The Caring Well Conference began in Dallas Oct. 3, bringing together more than 1,300 Southern Baptists watching online to mourn sexual abuse, work toward its prevention, and pursue strategies to care well for survivors in the church.
Russell Moore opened the conference with the sobering story of a 1960s church bombing. When 16th Street Baptist Church was terrorized on Sept. 15, 1963, killing four young girls, a beautiful stained glass window somehow survived. Most of the image of Jesus the Good Shepherd holding a lamb remained intact, but the Savior’s face shattered in the blast.
As the church reeled, the metaphor was clear, Moore said. Amid the flames and the suffering, where was God?
“We’ve seen much the same,” Moore said in Dallas, “not in one explosive act, but in uncountable numbers of vulnerable people who have been exploited, who have been harmed, who have been abused, even within churches.”
Last February, a report in the Houston Chronicle uncovered hundreds of cases of sexual abuse perpetrated by Southern Baptists ministers and volunteers. SBC President J.D. Greear, who had previously appointed an advisory group to counsel him on issues related to abuse, presented the group’s report at the 2019 Southern Baptist Convention in Birmingham. The report included a new training curriculum for churches, “Caring Well,” and the Caring Well Challenge—an 8-step process for churches toward abuse prevention and care for survivors.
The conference this week is one step in that process, designed to train local church leaders to implement stronger, more helpful policies and procedures within their congregations. On day one, conference speakers addressed the sobering reality of abuse, and sought to establish a theology of caring well for survivors, those inside and outside the church. The next two days will highlight specific action steps churches can take.
Plenary sessions are available to watch free online. Friday’s sessions at 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. (Central Time) will include survivor stories, a panel discussion on the church’s role in preventing abuse, and how to care for friends and family who have experienced abuse.
Saturday’s session at 9 a.m. will include a conversation with Rachael Denhollander, the first woman to accuse former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar of sexual assault. Watch the sessions online at live.erlc.com.