By Elizabeth Young
In response to national concerns related to sexual abuse in Southern Baptist churches, Arizona Southern Baptists’ Convention Council adopted two recommendations at its meeting Feb. 26 in Phoenix.
The first recommended that the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention “review its policies regarding background checks, including but not limited to all members of the Convention Council, volunteers, and staff.”
The second recommended “that the AZSBC provide resources to its churches related to prevention of sexual abuse and caring well for victims and their families.”
“Arizona Southern Baptists want to clearly state our concern for this issue,” said David Johnson, AZSBC executive director. “We want to do everything we can to prevent any abuse of individuals in our churches or in our ministries.”
For a number of years, the AZSBC has required background checks for staff and volunteers.
“We currently require all of our staff and volunteers to undergo background checks in order to serve in our ministries, such as Disaster Relief and Zona youth camp,” Johnson said.
The convention is encouraging churches to follow its lead.
“We encourage all of our churches to make sure that their staff and volunteers have also gone through a background check,” Johnson said. “This applies to prospective staff members, pastors and volunteers, as well.”
The AZSBC uses Protect My Ministry for background checks. For information, including special pricing, go to protectmyministry.com/imb/.
“While we have had very limited incidents among our churches that we are aware of, any incident is one too many,” Johnson said. “That is why we are making recommendations to our churches to take action to prevent any future sexual abuse in our churches.”
Since 2007, following a recommendation of the AZSBC Convention Council at that time, the AZSBC website has had a page listing resources for churches related to sexual abuse. The list at azsbc.org/abuse/ was developed after extensive research and has been updated through the years.
Among the resources are links to video presentations by Rachel Mitchell, deputy county attorney and chief of the special victims division in the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, on creating a safe environment for children and on the youth minister’s role in looking out for kids.
Other resources include links to sites for background checks, sample child protection policies and training. The page also includes a link to the National Sex Offender Public Registry, helpful books and downloadable guides.
“We also want to provide assistance to churches in the area of caring for victims of abuse,” Johnson said. “We recognize this is a serious issue across the country.”
At the February meeting of the SBC Executive Committee, SBC President J.D. Greear announced that Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused — a free, video-based curriculum developed by a team of survivors, advocates and experts — will be released in June. A link is on the AZSBC webpage, or individuals can go to churchcares.com to subscribe and be notified when the curriculum is released.
Partnering with the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, Greear initiated a Sexual Abuse Presidential Advisory Study last year.
Southern Baptists need to repent for a culture that has made “abuse, cover-ups and evading accountability far too easy,” he told the Executive Committee in February. It is a time “to own our error and to grieve for those who have been hurt.”
—Baptist Press contributed to this article.