June 5, 2019
Something in my spirit warned me the minute he walked in the church. I’m not sure my 12-year-old mind truly understood but I knew to stay on guard.
My memory recalls the visiting youth evangelist as being in his mid-30s with creepy eyes. I don’t remember any other details except that our youth group took him out to eat after the service. Pizza Hut, I think.
Somehow he ended up sitting next to me and throughout the meal he edged closer and closer until the already uncomfortable feeling turned to an SOS, red alert warning signal.
I didn’t understand nor did I feel empowered to say anything so I determined to survive by leaning the opposite direction and continually scooting over to keep a few inches between us.
That was roughly 35 years ago. He didn’t actually abuse me nor hurt me in any way, but I can still sense the shivers down my spine by his singling me out and being overly interested.
Were his intentions inappropriate or was he merely socially awkward and unaware of how he was making me feel? We’ll never know but no child should ever feel threatened — especially at church.
Obviously far more true servants of the Lord are working in churches than those who lose their way or come in purposefully as predators.
But the predators do find their way inside from time to time and Southern Baptists have determined enough is enough.
Alabama Baptist leaders provided a “Helping Churches to Be Safer Places” resource to church leaders in mid-May. And Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear’s sexual abuse advisory group will report to SBC messengers June 12 in Birmingham.
The advisory group also is working with the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission to provide resources in the SBC exhibit hall and a June 10 panel discussion on the topic.
Ronnie Floyd, newly elected president of the SBC Executive Committee, said in a Baptist Press article that he is focusing a lot of time and energy on how the issue will be addressed.
The response, he said, needs to be delivered in the most “Christ-honoring way to build the safest environment we can in our churches and stand boldly and courageously against all sexual abuse. We need to leave Birmingham with there being no debate about where we are, where there are definitive actions that everybody knows.”
Floyd is correct to be thinking carefully on the subject. While I have to believe everyone — except maybe the perpetrators — wants a solution, we do have to work within an autonomous polity structure for the answer.
Still there has to be a simple and manageable way to guard the children in our churches.
In fact, training a set of children’s workers to function like life guards might be an option. Life guards are stationed at strategic points so no individual is ever out of sight. And the roaming guard continuously walks the perimeter keeping check on the guards on duty as well as serving as an additional set of eyes overall. It would take extra effort but it could work.