One of the worst mistakes a church can make in cases of clergy sexual abuse or other sexual abuse is to be unprepared for the situation, said Jay Kieve, the recently appointed abuse prevention and response advocate for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
Such an error can be catastrophic to congregations and victims alike because it usually leads to further devastating blunders, said Kieve, who continues to serve as coordinator of CBF South Carolina in addition to his new role. “What we have seen over and over again from churches and other institutions is unless they have a plan and some training to do otherwise, when someone discloses abuse, the reflex is to protect the institution rather than to believe and protect the victims of abuse.”
Helping CBF congregations avoid the resulting legal, moral and spiritual consequences is Kieve’s responsibility in the new part-time position he began April 1. “CBF’s desire is to support congregations by providing policies and procedures that protect kids and vulnerable adults from abuse,” he explained.
What may seem a heavy assignment to some is an emerging calling for Kieve, he said. “It’s been a growing part of my vocation over the last four or five years.”
That calling began to take shape with Kieve’s part in co-founding CBF’s Clergy Sexual Misconduct Task Force and subsequent immersion into sexual abuse and trauma prevention, education and training efforts. Requests for guidance came in from across the Fellowship as he promoted the implementation of best practices and procedures around sexual misconduct and abuse among CBF South Carolina congregations.
“It grew into a national effort as I became the state and regional coordinator on the task force,” he said. “As a result, I just became the poster boy for these conversations in CBF.”
And now Kieve said he will harness that momentum to promote and protect a church culture that exhibits healthy approaches to preventing and, if necessary, responding to abuse-induced crises.
Kieve said his approach will be to connect churches with resources such as ethics and sexual harassment policies, rules governing access to children and vulnerable adults, implementing background checks for employees and volunteers, and reference checks for prospective staff. “And there will be various levels of training for church leaders, including for clergy and workers. We’ll also have workshops for folks at general assemblies.”
Part of the process will involve convening the clergy abuse task force and coordinating CBF’s partnership with GRACE, a ministry that provides sex-abuse prevention and response training and guidance to churches. “The next step for the task force will be to produce resources for survivors of abuse, including referral lists to pastoral counselors,” he added.
Another resource being honed is a referral process for job candidates that can help congregations avoid hiring accused abusers.
“We can’t tell a church who to hire, but we can make sure churches have the resources to hire well.”
“We can’t tell a church who to hire, but we can make sure churches have the resources to hire well,” Kieve said. “We are working to resource search teams to equip them with the right questions to ask and to develop policies along these lines.”
The fact is CBF cannot dictate that churches adopt any of these policies, Kieve said, but there is plenty of motivation to do so.
“For one, it’s part of our Christian tradition and discipleship to follow Jesus in protecting kids and protecting vulnerable adults. That’s part of our command as communities of faith,” he said.
Baptists also must accept that clergy sex abuse is not just a Catholic problem, as some still assume.
“Imagine as a pastor that you are in front of a church where there is an allegation of abuse and having to explain why you didn’t have the policies in place to prevent that or to properly respond,” he suggested.
The potential damage to a church’s relevance in its community and its own survival moving forward also should be considered. “If we want thriving congregations, we can’t have abuse in them. Abuse destroys our ability to offer a thriving witness to our world.”
“Abuse destroys our ability to offer a thriving witness to our world.”
Attempting to sweep allegations under the rug is as damaging to the victims as the original act because they feel betrayed by friends and clergy, he said. “It is incumbent on us to make sure we have the policies and procedures in place not to let that happen.”
In comments included in a blog post, CBF Executive Coordinator Paul Baxley said Kieve won’t have much of a learning curve in his new position.
“Jay Kieve has already provided significant leadership across our Fellowship in preparing congregations to develop policies and practices that prevent the devastating experience of sexual misconduct, and he is already a compelling advocate for those who have been abused,” Baxley said. “The calling to advocate for those who are abused and develop preventative practices in congregations requires persistent faithfulness. Jay’s new leadership role is the next step in our Fellowship’s response to that calling.”
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