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
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
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
Resource, Law or Legal

This letter on Bill 132 (a bill about sexual harassment in the workplace) is meant only for churches in Ontario, Canada. The letter gives guidelines for local churches to fulfill the new bill.  

November 28, 2016 1 1 comments
Blog

This is a painful election that is in many ways dividing this country and the church. But please, when it comes to assault against women, let’s not be divided.

October 18, 2016 5 51 comments
Blog

During the Rio Olympics, a disappointing report was unveiled, detailing years of USA Gymnastics ignoring allegations of sexual abuse of gymnasts by coaches. The report is a stark reminder that fighting for justice is never an easy task.

August 23, 2016 2 0 comments
Resource, Bulletin, Insert or Cover

This bulletin insert for Safe Church Ministry includes a description of how abuse victims and offenders can experience justice and mercy, which can lead to healing.

February 23, 2016 1 2 comments
Blog

Fully confronting abuse by spiritual leaders in the CRC  is a necessary first step to a safe church: if we cannot hold accountable even those entrusted with the souls of the church, called to be “blameless” how can we effectively address other forms of abuse?

January 28, 2016 3 4 comments
Resource, Webinar Recording

This webinar examines how sexual abuse happens, what some of the impacts are, and then explores how churches can play a key role in ending this epidemic in our culture. 

November 11, 2015 0 0 comments
Blog

The word “forgiveness” sent my mind in a thousand directions. Those who have survived abuse are all in different stages of healing. Will my prayer help survivors forgive or set them back?

September 28, 2015 3 8 comments
Blog

What stuck in my head were the words, “No one in the family knew...”. I immediately said aloud to the other people in the room who were watching this with me: “That’s a lie, someone did know.”

September 19, 2015 2 2 comments
Blog

I understand our penchant to protect and cover favorable people. Even in our churches this happens with well-loved leaders and personable congregants. Does this outweigh protecting the flock?

August 17, 2015 1 6 comments
Blog

The publicness of the Duggars' lives has created space for a wider conversation about abuse. What will it take to move the church to speak more openly and courageously about abuse?

August 8, 2015 3 0 comments
Blog

How has this culture of rape, disrespect, and devaluing others entered into our lives and into our congregations?

August 3, 2015 1 0 comments
Blog

Yet, there was a question burning in my heart, as my eyes searched Bella’s face hoping to glean more insight. It was a question I wanted to ask but never could: “How did you know to fight back?”

July 21, 2015 4 3 comments
Blog

"The God I serve is a God of presence, not a God of protection."

June 27, 2015 2 8 comments
Resource, Website

We always seem to say that King David committed adultery with Bathsheba. However, I would say that what King David did was sexual assault.

May 30, 2015 3 4 comments
Blog

In April, Safe Church leaders from the U.S. and Canada came together for strategic planning. One priority rose to the top. “We need to be able to talk about abuse!”

May 11, 2015 1 0 comments
Blog

There are ways to illustrate the horror and the impact of rape in the storyline, without explicitly showing the rape. What are your thoughts on this?

April 10, 2015 0 0 comments
Blog

One in four girls and one in six boys are sexually abused before the age of 18. We cannot bury our heads in the sand and ignore this issue.

March 2, 2015 1 0 comments
Blog

Which story would you rather read: A story about a woman alleging gang rape at a prestigious university? Or a story about how the reporter covering that story failed to maintain good journalistic standards?

February 16, 2015 3 6 comments
Blog

One in four females and one in six males will be sexually abused by the time they reach 18. Are they missing from our congregations?

January 28, 2015 2 3 comments
Blog

Our denomination and each of our congregations also have a culture. Is it a culture that promotes openness, or one that encourages hiding difficult struggles? What messages are implicit in our culture about disclosing experiences of abuse?

November 17, 2014 3 7 comments
Blog

In July, a news story hit the web about four male students who developed a fingernail polish that indicates the presence of date rape drugs by changing color after being dipped in the drink. While many applauded this invention, some saw negative implications.

October 21, 2014 1 0 comments
Blog

Abuse concerns us all and needs to be addressed by us all.

September 22, 2014 2 2 comments

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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.

