A new media report on sex abuse allegations, admissions and convictions involving former International Mission Board workers comes as the IMB is implementing extensive sex abuse prevention reforms.
The IMB is hiring a full-time senior staff member to oversee prevention response efforts, will involve outside legal counsel when reports of child abuse and sexual harassment are received, and will go beyond legal reporting duties in handling such cases, IMB President Paul Chitwood said in announcing an extensive reform effort May 22.
“To be successful, Southern Baptists must partner with one another in diligently demanding the highest standards to respond to these incidents,” Chitwood said in the statement at imb.org. “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.”
Days later on May 31, the Houston Chronicle highlighted in its article, “Abuses by missionaries,” cases involving former overseas missionaries Walter Dildy (deceased), Gene Kingsley (deceased), William N. McElrath, George Thomas Wade Jr., and Mark Aderholt, whose legal case is ongoing.
Aderholt resigned as chief executive strategist for the South Carolina Baptist Convention last year after allegations of sexual misconduct with a minor surfaced. He has since been indicted on three counts by the Grand Jury of Tarrant County, Texas.
The IMB chose not to comment to Baptist Press regarding the specific cases in the Houston Chronicle article, but continues to work with the law firm of Gray Plant Mooty (GPM) “to review individual cases and take responsibility for any failures on the part of the IMB.” IMB trustees selected the firm in late 2018, a few months after then IMB-president David Platt called for an external examination of IMB’s handling of past child abuse and sexual harassment allegations, as well as a review of IMB’s policies and practices.
“As noted in Gray Plant Mooty’s examination update,” IMB Public Relations Director Julie McGowan told BP June 3, “as GPM reviews individual past cases, GPM has identified whether any actions are needed in each specific matter, such as reporting an allegation to government authorities, following up to ensure victims received care, sending communications to those who had contact with perpetrators, gathering additional information, and conducting investigations.
“GPM is consulting with other experts as needed during the examination,” McGowan said. “As Dr. Paul Chitwood noted on May 22, 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.”
IMB will report any additional cases unearthed in GPM’s investigation, Chitwood has said.
“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,” Chitwood said in May.
Chitwood has also apologized to abuse victims.
“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,” Chitwood said. “I commit to you today that we will do better in the future.”
Chitwood made his comments during the May 22-23 IMB trustee meeting near Richmond, Va. Concurrently, GPM released an update on its investigation and recommendations.
Among many GPM recommendations, IMB should:
— adopt protocols for reporting allegations of child abuse to U.S. and foreign government authorities;
— revise policies to make clear that personnel must directly report suspected child abuse to government authorities as well as to IMB;
— revise employee screening;
— provide increased training on topics including child safety, sexual harassment, sexual assault and domestic violence;
— provide age-appropriate education to help children of IMB personnel recognize and report abuse;
— use trauma-informed interview techniques and a trauma-informed approach to weighing evidence; and
— encourage reporting to IMB leadership when perpetrators, following the end of their affiliation with IMB, are working in a position that would provide access to children.
— Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.