Fourth Question in the series "I'd like to know something about..."

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Our guest blogger to answer the fourth question is Gerry Heyboer, retired pastor and member of the Safe Church Team Advisory Committee

The fourth in a series of questions frequently raised in training sessions:  I am a man who cares deeply about sexual abuse, but what can one man do to make a difference?  Isn't (sexual abuse) primarily a problem women need to learn how to keep themselves safe?

Gerry Heyboer writes the following response.  The answer to the first question is "A lot!"  The answer to the second question is "No!"

Let's look at the second question first.  There is an unexamined belief in this man's question.  The unexamined belief is a woman's behavior needs to change in order to rid the church or society of sexual abuse.  This is not simply a woman's issue.  The author, Dan Allender, himself a suffer of sexual abuse, in an interview with Dick Staub is asked the question, "How widespread is this issue truly in American life and society?"  Here is Allender's answer: It's pervasive.  If it were an issue of the common cold, we would see it as a tragedy and it would be at the very front of Newsweek every week.  (Taken from an interview by Dick Staub with Dan Allender on June 1, 2003, entitled How Dan Allender Broke on Through [to the Other Side]).

Sexual abuse is a human sin affecting women and men in all Protestant Churches including the CRC.

Now, the first question.  What can a man do to make a difference?  First, you must be convinced that the Church is called on by God to make its ministry and facilities safe for its children and adults.  Every time a child is baptized a congregation makes a vow answering the question, "Do you, the people of the Lord, promise to receive these children in love, pray for them, help them inthe faith, and encourage and sustain them in the fellowship of believers?  We do, God helping us."  The task of making the local congregation a safe place is not simply to keep us out of the courts, but is one which we undertake because we have vowed to God to care for all the people of our congregation beginning with infants.

Second, you must pray for courage and wisdom.  In some churches there is no perceived need to have a Safe Church Policy.  There will often be resistance to having such a policy.  You will need courage to inform yourself, change your mind, and then to firmly proceed to share your concerns with the church leadership.  When you meet obstacles, you will need the insight of others who have faced similar difficulties.

Third, as you inform yourself, you must be willing to change your mind when you meet a reality that is not the way you perceived it in the past.

Fourth, if your church does have a Safe Church Policy, you can offer your help in giving it more visibility within the local congregation.

Remember, a local congregation needs to be diligent in forming, implementing, and following policies that lessen the opportunity for the occurrence of sexual abuse so that the well-being of all persons, male and female, and all ages will be enhanced.  The Safe Church Ministry of the Denomination stands ready at any time to help develop Safe Churches.

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Our church is currently without a Safe Church team. As the head of the Nursery Ministry this leaves me and my co-chair stuck trying to write and implement safety policies for our nursery. The church membership is resistant to most all safety practices as they don't see them necessary in our small town. We found out very quickly that the terms "Abuse Prevention" and "Safe Church" make some people quite angry. They feel like if we need these safety procedures that we must not trust them and they get insulted. What can we do to change these perceptions?

Hello Angela. If I had a nickel for every time that issue was raised.... Child safety policies are a two-sided coin or nickel. On one side, we need to protect children because they are too young, small, vulnerable, or naive to be able to protect themselves from an older teenager or adult who thinks and talks above the level of the child's comprehension. On the other side, we need to protect teens and adults who volunteer in our church's programs. Our volunteers could quite innocently put themselves in a place where someone could accuse them of wrongdoing. The accuser isn't always a child; sometimes another adult raises suspicions of a volunteer's conduct and the volunteer has only his or her word that something didn't happen. Why take that unnecessary risk? If volunteers would be willing to be screened, accept some training, and follow some basic, common-sense rules, and that would add a measure of safety to their relationships with youth, I would hope people would be less inclined to protest.

Child safety policies are really about reducing the risk of abuse occuring or an allegation being made. Because almost every volunteer qualifies to be a volunteer, the policy has very little to do with trust and almost everything to do with setting a standard for reducing the risk.

You can't purchase a home with insurance and can't purchase a car or register a vehicle in most communities without a protection policy. We need to think about prevention more than just the perception that policies are a hassle.Churches without a policy that have gone through the tragedy of a child abuse complaint would likely wish that they had a policy that would have protected them or guided them through the process from complaint to resolution.

I know other people have faced Angela's situation - shout out some support and advice to her.