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How can church leaders maintain appropriate boundaries that ensure safety, without discriminating or feeding into sexism or legalism?

July 18, 2017 4 16 comments
Resource, Newsletter or Periodical

Have you seen the July 2017 Safe Church Newsletter? Meet our summer intern, discover 10 ways to make your church a safer place, and find out where to connect with us at Inspire 2017! 

July 12, 2017 1 0 comments
Resource, Article

In contrast to God’s beautiful design, the sex industry takes an incredible gift and uses greed, violence, and coercion to exploit God’s image in people, and to destroy God’s design for relationship.

July 6, 2017 1 1 comments
Blog

This piece, by counselor Krispin Mayfield and originally published by Off the Page (here), offers compassionate guidance for families reeling after the disclosure of abuse within their family. 

June 14, 2017 2 2 comments
Resource

What concrete steps can each congregation be doing to make your church a safer place? These ten guidelines, developed by Safe Church Ministry in partnership with Faith Formation Ministries, offer a helpful place to start.

June 6, 2017 2 2 comments
Q&A

We are looking for assistance with creating a policy for dealing with disruptions in our church services. Any ideas?

May 29, 2017 2 1 comments
Discussion Topic

What does your congregation do to create safe spaces, where people feel safe enough to share honest struggles and untold stories?

May 23, 2017 4 3 comments
Resource

Safe Church Ministry is thrilled to know about, and to let you know about, Hope for the Sold, an organization that works to end sexual exploitation, in part by offering excellent web-based resources. 

May 5, 2017 1 0 comments
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Safe Church Ministry only works when we ALL work together. Here are some practical ways you can include Safe Church at your next classis meeting.

May 1, 2017 1 2 comments
Resource, Conference or Event

This one-day conference provides a wonderful opportunity to increase our understanding about abuse issues and to become better equipped for ministry.

April 20, 2017 1 0 comments
Blog

Participating in Assault Awareness Month is not nearly as difficult or uncomfortable as many assume. How will your church make survivors feel safe this month?

April 11, 2017 3 2 comments
Blog

Any month is a good time to focus on safe church ministry, but April provides some special opportunities to connect with your congregation.

April 4, 2017 1 1 comments
Q&A

How can I take not sinning seriously and not end up legalistic? How can I take not sinning seriously while still embracing God's grace?

April 2, 2017 0 3 comments
Blog

With the recent influx of refugees into Canada, the Classis Huron Safe Church Team gathered to ask some questions about the intersection of refugee sponsorship and safe church. 

March 22, 2017 2 2 comments
Resource, Article

If we want to minister effectively with those who have experienced rape, we need to examine what we believe about it, and how false thinking may influence our actions and words causing further harm. 

March 14, 2017 1 1 comments
Blog

We are excited to welcome Eric Kas as the new Safe Church Associate! He is excited to partner with you all as we strive for safe spaces in our churches.

March 8, 2017 1 4 comments
Blog

A truly safe church environment is one where the congregation is aware of the many ways in which abuse is normalized in both secular and Christian cultures and is prepared to help survivors.  

February 21, 2017 4 0 comments
Resource, Article

When we are confronted with an allegation of abuse, there are always two paths we can take, two stories we can choose from. And one story will always be easier to believe.

February 9, 2017 3 7 comments
Blog

Let’s acknowledge honestly that we still have a long way to go when it comes to equally valuing women.

January 31, 2017 4 0 comments
Blog

The documentary Over 18 tackles an issue many within the church community would rather ignore: the serious effects of pornography on young people.

January 17, 2017 4 1 comments
Resource, Newsletter or Periodical

Get updates on resources, events, and more; subscribe to our bi-monthly Safe Church Newsletter.

January 16, 2017 1 0 comments
Q&A

I have a church in my area that is considering an electronic sign-in for nursery and children's ministry programs. Does anyone have suggestions or resources that may be helpful?

January 6, 2017 2 4 comments
Resource, Report

This past year Safe Church Ministry worked hard to maximize our resources and offer trainings, events, and newsletters on abuse awareness, policy questions, and much more.

