My Response to Sex Abuse in the Church

The Houston Chronicle published an investigative report last week detailing reports of sex abuse in Southern Baptist Churches.  It was an honest article detailing the awful trauma that comes with sex abuse, especially when it occurs in the church.  It was a horrible reminder that sex abuse is not just a Roman Catholic issue.  It is an issue that every church and every denomination must understand, deal with effectively, and take immediate and effective action to make sure that it doesn’t happen in their church.  No one can honestly say “it won’t happen here” but we must all say “we will do everything possible to make sure it doesn’t happen here.”

Before sharing what we do to make sure it won’t happen in our church, let me offer a few words to those who have been hurt by sex abuse.  It is a horrible crime with tragic results, and we will do everything we can to listen to you honestly, help you, love you, offer healing, and put behind bars those who have committed a crime.  We promise not to ignore your cries for help or to put the reputation of our church ahead of what has happened to you.

And if it happens in our church—or if we hear an accusation of sex abuse—we have already decided to immediately call in the proper authorities.  Quite simply, we are not trained to do investigations, so our response is to immediately report the accusation to our local police department.  Too many times, well-meaning but improperly-trained church leaders have tried to find out the truth and have failed.  In other cases, well-meaning church leaders have been unable to overcome their built-in bias.  And in a few tragic cases, less-than-well-meaning church leaders have made the decision that protecting the reputation of their church is more important than dealing appropriately with the abuse.

Our decision—made ahead of time—is that we will get outside help from trained investigators and cooperate fully with them if we hear of any illegal activity.

More importantly, though, we are doing everything we can to make sure that sex abuse does not happen in our church.  As a result, we have taken these steps:

  • We hold a training session every year for all of our workers who work with children.

  • We run a background check on every staff member in our church and every volunteer that works in our nursery, preschool, children, and teen ministries. No one is allowed to work with children in any capacity until they have passed a background check.

  • We insist that two approved and unrelated workers are always present when working with children. No one ever has the chance to supervise children when they are the only worker present.

  • We have windows in all of our classrooms so that parents can observe everything that is happening.

  • We do not allow private texting or social media messaging between any of our workers and a child or teen. We use only group messages that include another approved worker.

  • When we are counseling adults, we try to arrange it so that men counsel men and women counsel women. When this is not possible, we always counsel with the door open and another staff member in the vicinity.

  • We do not allow staff members of the opposite sex to travel or ride together unless there are at least three people in the vehicle. And we do not tolerate any sexual or flirtatious talk between our staff members.

The bottom line is that we want our church to be what it should be—a safe place for everyone.  We don’t want our children hurt in any way.  We don’t want our members to feel put-down or pressured.  We don’t want the reputation of our church—or of God’s work—to be tarnished in any way.

Sometimes, our guidelines hinder us or slow us down, but that’s okay.  Sometimes our guidelines mean we need additional workers, but that’s okay.  Sometimes, our guidelines mean that we don’t have enough workers to conduct a ministry that we want to do, and that’s okay also.

The safety and well-being of our members, guests, and their families are of great importance to us.  And we pray—and have adopted guidelines accordingly—so that no abuse will ever occur in our ministry.

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