Wow, thanks Doug. Such insightful comments. I agree completely with your concerns about restorative justice. It seems similar to forgiveness in that it can be powerful and freeing if the situation is appropriate for it but has similar real dangers for misuse and distortions when forgiveness is extended to someone who is unrepentant (by any standard more rigid other than a superficial "I'm so sorry.") I have read some stories upheld as models of restorative justice that made me really cringe. A danger of restorative justice can be that victims and their families in a Christian context have internalized deep pressure to forgive and forget great harm, and may not have the appropriate skills and training to assess whether or not the culprit should be extended grace or remains a danger to society. 

This: "It so wants the perpetrator and victim to be restored, but it needs to hold perpetrators accountable.  The former "want" can overwhelm the latter responsibility, especially when the perpetrator is skilled, and sexual predators are often quite skilled" -- seems exactly the problem. Christians are deeply deeply conditioned to see grace and restoration as the desired outcome for sin, any sin, so there's a tendency towards idealism in many churches, this optimism that the gospel can fix anything and anyone if we just try hard enough. But sometimes it can't, sometimes abusive patterns are deep rooted and possibly even incurable in this lifetime. The church needs to learn to love without having this ingrained triumphalism/naivety that assumes all problems can be fixed by our own willpower and good intentions. We can genuinely love an abuser while refusing to compromise on the care and safety of both the victim and other potential victims. But, as the CT missteps illustrates, I think very few churches are prepared for how to handle a charismatic abuser such as this who knows exactly how to manipulate the Christian worldview to their own ends.  

 

Monica. I would very much agree that this abusive pastor was and may well still be a highly skilled, manipulative predator.  Most lawyers, not just prosecutors, would recognize the profile.

What I have long wondered is whether there is some connection between the church's rather fashionable inclination toward "restorative justice" and a particular vulnerability to being manipulated, as this publication was, by these kinds of predators.

Don't get me wrong.  I love "restorative justice."  But I also believe that "restorative justice" is pretty hard to come by in the real world, and usually because the perpetrator wants to be excused, not restored.  It takes two to have true restorative justice, a truth that restorative justice advocates would sometimes like to not be the case.  That may be a harsh thing to say but I think it is true.

In other words, I think there is a tension here for the church: it so wants the perpetrator and victim to be restored, but it needs to hold perpetrators accountable.  The former "want" can overwhelm the latter responsibility, especially when the perpetrator is skilled, and sexual predators are often quite skilled.

This is just difficult in a way, especially for kind hearted, merciful and gracious "church people."  Not sure of the solution to this but I quite believe this tension exists and can be a serious problem, as evidenced by this article.

For training in abuse awareness, I've adapted many items from my predecessor, Beth Swagman. One of her presentations was entitled, "The Short Course on Abuse". In that presentation, the very first point is: Expect denial from everyone, including you! We simply don't want to believe that abuse really happens, especially when the one who perpetrates it is someone we know, love, and respect. We have to work, to choose the harder path, to overcome our tendency toward denial. We also need to understand the devastating effects and deep impacts of abuse on those who have been victimized by it. Their experience must not be minimized. Instead we honor them by listening carefully, by giving them a voice, by not being afraid to enter in, with them, to a dark place. The Lord can only bring healing when we have acknowledged what has happened and the harm that has been done. This is not an easy path, but the rewards are well worth it. It's been said that the truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable. A long term perspective is needed. The first step is overcoming our own strong tendency to deny and to minimize. We do so much harm, re-victimizing those who have already been hurt, when we fail to take this first critical step. 

My church also uses electronic check in - you may contact Shalom Jaconette at River Terrace Church in E. Lansing, MI if you would like to find out more about how it works there.

Marian,

Our kids have participated in some summer programs at Harvest. They have an amazing check-in system with tablet kiosks attached to nametag printers. If you gave the church office a call, I'm sure they would tell you what they use. It's very efficient.

And I just noticed that Planning Centre Online has also added this functionality.

James

So glad to see safe church ministry in BC hosting this event. Hopefully, it will lead to much fruitful discussion. No problem goes away when we hide it or ignore it - bringing it out into the open is the first step toward change and toward healing. Safe Church Ministry offers many resources about internet pornography, and how the church can play a role in fighting this problem that causes so much destruction in our communities, and our congregations.

Hi Marian: 
This is a great question! My church has not switched over but I found this article on church check in software that seems helpful. 

Would love to hear what you end up using!
Staci 

Hey Marian :)

I think LaGrave CRC in Grand Rapids has something like that, unless I'm not remembering correctly from my visit. 

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