January 3, 2017 2 0 comments
Blog

Learn how to use applied Scripture and mental health principles to address wounds caused by trauma at a three day Trauma Healing event taking place February 1-3 in Grand Rapids, MI. 

January 3, 2017 2 4 comments
Blog

If I look carefully, I can see God right here and right now. Like the “I spy” game I’ll play with my 3-year-old granddaughter, if I take time to look carefully, I can see. Please open my spiritual eyes. 

December 23, 2016 2 2 comments

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Thanks all, your reflections are super helpful to us!  

 

I think Bonnie's voiced all of the suggestions that come to mind for me too - I really like the idea of cameras if it is important for the internship to take place in the church building. If it still feels uncomfortable/unhealthy or potentially unsafe for a small number of people to be working together in the church building, which can be heightened if they're of the opposite gender, offsite meetings nearby feel like a good solution. Your questions highlight how important it is for all churches to spend some time brainstorming and strategizing to have workable solutions like these in place allowing equal opportunities for all people regardless of gender. We might not be able to eliminate all risk, but I honestly believe with some planning it is possible to open up many more opportunities for both men and women to work collaboratively in a healthy environment than we might've assumed. 

I'm wondering if there was any conversation with the intern, and with others about this issue. I can think of various options off the top of my head, and in good conversation with others I'm sure there would be a lot more. What about flexible work hours, working offsite, or alone in the building when you were not there? Or, what about an office with a lock on the door? Same sex relationships must also be considered in safety planning. Has this been an issue with male interns or only female interns? If it's only seen as an issue with female interns, then that's a problem in my mind. There might be other ways to work around the concerns of having two people alone working together in a church building - a video camera in the office space? A quick-dial emergency phone number? And the trust level in the relationship must also be considered. I don't believe that completely risk-free ministry is possible - it is our responsibility to minimize risks as much as we are able. And I often say that risks must always be weighed against benefits in determining the best course of action; and if you're going to error (it's human after all) error on the side of safety. 

BTW: Safe Church Ministry has a webinar, Healthy Boundaries in Ministry Relationships, which includes handouts, that could be a helpful tool to begin discussion for church council and/or staff members and other ministry leaders. Transparent discussion might lead to greater understanding of some of the underlying issues involved, and/or be helpful in creating policies to help meet the various needs that are expressed. Regular ongoing Boundary and/or Ethics training is required by pastors in many denominations - a good idea I think.

Thanks, Mike, for relating the experience that exactly describes the dilemma we all face. We men either treat women as full equals without any boundaries and thereby provide the context needed for full implementation of their gifts; or, we place limits on interaction to prevent misinterpretation or even exploitation by less charitable persons. In well-populated, professional settings the first is easier to implement but in informal contexts with fewer people interaction between genders always seems to have traps that we need to avoid to maintain integrity in ministry. It's not just a matter of male hormones or propensities but includes that of community realities.

One of my concerns in my first response was to the sensitivity to such limitations being perceived as offenses. I really don't know how to deal with that. Somebody may be able to develop a way to accommodate every need.

Thanks very much for this excellent piece of work Monika!  

As it happens this issue is not at all academic or hypothetical in my little corner of the world:  I work (mostly) alone in the upstairs of a church building that is regularly empty between 1/2 and 1/3rd of the work week.  In the past with 'safe-church principles' in mind, I worked with a fabulous female intern, and had to restrict her schedule to times in which we knew that Church staff would be in the building (office with an open door).  It was probably the strongest internship we've ever had, but there were very clear limitations due to the scheduling.  At the end of the internship the young woman was deeply complimentary about the experience but recommended that women not  serve in our office unless something could be done about the schedule restrictions.  That has, since then, restricted our intern pool significantly - this is deeply unfortunate.

So, Monika, given this article, and the deeply significant need we have for the full participation of women and men in our work, is there anything creative that we can do to make our place more Gender inclusive and fully appropriate from a safe-church perspective?  

