(RNS) At Dallas Theological Seminary, it’s now a graduation requirement that students intending to become ministers take a short training class in sexual abuse awareness.
“This is not exhaustive, and there is more work that needs to be done by all of us as a culture,” Mark Yarbrough, the school’s vice president for academic affairs, told The Dallas Morning News. “But this is a way we can help students become informed so that when they are leaders, they are better equipped on how to help establish appropriate parameters in working with children.”
The one-hour “Ministry Safe” class is described as “entry-level certificate training” by the seminary. In the spring semester, the school plans to offer a fuller course on the subject, with more than 40 hours of instruction on abuse prevention in ministry settings.
Daniel Aleshire, executive director of the Association of Theological Schools, said the offerings are unique, especially for an evangelical school.
“This is the first I know of an evangelical seminary with a free-standing requirement for graduation to participate in this kind of discrete training,” he told RNS. “There are other seminaries where sexual boundary, sexual abuse issues are part of another course or class. But it would not be a free-standing event, as Dallas is doing.”
In the wake of the Catholic Church's clergy sexual abuse crisis, many Catholic as well as Protestant seminaries began offering training on abuse prevention as part of ministry ethics, pastoral care or personal formation classes. And seminaries work with denominations on this kind of clergy training.
But Aleshire said the nondenominational seminary in Dallas is offering opportunities for clergy candidates who may not be affiliated with a denomination and may lead nondenominational congregations.
“That’s them being good stewards of the constituency they serve,” he said.