Improved policies are the first step in a major cultural shift to eradicate sex abuse in kids ministry.
When Jules Woodson was a teenager, she told her pastor that her youth minister had assaulted her during a ride home from a church event. The pastor told her it was a consensual act.
Stories like hers—trusted youth ministry relationships twisted to abuse young female victims—appeared again and again among more than 700 cases of sexual abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention uncovered by a Houston Chronicle investigation earlier this year. The SBC’s own report on abuse opened with an account from Susan Codone, who said her youth minister “showered me with flattering attention, telling me that God had chosen me to help his ministry” before advancing to sexual abuse when she was just 14.
Another theme also emerged: Many young victims told church leaders what happened but did not receive the comfort or protection they needed.
Decades later, survivors, pastors, and parents want to know: Will the church be able to prevent the kind of abuse that these women suffered as teens? Will leaders be able to recognize inappropriate behavior and respond immediately to stop it?
Last week, 1,600 Southern Baptists gathered at the Caring Well conference to answer this question.“Southern Baptists will not have a future if we do not confront our tendency to protect the system over survivors,” said Phillip Bethancourt, vice president of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, which organized the event.
The church’s sexual abuse crisis is not limited to the SBC—asreports show—and a third of all Protestant churchgoers “believe many more Protestant pastors have sexually abused children or teens than has been currently exposed,” according to a LifeWay Research survey. …