Mike Hogeterp

Christian Reformed Centre for Public Dialogue, 

Algonquine Terrritory, Ottawa Ontario

 

That's a helpful, comment, Eric - exactly. The goal is creating healthy spaces and boundaries that work equally well with both genders. 

Thanks for this comment, Bonnie. You worded so beautifully exactly what I was trying to say. 

Thanks for all the thoughtful comments on this article! It is an important topic. It's more complicated than it seems on the surface, which the article itself and the comments clearly show. 

I know many women who feel that their leadership potential is stunted by the fact that they are treated differently than their male counterparts. There may be fewer mentoring relationships and opportunities available to them, especially in male dominated positions such as pastors. In our culture, networking with others is an important part of job advancement. So, women can feel at a disadvantage if they are not allowed the same opportunities for networking and building relationships. This is a real issue, more than just a perception. And it may play a part in the economic disparity found between women and men doing similar work. We must be aware of these cultural biases, and work toward equal dignity and opportunity for all people.

At the same time, I applaud men for considering the issue carefully and taking steps to protect themselves from false allegations of inappropriate behavior, which is also a valid concern. It's a valid concern for women leaders as well. Anyone in a leadership position needs to consider how their actions are perceived and how they might be understood by others. Leaders should be an example to others, and in Christian ministry are called to be above reproach. It seems also important to note that Jesus was as concerned about our thoughts and motivations as he was about our behaviors (See Matthew 5). And so, it seems that knowing yourself is also important in making these kinds of decisions. If being alone with a woman, or a man, causes one to lust, than for sure, avoiding that situation all together is wise and good. Better yet, is being able to treat all people with equal dignity and respect - may we come to that place in our leadership. And I believe that an important part of that is maintaining a safe environment, which may mean meeting in public (you can have private conversations in public places), having windows in the doors, etc. And every leader should have those who can hold him or her accountable - so that when temptations present themselves, he or she has a place to go with that struggle. We need to hold our leaders accountable, in a gentle and restoring way - because our enemy is working overtime in this area. Our hope rests in our God, who is stronger, and is also always working on behalf of his people, his bride, the Church.

Honest conversation about this issue is a good step in the right direction. So, thanks again Monica for the article, and also to all those who weighed in with comments.

Thanks, Mark - I actually agree with you that Mike Pence was treated unfairly in the coverage of his adherence to this rule. I too applaud his desire to protect his marriage honorably, and think we have a big problem with lack of boundaries to where following something like this rule is often better than the alternative. I did reflect on how potentially the rule itself could feed into implicit sexism, but was not at that point speculating on Pence's motives, more on how other women have experienced the rule when it was directed at them. My purpose in the piece was to point out that following the follow legalistically could cause problems and potentially raise the issue of discrimination (especially in work or education settings). It's helpful for Christian ministries and organizations to recognize that it could be illegal to require female coworkers, etc to be held to different guidlines than male coworkers.  It'd be better, like Eric pointed out, to have a principle in the workplace that applies equally to both men and women (only meeting in open spaces, etc). I think the Billy Graham rule arose from honorable intentions and points to the need for wise boundaries, but wanted to point out the potential downsides and highlight Safe Church's resources for thinking through more flexible guidelines. 

Thanks for your comment - as I mentioned in the article, I think the intentions behind following something similar to the Billy Graham rule are honorable and good, and far better than a lack of clear boundaries. The question of discrimination comes up primarily when it involves coworkers, students, or mentees, of the opposite sex -- for example, if in a work, education, or ministry setting women have to follow different rules than their male coworkers. There are many contexts in education and the workforce where following such a rule legalistically would be very difficult, even impossible, without it raising at least the question of discrimination towards female coworkers. It's good to keep this in mind, because in such settings, it could be illegal for women to be treated differently than males, which makes a leader vulnerable to lawsuit. But as Eric pointed out, there are many easy way to follow the common sense principle behind the rule's motivations of wise boundaries - not meeting alone with alone in an enclosed space, having a workplace that has windows and open doors, for more serious one-on-one conversations meeting in public, etc. The goal of this piece was to point out the limitations of a one-size-fits-all rule, and help us think about wise guidelines such as those offered by Safe Church to think through our own personal guidelines with discernment. 

