SBC seminaries: #MeToo is 'wakeup call for the church'
NASHVILLE (BP) -- Southern Baptist Convention seminaries long have sought to train ministers in personal integrity, but amid the #MeToo movement, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary President Daniel Akin said, they have "heightened the alert."
Southeastern has "raised the flag and heightened the alert," Akin told Baptist Press, "given the cultural trends that we're now encountering, given the technological world in which we live" where moral failings often are widely publicized.
Southeastern requires all employees to take an online training course covering sexual misconduct and reporting abuse, Akin said. The seminary also has revised and clarified institutional policies on sexual misconduct and has begun running background checks on all incoming students. This fall, Southeastern will implement a required training program for all incoming students "to help them understand what their responsibility is if indeed they become aware of a situation where sexual abuse may have taken place," Akin said.
The minister's personal conduct and integrity, Akin said, are discussed in courses on theology, pastoral ministry and spiritual formation.
"What has happened in our culture" with the #MeToo movement "was also something of a wakeup call for the church," Akin said. The past year's reports of sexual immorality in the SBC have been "heartbreaking at every turn," but "we can come out on the other end of our pain much better, much stronger and far more equipped to deal with issues like this in the future."
While federal law requires that colleges and universities participating in government programs offer training in sexual abuse prevention and reporting, no such requirement governs SBC seminaries, Akin noted, so they offer training programs voluntarily. Some Baptist colleges are mandated by law to offer training.
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary told BP it has, for the past year, required all students, faculty and staff to complete an online training program that equips them for prevention of and proper response to sexual abuse in ministry settings. The seminary pays the fee for the training, which is obtained through the organization MinistrySafe.
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary told BP it trains students to identify and prevent sexual harassment and abuse in at least eight courses in the curriculum. Faculty and staff are trained in the same areas through the employee manual and a required harassment compliance class.
Southwestern's communication vice president Charles Patrick wrote a July 17 post on the seminary's blog asking, "Is pornography morally acceptable at seminary?" and answering that "God's Word has ... the answer for breaking the selfish and superficial shackles of pornography."
Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary told BP in a statement, "Our employee policies and training procedures, student handbook and academic catalog speak clearly" against harassment and sexual misconduct "and specifically encourage all to bring forward any concerns as to a violation of our policies and implore all employees to report immediately any awareness of alleged violations."
Gateway President Jeff Iorg wrote in an April 16 blog post that "starting last year, we have revised our curriculum at Gateway to include much more intentional instruction about moral purity, sexual harassment, sexual abuse, and protecting people under our spiritual leadership. We are being more direct about teaching leaders the importance of submitting themselves to accountability systems, including how to create those systems in ministry organizations that often resist such 'corporate bureaucracy.'"
Glenn Prescott, Gateway's director of theological field education, told BP via email the seminary has overhauled approximately six courses over the past few years and added a course to the curriculum on "ministry finance and strategic planning," which includes training on prevention and handling of sexual abuse.
This fall, Gateway will begin providing "sexual abuse awareness training for all of our students," Prescott said. That training eventually will be part of two courses taken by each student -- one early in their course of study and one late. In addition, the seminary's two-semester ministry internship program includes a two-hour session on sexual purity utilizing a video case study of a predatory pastor who pursues sexual relationships with people in the congregation.
Gateway's curriculum tweaks "did not begin as a response to the actions of the most recent (past couple of years) public #MeToo events across the country nor the proceedings at this year's SBC annual meeting," Prescott said. "We have tried to be ahead of the curve."
The June SBC annual meeting in Dallas included adoption of a resolution "On Abuse" as well as discussion of sexual misconduct in the main meeting and at auxiliary events.
Chuck Kelley, president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, told BP the institution he leads has adopted a two-pronged approach to teaching ministers about sexual misconduct and abuse: "building godly men with godly character" and "teaching them how to help people who have been victimized or caught up in sexual abuse."
The "foundation" course that addresses godly character at New Orleans Seminary, Kelley said, is a required spiritual formation class which includes small-group meetings with a professor. Risk management, safety for children and adults, domestic violence and mandatory reporting laws are covered in required courses on church leadership and administration, pastoral ministry and counseling in ministry.
"These issues are hit two or three times in the curriculum for nearly everybody, and then we have specialized training for people who are in fields like counseling and social work," Kelley said.
New Orleans Seminary was reminded of the need to emphasize personal integrity, Kelley said, by professor John Gibson's 2015 suicide amid his struggle with sexual sin and by another professor's resignation over a moral failure.
With professors and students, Kelley said, the seminary seeks to strike a balance between accountability and ministry. As part of that balance, NOBTS has an arrangement with a local Christian counseling practice where faculty who need help with personal and moral issues can receive counseling billed to the seminary without the seminary being told their identity.
"All we get is the bill," Kelley said.
While it is possible to focus so much on preventing and responding to sexual misconduct that believers neglect the Great Commission, Kelley said, the moral climate of New Orleans, where "the world's values" are "just jammed in your face," long has demanded focus on sexual abuse and misconduct.
Because of similar worldly values permeating American culture everywhere, Kelley said, "All six of our seminaries agree these are important issues."