I don’t like the narrative that demands we live our lives in fear. Our 24/7 news cycle promotes a creeping terror that turns parenting into jail keeping and long nights of anxious terror about the “unknown unknown” about to destroy our families.
But churches can be very resistant to implementing the kinds of “best practices” for child care which businesses in general have adopted (either because they’re “good sense” or maybe to avoid lawsuits). Yet the continuing stream of ugly stories of abuse happening amidst Christians demands that we change.
We don’t need suspicion or blind faith; we need sensible policies and structures in place.
Boz Tchividjian wrote a great post this weekend which puts in front of our faces the reality: Church is a great place to hide abuse. (Boz is the head of Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment, abbreviated G.R.A.C.E., a consulting nonprofit that assists ministries and churches in auditing their policies and practice.
Take time to read his post….. I’ll wait.
In addition to developing sensible safeguards for those who work with children in churches and Christian schools, church leaders also need to move investigations of child abuse and family neglect into the realm of the God-designated authority for issues of justice: the government.
Stop hyperventilating, conservatives.
It’s hard to cut through the “government is evil” rhetoric that swamps our political discourse these days, but it’s the Church’s job to declare what Scripture actually SAYS. And God designated governmental authority to handle justice, punishment, and the law.
(Clarification: I’m not saying “check your judgment at the door”; I’m not saying the government should take over vital services like caring for victims; I think there’s a lot of value in the nonprofit / private sector running ministries like Calvary Home for Children. So don’t assume what I’m not saying.)
Government is no more or less evil than the people who comprise it, despite the current political rhetoric that demands a small government in the name of God Almighty. *coughs*
God’s commands to government officials cover a constellation of human needs. From punishing murderers/criminals or waging war to standing up for the oppressed and poor and marginalized, the government stands responsible before the Lord to handle questions related to justice.
As evangelical Christianity has become all the more aligned with the conservative political spectrum, the “government is evil!” narrative has tainted our theology.
So when someone whispers that “Susie” claims “Pastor D—-” acted inappropriately, our church organizations turn inward, circling wagons to protect reputation and PR and brand rather than pulling these questions into the God-approved light of legal investigation.
The word “investigation” makes us nervous. We don’t trust our governmental officials because
1) politicians are creepy and self-serving and slick and feel like used-car salesmen;
2) our political process rewards attack ads and sound bites, not thoughtful discourse;
3) sometimes our laws are just absolutely stupid because laws, by nature, must deal with lowest-common-denominator behavior;
4) America isn’t really that corrupt, all things considered, but the “good ol’ boys” network and back room dealing and ALL THE MONEY that now controls the political sphere sure feels corrupt to most of us;
5) we all know cases where the legal system failed, where a victim wasn’t given justice or where an innocent person was found guilty.
I get that.
But it is the very nature of legal investigation (done rightly) to protect victims and also to protect innocent people from having their reputations destroyed due to “he said-she said” accusations, for just as many people of power abuse that power to victimize others, accusers sometimes betray justice by lying to destroy someone.
Neither the victim nor the accused benefit when the due process of law is replaced by back room deals, sweeping things under the carpet, or trying to handle an accusation “in house.”
The very nature of abuse is insidious because in many cases, abuse is tied to the wrongful exercise of “power.” And, as Boz discussed in his post, our Christian assemblies often deliver power structures and ready authority to any person interested in taking advantage of children or the weak.
So, as Christians, we need to
- get involved in politics to the extent that we can stand it 🙂 — because we need people voting in not-corrupt politicians and judges with good bench records
- contact our local legislators on the state and national levels to ask for better laws to protect victims and more support for victim support agencies
- implement clear, common-sense policies in our church children’s ministries, Christian schools, and parachurch organizations to protect children from abusers, run all personnel through background checks, clarify who can be where with kids, and mandate reporting charges of abuse to legal authorities
- ask our denominational authorities to pass resolutions asking congregations to develop better policies, and provide leadership on this issue
Again, there are many ways to misunderstand what I’m saying, so feel free to ask questions in comments rather than just assuming you know what I mean.
And really, do read Boz’s post.