Maybe Mike Pence has serious struggles with a temptation towards infidelity and this is what he has to do to remain "pure and blameless." I applaud his actions to do this in the face of mockery from non-believers (SNL and Bill Maher have had their fun with it). This article speculates about his motives by accusing him of holding to a caricatured Augustinianism instead of showing the charity that a brother in Christ deserves.

"If a man with significant political power can only freely meet with other men alone, but not women, that raises questions about gender discrimination."  Gender discrimination?  Really?  Give me a break.  A woman meeting alone with a male pastor has more power than you think.  If she doesn't like the pastor, all she has to do is make an appointment with him and then say he was sexually inappropriate.  The accusation alone would destroy him.  The article above also points out that "it’s also true that in ministry a vulnerable or codependent [female] person might want a relationship with a [male] leader that crosses emotional boundaries, if not physical."  If the male leader sets firm bounderies, he also sets himself to be accused by the female person who feels rejected and wants to get even.  No thanks.  The Billy Graham rule is there for my protection and I'm going to use it.

Hello Shirley, 
Thanks for your comment - and sorry for the delay in commenting back! 

The way that God judges and compels us is never abusive - yet, Jesus still had very strong words to those who "cause little ones to stumble" which can be looked up in Matthew 18.  Later on in Matthew 18:15-20, Jesus also gives a guideline to the church for those who are unwilling to be held accountable, it starts directly with the one who was sinned against and the accused. If there is no reconciliation, it slowly involves the community also holding the accused accountable and you could say, "compelling" the person who is deemed guilty to repent. We believe this process is necessary when abuse has taken place - Jesus is merciful and just and speaks with grace and truth. One without the other does not reflect God's kingdom. 

Thanks posting Monica! I appreciate your nuanced thought. 

Personally, I do not like to be in an enclosed space (like an office without a window) with anyone, men or women. Fortunately, most office spaces have windows in doors and are often places where others may walk by, which give it public visibility. Moreover, I cannot recall the last time I ate alone at a restaurant. Normally there are people around, this is not “eating alone” - it is eating in public, with a private conversation. There are many ways to work without gender discrimination in our communities, while maintaining healthy boundaries.

Thanks, Henry. Your comments point to how important it is for churches to have a clear policy in place for handling allegations of harassment or abuse, to avoid conclusions being drawn based only on secondhand information instead of a thorough and careful process for assessing each situation. Bonnie Nicholas and Safe Church are always available to help churches both in creating a policy and helping churches take any allegations through a rigorous and careful process before any definitive conclusions or further steps are taken. 

Great article discussing a necessary issue. But what about the power of gossip and innuendo that leads to the maligning of a person's reputation? I've seen a few cases of this where a pastor lost their reputation, position and even calling. This applies to any person in positions of authority sometimes for as little as an off-handed comment. The sensitivity to offenses, whether real or perceived, leads to muzzling and inability to communicate. 

The Billy Graham rule was set up to avoid any possible maligning when their team realized how prominent Billy could become and thereby a target for malice.

Click here for the link to order your free flyers/bulletin inserts for your church!

Great article and resources - THANKS for posting this Monica. Anger towards the one that perpetrated the abuse and cause the damage is appropriate; it reflects God's anger at sin and is an important, critical part of the process. With our God, there is hope for much healing for all parties who have been impacted, I've seen that transformational healing, and it motivates me to continue in this work. 

Good article Monica.  I wholeheartedly agree that anger can be good, even necessary.  Its a bit like a sharp knife.  Dangerous if not handled properly, but sometimes much preferred to (even required instead of) a dull one.

I also appreciated this author's straight out assertion that abused children aren't irreparably broken.  They and others need to know that, be persuaded of it -- cuz its true.  Insisting otherwise tends to make the sense of broken-ness extend longer, or even permanently.

