[Editorial Note: This is a statement by IMB President Paul Chitwood in response to the statement by Gray Plant Mooty presented in trustee plenary on May 22.]
As we hear the report of the external examination by Gray Plant Mooty, my heart is grieved that any girl, boy, woman or man has suffered abuse or harassment by an IMB employee representing our Lord’s work. Unfortunately, churches and mission agencies are not exempt from evil and sin, and I recognize the terrible impact the sin of abuse and harassment has had on so many lives. On behalf of the International Mission Board, to any person who has been affected by these actions of anyone associated with IMB, I offer a heartfelt, sincere apology that these injustices have occurred in your lives.
My prayer is that in the days and weeks ahead, you will find healing and peace, and that the steps we are actively taking today in some small way may help foster that healing and peace for each of you.
I recognize that some people were harmed by the way IMB has responded to these situations throughout our 174-year history and for that, on behalf of the IMB, I apologize. I commit to you today that we will do better in the future — and, in fact, IMB’s trustees and senior leaders already are at work to implement the recommendations from Gray Plant Mooty. Let me assure Southern Baptists that IMB is committed to making the changes necessary to better prevent instances of child abuse and sexual harassment (including sexual assault), and to better care for victims while holding perpetrators accountable.
I’m exceptionally grateful for the work of Gray Plant Mooty and the IMB staff and trustee officers who have worked diligently on this task. These women and men have invested months of work to thoroughly examine each case in IMB records related to the topics of child abuse and sexual harassment (including sexual assault). I regret that past actions by IMB personnel have resulted in the necessity of such a difficult task, but it is honorable work to care well for victims, and to seek the highest standards for this organization to follow.
IMB agrees with all the recommendations we have received from Gray Plant Mooty, and we are committed to implementing all those recommendations with their help. Let me emphasize a few of those:
- We are committed to creating a full-time position to oversee prevention and response efforts of the IMB in relation to child abuse and sexual harassment (including sexual assault). We agree that we need this specific expertise, and we plan to hire a senior staff member to lead us toward excellence in this area.
- When IMB receives a report of child abuse and sexual harassment (including sexual assault), we are committed to involving outside legal counsel with expertise in this area to provide advice throughout the process.
- Moving forward, we’re committed to an expansive approach to reporting allegations of child abuse to government authorities that goes beyond legal reporting duties. Not only do we agree with this expansive approach, we have already begun to report every known incident of alleged child abuse by IMB personnel or others affiliated with IMB that has not been previously reported.
- We are committed to a trauma-informed approach to this work. We are thankful for the work Gray Plant Mooty has done to educate and inform us in this area. It has been helpful in understanding the scope of this topic and helping us move forward with best practices.
- We are committed to providing accurate, informed references on every former IMB employee. IMB strongly encourages any church, entity, or other employer who is considering working or partnering with a former IMB personnel to contact IMB to obtain a reference on that individual. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org so that we can do our part to help you make wise and informed hiring decisions.
Let me remind you that we encourage anyone who has been a victim of abuse by IMB personnel or others affiliated with IMB to report it to authorities. In addition, we invite any victims to contact us on our confidential hotline at (855) 420-0003 or email email@example.com so that we can provide compassionate care to that victim and take appropriate steps to ensure the safety of others.
To be successful, Southern Baptists must partner with one another in diligently demanding the highest standards to respond to these incidents. We want to go beyond minimum legal standards. We must be the leaders in best practices that set the standards others follow in these areas. Therefore, as the IMB continues our work in these areas, I call on every Southern Baptist entity and every Southern Baptist church to join us.
Beyond the Southern Baptist Convention, I would call on every believer in Jesus Christ — whatever your affiliation or denomination for your personal faith — to join in this commitment to hold your own religious leaders accountable for absolute excellence in these areas as we represent the global Church. We can do better. We must do better. May God grant the wisdom and guidance to make it so.
Dr. Paul Chitwood is president of the International Mission Board.