of 2022, the SBC released a 205-page document naming hundreds of Baptist leaders and members accused or found guilty of sexual abuse of children. The document, which includes 700 entries on cases between 2000 and 2019, was released after a third-party investigation by Guidepost Solutions, an independent consultant that conducts investigations on behalf of faith-based organizations, revealed the convention’s leaders in its executive committee failed the public and its community by mishandling sexual abuse cases and mistreating victims and survivors.

The training given at West Cullman Baptist Association was a preventative measure. Director of Missions at WCBA Justin Olvey said he didn’t know of any recent cases of sexual misconduct in the area. “Really, the big push at the Southern Baptist Convention level is for doing better—making sure that we communicate well, that we’re trained. We’re doing the best practices that have been slow to be adopted by churches generally,” said Olvey. “It’s a startling time. You’re just reminded of the reality that churches aren’t naturally going to be safe places.”

He explained that most of the WCBA’s churches that have larger staffs have already been implementing screening and background checks for church members. “It really is a lot of our smaller churches in places like Cullman who think ‘that wouldn’t happen here, so we don’t have to worry about it.’”

Wright stated, “What we need to know is that this has happened in big churches, small churches, churches in cities, churches in small towns in rural areas, so we can’t afford to have that kind of attitude of ‘that could never happen here.’”

Wright discussed policies such as the “Two Adult Rule” in which two adults must be in the room with young children at all times, and the “Six Month Rule” where a church volunteer or employee would need to be with a church for six months before being allowed to work with children, as many predators will volunteer with the mission of getting close to children.

In 2003, clergy in Alabama became mandatory reporters of child sexual abuse. The attorney general defined clergy as any minister. Clergy can be held criminally liable for not reporting suspicious activity. “Our job is to report, our job is not to investigate,” said Wright. He also stated that laws are changing in other states to require Child Abuse Prevention training before taking children on church overnight camping trips. “Twenty years ago, it was more about detection, detecting wrong behavior. Now, the training is much more about prevention. This is now becoming the standard of care for us to have prevention training,” said Wright.

As part of the training, church staff were given ways in which to identify the behavior of sexual predators and the signs of abuse in children. Examples of such resources are https://alsbom.org/safe/ and https://ministrysafe.com/ to view best practices to implement in their churches.

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