Thanks for sharing this helpful article. The CareLeader newsletters often have useful information for those interested in ministry with others. Safe Church Ministry so-sponsored Trauma Healing training with World Renew last February, and we will co-sponsor another event in Canada in November. Churches can become places of healing when church members are equipped to deal with trauma that people are facing. Often we think we need to be a therapist or a professional, and sometimes that help is needed. Yet tremendously valuable to someone who is hurting is the ministry of presence, just being there with them. And a listening ear, truly listening without judgment, and without trying to "fix" someone, just listening, is a very valuable gift, that most of us are already equipped to give. May our congregations become safer places as we learn to listen to one another.

Hello Linda,

Great question! Decreasing the risks involved in a public display of aggression and violence is important for everyone in your church community. The office of Safe Church Ministry is primarily a resource for responding to the occurrence of abuse & prevention of abuse - so security and risk of public violence is not necessarily in our area of expertise. We however want to point you towards some excellent resources for security training. One of those resources is from Brotherhood Mutual, a leader in insurance coverage for churches. They have a free download called Big Book Checklist (click here for the download) that offers several risk management checklists for ministries. If you look at page 51 there is a page titled "Violence in the Church." As you look through this checklist there may be several things that you could integrate into your policy for training your elders and deacons - specifically a regular training that a percentage of the church's leadership could go through so that your community is prepared for a variety of scenarios that could possibly come up.

I hope this helps!

Blessings,

Eric Kas - Safe Church Associate

Thanks for this thoughtful reply! I agree that leaders set the tone, and their willingness to be vulnerable and open seems to be a key ingredient. I appreciate this verse, 1 Peter 4:8, "Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins". I think genuine love and care for someone will show through, even when we make mistakes, or don't say exactly the right thing. Listening is often far more important than speaking. Rather than "fixing" we need to be present, reflecting the love of Jesus. Thanks again for your comment.

MJill H,

 

I found this comment helpful.  Thanks.

What does our congregation do to create safe spaces for people to share the hard stories?

Well our leadership does not really do anything. Individual pastors, including our current interim pastor, have sat and listened to some of us who ask them to listen/help/pray with us.
It not a practice of our leadership to encourage us to share the hard stuff.  Generally our leaders do not admit their own struggles, at least not publicly. There were 2 elders years ago who tried to be supportive. One came back a few times and gave me a good book to read. The other started a small group for those who struggle. One of these men moved away. The other left our denomination.
Some did begin a support group for people with depression which lasted a year or so. It was a good try.
One of the issues with it was that people with depression and their families were in the same group. Separate groups at least some for the time would have been better. So would trained leadership. But it was a good try.
There are individuals in our congregation who reach out to those who struggle with abuse issues and untold stories. I am thankful for some long term friends who have listened and loved me and stuck with me. I too, reach out to others and we are mutually caring and supportive.
If our leaders never admit they struggle about anything then why would anyone confide in them. If everyone has to look nice on Sundays and seem to have it all together then there is no place for messy lives. If we are not a safe place to admit we struggle with spending too much money, or playing computer games, or getting angry or being lazy or frustration with our children, or even that we are physically ill or in debt,  then how can we ever admit to addictions or mental illness of being a survivor of sexual abuse?

If we have not really understood how much God loves us and longs for deeper relationship with us,
if we have not learned how to accept our own struggles,

 if we have not learned it is ok to make mistakes,

if we have not learned how to ask and accept help from those who would understand,

 if we have not learned to do the work of prayer and repentance and learning a new way to be with God’s help; then how can we support others?

In general, many people care –but they don’t know how to help. It is scary for them, they want to just say the right thing and fix us. We all need to be taught how to care for ourselves and others.

So my suggestion is that anyone who gets to lead needs to truly seek God about how to lead. One thing they will learn is how to be humble and honest and repentant and transparent without shame, about their own life and then learn to do that with others.
For the rest of us who are not permitted to lead, we do the same.
For the survivors and those with untold stories we do the same as above  and we keep  loving and praying and listening as we are walking/screaming/suffering/crying out and receiving the joy of our own healing journey with those we have who do care.

