I remember, in 2012, reading the disparaging story of a megachurch in Oklahoma, in which church leadership tried to cover-up the rape of one of its 13-year-old members, by the church’s janitor, in the church’s stairwell. After the 13-year-old girl reported the rape to church leadership, they waited two weeks before notifying the girl’s parents or the police. The church’s excuse was that they were doing “damage control” and “conducting (their) own investigation.” As a result, two of the youth pastors narrowly escaped jail time, another member of church leadership received thirty days in jail, and the girl’s mother sued the church for $75,000. What is sad in this incident, and in many others, is that the church leadership did not follow a proper reporting process.
From 2010 to 2013, of the top five reasons churches end up in court “Sexual Abuse of a Minor” is the number one reason (churchlawandtax.com). This statistic is based on “…12,000 published and unpublished rulings by state appellate and federal courts pertaining to religious organizations.”
Parallel versions of the Gospels (Matthew 18:6, Mark 9:42, and Luke 17:2) all proclaim Jesus’ warning, “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in Me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” While some may argue whether, in all three of these passages, Jesus literally means “these little ones” as children, or if Jesus is actually referring to new Christians, the warning remains for our churches to be ready to handle, seriously and swiftly, all allegations of abuse.
Simply put, our churches should have a safe church policy, in place. A physical fire could burn down a church building. Any occupants inside could meet with their demise if that church has not practiced a fire drill to contact the fire department, notify emergency responders, and facilitate the safe evacuation of its members. Similarly, the church, as a living, breathing organism, can also be left in ashes and its membership spiritually wounded, if a report of sexual abuse is not handled properly.
How do you ensure that your safe church policy stays up to date and on the minds of ministry leaders and volunteers?
For help updating or creating a safe church policy visit this page of the CRCNA's Safe Church website.