“If only I had told someone…” “If only I had recognized the signs…” These and similar phrases are often spoken after the fact, after the deep pain and devastation caused by abuse. “If only … (insert regret here)”…and all this heartache could have been avoided. We, as church communities, need to be proactive in preventing abuse, but how?
One way is to start at an early age to teach, clearly, respect for self and others, provide the language and safe space to talk about difficult situations, safe and unsafe feelings, and involve the church community in the process. Circle of Grace is a program with the goal to equip children and youth to participate, actively, in a safe environment for themselves and others. Circle of Grace uses a positive, holistic approach that recognizes God’s presence with us at all times. It includes training for teachers and information for parents and others, thereby, reinforcing all the positive messages of sacredness and respect, in other contexts as well. It is time to end the “if only” response to abuse and begin to build healthy church communities where abuse is unthinkable.
This is where we can see how having safe churches contributes to discipleship, because there is tremendous overlap in Faith Formation and Safe Church Ministry. The following biblical themes support Safe Church Ministry and are also basic to Faith Formation and discipleship, creating a Biblical foundation for who we are and how we are to relate to one another.
Genesis 1:26-28 – Created in God’s Image: All people are created in God’s image and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.
Philippians 2 – Misuse of power at the heart of abuse: This is exactly the opposite of the humble way of Jesus (see also Matthew 20:24-26).
I Corinthians 12:12-27 – We are One Body: When one part hurts, it hurts the whole and we cannot function as designed.
Matthew 5:13-16 – Light and salt: We are to look different from the world around us where disrespect is common and where children and others are not valued.
Matthew 18:1-14 and Mark 9:33-36, 42 – Jesus loves children; so should we: This includes protection of those who are vulnerable.