If you haven't yet seen our Safe Church Video, take a look - and check out the new look to our website too!

I appreciated the article regarding inviting a representative  of Safe Church to Classis meetings.  I am the coordinator for Safe Church for Classis East Grand Rapids.  Classis East has been very enfolding of Safe Church within that body.  I am grateful for their support and the importance that Safe Church has within this body of believers.  If only more Classes would become involved with Safe Church and make it an important ministry we could begin to see a reduction of abuse within our Christian community. Thank you for this fine article and reminding people of the role of Safe Church within our denomination.  Judy Jongsma

Amen sister!

And the truth is this:  every man is born of a woman.  Any man who degrades women, degrades himself.   Without a man, no woman could be born.  Any woman who degrades men, also degrades herself.  

There is no sanctity of life for anyone beyond the womb, who does not survive the womb.  

We don't really know why Hillary stayed with Bill.  There is a lot of political opportunism involved, and her whole life has been almost nothing but politics.  We assume she was faithful to Bill, like we assumed he was faithful to her.  And maybe he was;  they just had a more materialistic view of sex.  Maybe.  The real issues are how these things impact the policies of the country.  And certainly there is a trade-off between the immorality of divorce, unfaithfulness, and random sex, and the loss of lives of the unborn, of the military, of terrorism victims.    While the immorality of some marriages is certainly an issue, also at issue is the immorality of condoning homosex, and destroying the real meaning of marriage through legislation.  Also at issue is the persecution of Christians for their beliefs that same sex marriage is wrong.  This too is serious immorality.  I would argue it is of more significance.  If these issues are not addressed, then divorce becomes almost insignificant in comparison. 

Safe Church would like to post this update from Futures without Violence about teens taking the lead! 

Young survivors of sexual assault and harassment, as well as their parents, are not backing down. They are taking on Congress and their local school districts - and winning. Take for instance this week’s news article about a group of teenagers in Oregon who forced their school district to change how it handles sexual violence.

Anyone can be an activist for change, and this week is a perfect time to join in the fight. Through the end of this week, Congress is in recess, which means your Congressional Representatives and Senators are back in their home offices. Let’s make sure our Members of Congress know how critical it is to fund and enforce programs and services that address sexual assault and harassment in K-12 schools across the country.

We encourage you to call or visit to express your support for items such as: Continued funding and support for the federal Office of Civil Rights and Title IX enforcement; Funding for consent education and prevention programs in middle and high schools; and Support services for victims and survivors of sexual assault and cyber harassment.

Let's follow the lead of these teens. I'm praying for the day when the Church will take the lead in the fight to end abuse.

Thanks for sharing Monica. :)

So good to hear about ways others, like Lantern Coffee Bar, are creating safe, encouraging and meaningful spaces. This is definitely something that we as the church body can learn from both in other third spaces we are a part of - as well as in our spaces of dedicated worship. 

posted in: You Are Safe Here

This is a great article - thanks Monica. Simple things can mean so much. I love the idea of partnering with a local ribbon campaign, what a simple way to raise awareness and show support! 

posted in: You Are Safe Here

Hello Dirk,

In addition to the wise and helpful words that Bonnie and Eric shared - I also feel some of your pain that you share as we continue to struggle in this fallen world, which still belongs to God.

One thing that has helped give me some perspective is a simple saying by Rev. Ron Nydam - former professor of Pastoral Care at Calvin Seminary: "You can't give what you never got." We as people are dependent on the common & special grace that God gives to people - and people receive this - sometimes supernaturally, but more often through a remnant (often called His church) that God is preserving through which he continues to give people his grace. Unfortunately, there are many people who have gone through a wide range of circumstances in life that inhibit their capacity to love and be loved. In this case, often people cannot love others because they have not been given a rooted and persistent love. However, God often intervenes and breaks the chains and cycles - and I think your questioning is one means of breaking these chains. 

