We counselors rarely note, in public, the positive actions of churches who take seriously the call to care for the least of these. All too often we hear and repeat the news of churches who fail to enact prevention efforts or who botch responses to abuse within the church community.
So, this short blog is to remind us that many churches do work to prevent child and adult abuse and who respond well to abuse confessions or allegations. Today I participated in a phone call where one such church was looking for ways to take their existing practices and policies and make them even better. It won’t make the 6 pm news or the next Christianity Today because there is no scandal to report.
In honor of this church, let me give a couple of suggestions to others who might like to enact their own policies and practices
- Determine the organization’s foundations and values for policies and responses to alleged abuse
You might think this a strange place to start but it is my experience that if a church/org doesn’t name their controlling values, another set of values will rule the day–and often without anyone knowing it. I have seen churches who make decisions on the basis of limiting liability. I would suggest a better value is protecting the vulnerable from abuse and standing for truth, justice and righteousness. I have also witnessed unspoken values of “fairness.” Since everyone is a sinner, then no sinner can be called out and restricted in their access. Since both victim and offender are sinners, then the blame is to be equally shared, even if the offender is a pastor.
- Begin with some key theological principles. Study them. Engage in churchwide discussions
Key topics to consider: nature of evil, abuse, impact of sexual abuse; theology of reconciliation, restoration, forgiveness, and repentance (these topics are all different and not to be confused); theology of the state (too many churches see the State as evil and thus they do not begin to think about reporting child abuse)
- Identify a team to develop policies and to handle abuse allegations and to identify potential risks
- Craft policies for lay counselors, pastoral staff, child care workers, those who have been accused or found to have committed abuse (e.g., can they attend church; do they need a care team to bring church to them?)
- Staff to explore how to make the church friendly to current and past abuse victims; consider sermon and Sunday School topics to set agenda and tone
- Make clear abuse reporting policies to the church (even if not required by local jurisdiction) because of the moral call to protect the weak
- Background checks for all staff, including pastoral staff
- Finally, locate capable individuals who can assess, consult, and treat specific individuals in need of help (offenders or victims)
There is more to be done but this is a good start and will take some time to do it. Of course I can’t end without suggesting that churches seek out GRACE for help on either the prevention or response side of things.