Like many people, Jennifer Greenberg seemed blessed to grow up in a family that attended church frequently. What many people did not know, though, was Jennifer’s father subjected her to frequent abuse, including verbal, sexual and physical abuse, for nearly all of her upbringing.
When she shared with others—including her pastor at the time—about the abuse, no one did anything to help her.
“My pastor told me, ‘We need to pray for your father’s anger issues.’ That’s not what I needed to hear. That’s not what I needed,” Greenberg told attendees at three regional events “Abuse Prevention & Awareness” Conferences hosted by Oklahoma Baptists, Feb. 24-25.
The regional conferences took place at Tulsa, South Tulsa, Feb. 24, and at Oklahoma City, Wilmont Place and Ardmore, First, Feb. 25, and drew nearly 300 attendees from numerous Oklahoma Baptist churches.
Greenberg is not only an abuse survivor today. She is a recording artist, church pianist and an author who recently wrote the book “Not Forsaken.” She worships at a church in Houston, Texas, where she resides with her husband Jason and their three children.
Another presenter at the conferences was author and MinistrySafe founder Greg Love, who shared that Greenberg’s story is not an isolated incident. Love said there are tens of millions of Americans who have been victims of sexual abuse, with some statistics showing that as many as one in four females and one in six males in the United States have experienced some kind of abuse.
The purpose of the conferences was to make churches better aware of risks and to help abate and eliminate sexual abuse.
“This was one of the best conferences I have ever attended,” said Justin Sampler, pastor of Inola, First. “The materials were practical and helpful. We learned both how to prevent abuse from ever happening in the local church, as well as how to care and support abuse victims and survivors.”
Topics covered in the conference include:
- Skillful screening and training
- Monitoring and oversight
- Background checks and best practices
- Creating a culture of awareness
- Caring well for abuse survivors
“The church should be the safest place for people to turn to, and by implementing wise practices and prevention measures, we can better guard against child sexual abuse and other sexual abuses that are sadly so widespread today,” said Joe Ligon, senior associate executive director for Oklahoma Baptists. “By hosting these events, as part of our larger strategy to create a culture of awareness and safety, we believe churches will be better equipped in this vital area.”
According to Love, 50 percent of perpetrators of abuse in a church context were volunteers. “We need to do better in screening our volunteers, and background checks are not enough,” he said.
Love cited statistics which indicate 90 percent of offenders are male, while 10 percent are female. “Peer-to-peer abuse—that is to say, youth abusing other youth or children—is a major issue, as well,” he said.
“Having a better understanding of sexual predators ‘grooming’ of victims is key,” Love said. “We need to recognize behavior and risks. Only four percent of sexual abuse offenders are ‘abduction offenders.’ (More than) 90 percent are ‘preferential offenders,’ abusers who are often known people in our midst who go where barriers are lowest. And barriers are lowest where information is weakest.”
Love challenged churches to go beyond background checks.
“I wish all we had to do was run background checks,” he said. “We have to deal with our environment as it is, not how it should be. This is our problem as the church. It’s a today problem, and we need to make changes now and not wait for a personal crisis.
“This is not a Catholic problem, or another group’s problem. Sexual abuse is a crisis that cuts across demographics and racial lines,” he added, saying that youth sports and churches are some of the highest risk areas for abuse.
Amy Cordova, who serves as missions and women’s ministry partner for Oklahoma Baptists, also spoke at the event.
“Thanks to the generosity of Oklahoma Baptists, our churches can have their first year of MinistrySafe paid for,” she said.
MinistrySafe was created by legal professionals “to protect children and those who serve them.” Interested churches can contact Thomas Jordan at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
“We are called to be shepherds. We need to understand what risks look like in order to put up the right fences for those in our care,” Love said.
With God’s help and the right training, screening and precautions, there will be fewer victims like Jennifer Greenberg in the future. And with God’s people rallying to support abuse victims and survivors, people will see that the church is not only a safe place, but a place where people will truly love them and care for them.
“God still loves me,” said Greenberg. “What my abuser did was evil. Their sin was their choice and their responsibility. I was not at fault. I can have a healthy marriage. I can be a good friend. I can be a good parent. I can live my life and experience joy again because Jesus Christ is my strength and my Redeemer.”