As Bonnie and Eric mentioned - I too encourage you to do this kind of self-reflection that is present in your post. In addition, finding some key people who you can trust and will continue to give you the things you need to be a person of peace and grace - so that you continue to "get what you want to give."

Keep on keeping on brother!

Eric Kas

posted in: Prayer for Wisdom

Hi Dirk,

Clearly you have a lot of pain and a lot of complex matters that you are grappling with.  I am sympathetic to your pain and struggle.  Particularly in light of the complexities of your concerns and uncertainty, I would urge you to take these matters up with your pastor and a trusted elder or two.  If you are not currently attending a Bible-believing, gospel preaching church, make that a priority so that you can be ministered to by God's Spirit through the preaching of the word in the fellowship of believers.  It is in the context of this fellowship that you will be able to receive much more specific and  personal attention to your concerns and struggles than anyone in this forum will be able to provide.  

A couple words of encouragement along the way: God's grace is sufficient for you, both unto salvation, and to bring you through life's (often cruel) challenges.  At times this may feel like a distant reality or hard to actually take hold of, but I encourage you to place your trust wholly in Jesus Christ, and he will indeed faithfully shepherd you.   May God bless you and encourage you, even as he uses His Word, His Spirit, and His Body (the church) to heal you.

posted in: Prayer for Wisdom

Dirk, I'm so sorry to hear about the abuse that you've experienced, it's not the way life is supposed to be, certainly not what we were designed for as people created in God's very image. We are constantly reminded that we live in a very broken world; and there are not easy answers to the questions that you ask - theologians have been debating them for generations. It is important to take "not sinning" seriously - and yet realize that none of us are able to do that. We are completely dependent on God's grace not only for our salvation, but for our life every day as we fulfill our desire to honor God in all that we do. And we are called to extend grace to others as well. In love, we understand that no one is able to live a life holy and pleasing to God, therefore we extend to others the grace that we also have received. All that said, the question of how to navigate through this broken world, which includes abusive relationships, still remains. I believe that God calls us to personal self-reflection. We can't change other people, only God can do that. What we can change is ourselves, with God's help, and also our response to others. Where to draw the line in a relationship that is abusive can be a painful and difficult process of discovery and discernment. We are called to speak the truth in love - Jesus was filled with both grace and truth - we struggle in between justice and mercy - there is a tension that must be maintained, or we don't have the whole picture. I think it's a mistake to resolve that tension in search of a quick fix - better to embrace it and live into it. A Christian in an abusive relationship is not called to maintain that relationship at all costs. The costs may simply become to high. Sometimes the most loving thing to do is to leave the relationship, creating safer separation; this can be what's most loving to self and others, and can be most honoring to God's created purposes. We are created to be loved and to thrive in a safe environment. Creating a safer separation can be live-giving to the person who has been experiencing abuse. And it can also be life-giving to the one who must now face up to the truth of the abusive behavior and the truth about the damage that has been caused.

It's sad when congregations, and other Christian communities sometimes support those who perpetrate abuse, rather than those who are being hurt by it. This can often happen unintentionally, due to a lack of understanding about the dynamics and impacts of abuse. It can also happen because there is often great pressure to maintain the status quo than to enter into the hard work of bringing these hidden issues out into the open and dealing with them honestly. Safe Church Ministry seeks to help congregations respond more effectively by offering resources that can help. Spiritual abuse, or any abuse within a Christian context is especially damaging, because ideas about God are impacted. My prayer is that you will find others who can understand and support you in your journey with God toward healing and wholeness. The important thing is to be on the right path, going the right direction - we'll all get there in the end. Until then, it's good to have those who can walk with us on this journey as we navigate through this broken world.

posted in: Prayer for Wisdom

"Compel repentance"?  Did Jesus compel?  Can compelling in itself be abusive??

That would be wonderful to get some of these resources posted. Most of the resources that Safe Church offers have been gathered and/or created by way of congregations facing these issues. Safe Church is happy to be a part of gathering and sharing information that can help all of us in our various ministries.

