Discussion Topic

When a tragedy like the shooting at a Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, TX, occurs, it's normal for church members to wonder what they would do if a similar thing happened to their congregation. Let's talk. 

November 10, 2017 0 0 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 0 2 comments
Resource, Curriculum

We can begin to prevent abuse by starting at an early age to teach our children respect for themselves and for one another; and by helping them learn what to do in situations that feel unsafe. 

January 8, 2016 0 0 comments
Resource, Book or eBook

These educational resources will help you begin talking with young adults about healthy sexuality. 

January 6, 2016 0 0 comments
Resource

Safe church policies help protect the most vulnerable among us, especially our children from the devastating effects of abuse.

November 6, 2014 0 0 comments
Resource

The following organizations have been successfully used by CRC congregations and ministries to help secure background checks. 

February 6, 2013 0 0 comments
RSS

See also this article, Anita Hill on Weinstein, Trump, and a Watershed Moment for Sexual-Harassment Accusations. It begs the question for me - what about in our churches? Is the culture changing there as well? Do we take allegations of sexual harassment and abuse seriously enough?

 

I recently attended a "convening" of sexual abuse prevention educators hosted by Samaritan Safe Church. I'm so thankful to Linda Crockett for her willingness to dance alone, listening to survivors and what they need in churches. And it was amazing to be with those who have now joined her in a changing their church culture, creating a movement to end child sexual abuse. Her movement has spread in Pennsylvania and now to many other places across the U.S. It's inspiring! What movements have you seen grow from a small seed to something large? What movement would you like to see? Are you willing to start dancing?

This training is being offered again, sponsored by Safe Church and World Renew again, in Ancaster, ON - Nov 15-17. We had to turn away people who were interested the last time, so we decided to do it again, in Canada this time. Information and registration can be found here. Prayerfully consider joining us.

posted in: Trauma Healing

Safe Church has worked with Worship Ministries to offer some possible worship resources, which can be found here. Psalms of lament that end in faith and hope are a good option. I'd also encourage you to pray and ask the Lord for discernment as you review resources, he knows best what is needed. There are also other organizations and denominations that have spent more time considering worship for those who have suffered abuse, and/or those who work with them. You may want to explore online to see what else you can find - and then please, share it here so that others can also learn.

It's also helpful to consider having those who have suffered abuse/or work with those who have suffered, to create their own worship resources. I've been a part of survivor retreats that allowed time to express and create, and then also share - whether it's in word, in art, in drama, in music or song, etc. These may be the best resources of all.

Another article in the "Do Justice" blog talks about using a "Gulliver Strategy", which means using multiple and creative tactics to bring down the giant that porn has become in our culture. What steps, however small they seem, can you and your congregation take? I recently returned from Montana, where I participated in presentations by Protect Young Eyes, which were designed and adapted for students of various ages in both Christian and public schools, as well as an evening program for parents. These were small, but very valuable and important actions! Feel free to contact Safe Church Ministry for additional information about these events, or how to plan something similar where you live.

Thanks for the comments! It's also important to note that the Safe Church Ministry office doesn't have the capacity to stay current with laws that apply to churches and that vary from state to state and from province to province. Local resources are needed for good policy development. That's why every classis is encouraged to have a safe church team, which can be an important local resource for our  congregations.  Insurance companies are also great resources for information. It takes all of us working together to help make our congregations safer for everyone. 

To be clear, I'm not at all suggesting the Safe Church resources wouldn't be good.  What I am suggesting is that at least some insurance companies will have specific requirements that become a "condition of coverage," such that they will deny coverage if later a claim is made and they discover that the condition wasn't fulfilled.  And these conditions need not be rational.  This is contract law.  And that's why I suggest getting an answer IN WRITING from the ins co.

I would also add that if you comply with ins co requirements, you can ALSO use Safe Church or other resources/training, that is, first comply with any ins co requirements and then also do what you think is good to do.  And Safe Church exists to help with that (figure out what is good to do on top of ins co requirements).

Yes, it's good to check directly with your insurance company, I wouldn't want to attempt to speak for them. Safe Church has resources on our website, which may be helpful in training staff and volunteers.

The answer to your question is to directly ask your insurance company, and to get an answer in writing.

Thanks for this post, Monica, and for linking to some helpful resources. 

I hope so.  Although I was never abused sexually on university campuses, or anywhere else for that matter, I believe that sweeping any kind of abuse, and especially sexual abuse under the carpet is never the right approach.  The Roman Catholic Church tried it and it became a huge scandal that comedians like Bill Maher still joke about.  YoU'd think other denominations from their error, but instead it seems they keep doing the same thing, and insanity has been defined as always doing the same thing while expecting different results.  That begs the question: Are religious institutions sane when they keep making the same errors that others have made before them?

My prayer is that we, as the Church, will open our eyes, and stand against this devastating injustice. Though it may seem overwhelming, even small steps, by many people, can make a difference. It begins with understanding. Thanks for posting this!

Thanks for posting this. We need to hear and understand these words so that we, as the church, can respond appropriately to those who have experienced abuse and to those who perpetrate it. 

posted in: Abusers Among Us

I only know what we do in our church. The Insurance Co. requires background check every 5 yrs. We are in year 7 or 8 with approx 215 approved volunteers. We renew 30-40 per year which is not difficult or very expensive. All the best to you ...

Hello Victoria, 

We were able to find a new link for this resource. You can find it here! I hope this is helpful. We have also updated the previous comment. 

 

Hi Eric...I am having trouble with the link you have provided.  Could you check it for me?

Thanks, Victoria

Some churches in Michigan use a free state-wide criminal background check provided by ICHAT (Internet Criminal History Access Tool). It's free for non-profits, including churches, that are registered with the state. Once a church registers, they can do their own state-wide background checks for free. Cost can vary depending on the type of check; if it's a nominal fee, it may be OK to expect volunteers cover it themselves (although a process should allow for those to whom this would cause financial hardship). Some would say that if the church requires it, then the church should pay for it. One way churches can show that they value volunteers is to offer to pay for the background checks for those who are already giving time, energy and other resources in their service to the church. Some, perhaps most, people will also be happy to pay for their own background check, seeing it as a part of their contribution to the church.

Thank you, Fred and Bonnie!

One more question- Fred mentioned that his church can pay for each application. 

If you have background checks in your church ministry, do you pay for them, or do your volunteers pay a percentage? What is typical for churches?

Thanks!

We have resources about background checks posted on our website with other policy information. Safe church recommends a criminal background check for anyone working with children, youth or vulnerable populations. There are many options for background checks as well as different kinds of checks. An interview and reference checks are also part of a full screening process. The people that are entrusted to our care, especially the small and vulnerable, are precious and valuable to our Lord. It's our responsibility to do what we can to protect them and offer a safe and nurturing environment for faith to grow. 

Our church has been using Sterling Backcheck. Combined with an application form called a 'volunteer profile' and a sign off on our abuse prevention policy. Each ministry leader is still responsible for documenting the reference checks. 

Sterling is very simple and can be easily set up so the church can pay for each application. In Canada, any church that is a member of Plan to Protect, receives a discount from Sterling as well. 

Hope this helps ...

In addition to our current pornography resources, Safe Church recognizes that pornography fuels a HUGE sex industry that enslaves people and destroys lives. It's the theme for Abuse Awareness Sunday 2017 (always the fourth Sunday in September). A flyer (bulletin insert) entitled 'The Sex Industry and the Church' can be ordered free of charge to help increase awareness in CRC congregations, which hopefully will lead us to take action.

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.

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 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

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