This sounds great! I'd love to hear more about what you learned so that we can share it with other churches. Maybe some of this could end up as a resource on the Safe Church Ministry site so that other ministries and churches can share it? 

Thanks Monica! Look forward to seeing you around. :)

 Yes, blaming the victim is all too often the attitude adopted by many people.  And I was VERY disappointed with King David that he did nothing in response to this rape.  It was Absalom who did something, and he had his brother murdered, but what good did that do to his sister?  I remember reading that she remained a desolate woman for the rest of her life.  Imagine the sense of betrayal she must have experienced, not only of having been raped by a sibling but that her own father did nothing.  Tragic.

Wonderful! Welcome, Eric!

So glad you're working with Safe Church, Eric! And this: "I believe God is continuing to raise up leaders in the church to be shepherds — specifically to protect the flock" -- absolutely love this. 

Welcome, Eric!

I agree. Thank you.

I want to be clear that I am not trying to badmouth "restorative justice," or a "restorative justice process."  I have practiced both in my 37 year long practice of law, starting decades before the CRCNA ever said a word about it (it was a big thing for the Friends community out here and I just thought it made sense).

But, it is a difficult thing.  It is the harder way.  And sometimes, those who just know of the phrase (it is fashionable these days, which in a way is not helpful) but don't understand the complexity, nor the nuance involved, nor that sometimes, maybe often, it can't be done, at least not in the immediate timeframe or when in the context of certain kinds of firmly held perspectives by one or both parties.

And the fashionable popularity of "restorative justice" and "restorative justice processes," as good as those concepts may be, will likely be cause for mistakes like this to be made.

Things in life are sometimes complicated.  I just wanted suggest why and how I thought this situation was complicated.  Understanding complication helps us "do better" with it.

Thanks Bonnie, that's really helpful and an important clarification. I wasn't aware that restorative justice was a part of the CRC's recommended process, and definitely was not intending to cast a negative light on its use in the CRC or in general. I agree completely that what is powerful about restorative justice is that it can be a way to prioritize a victim's needs and the real damage and impact on a community. I heard Doug's comment more in light of stories I have read in the past where in the case of grave crimes it can easily be misused if a community is not prepared or adequately trained in the process and able to skillfully see through distorted versions of an event from the perspective of the culprit, like this article from the Guardian discusses. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/jan/12/restorative-justic...  The problem may not be the model of restorative justice at all, but like any issue with abuse response, missteps highlight the need for extensive training and awareness because the potential for human error is always so great. 

 

While I agree that Restorative Justice may be misused; and perhaps your comments reveal that it is often misunderstood. I have to note that a true restorative practice is not an easy fix or a simple process. Rather, in its true form, it's a process that allows space for the voice of the one victimized, a voice that so often gets lost in other forms of justice. It allows him or her to tell the story and, just as important, it allows others to listen and to hear, to enter in to that dark space, to get up close an personal with some of the devastation and serious impacts caused by the abuse. It gives attention to the harm done and also gives the one victimized a voice in determining what happens next, or what is needed to make things right. It is a process recommended in the Abuse Victim's Task Force Report approved by Synod 2010. 

Perhaps its name betrays the process a bit. Restorative justice is about restoring relationship - we are called to be one in Christ. It does not mean that a situation will be restored to a former state, or that a church leader will be restored to a former position. In cases of abuse that is not possible. Nothing may ever the same again after an experience of abuse, the damage cannot be undone. Yet our God is an amazing God who can transform, who can create beauty from ashes, redeem brokenness into something strong. He can use Restorative Practices to transform a community, as well as the individuals in it. I think Restorative Justice or Restorative Practices fit the title of this article perfectly; because it's a harder path. On a Restorative path, I believe there is more opportunity for healing, redeeming, and transformation - relationships not the same, but deeper. This path will also require more pain, commitment, and engagement. Choose the harder path.

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Carol Vander Ark Champion
Bonnie Nicholas
Elizabeth Schultz
Steven Bowman