Jane DeGroot, Safe Church Ministry Coordinator in Classis Muskegon, shares some highlights from the Safe Church Ministry Bi-National and Bi-Annual Conference which took place Sept. 20-22 at the Calvin College Prince Center.
Here are some of my highlights from the recent Safe Church Conference:
- Supporting one another in our quest for justice and mercy is critical for longevity and sustainability. We need each other and we need our churches working in tandem with one another.
- Pornography has gone from a copy of Playboy under the bed to “porn in your pocket” through sites on cell phones, available 24/7. It is no longer photos on paper of naked men and women, but live action videos that cannot be described here. These images will be seared into the minds of the viewers. The makers of these films escalate the level of porn to more extreme levels to keep buyers on a new high. Every year Hollywood releases approximately 600 videos and hauls $10 billion in profits. Impressionable young men become addicted, and are willing to pay to continue feeding the addiction. It messes with their masculinity, to say the least. Ministers and youth pastors are not exempt from addiction. The church needs to step up to this issue and help kids and parents realize how devastating porn is, and at the same time how easily accessible especially within the home, the weakest link for protecting viewers from it. The film 'Over 18' (see trailer) was shown on Thursday night and followed by a Q & A with the director, Jarod Brock. There’s so much in this film that it is my hope to bring it close to home in order to expose the issue and learn what we can do about it.
- Digital media: Are you a human being? Then you will be impacted by the internet! There is no bullet proof vest for creating a safe place for kids. Whatever I feed my precious brain is what it learns to love, especially before the age of 15. (See Protect Young Eyes produced by speaker Chris McKenna) We’re raising kids who are lonelier than ever and have more anxiety. Parents are setting the example of constantly accessing their phones. Kids don’t know what it’s like to be without them. Interpersonal relationships are suffering. Sustained reading is no longer a priority. It’s time to set standards and break the habit of watching for too long, and material that is too inappropriate in content. Kids need to learn how to filter “stranger danger” on the internet. We have to give our nice kids permission NOT to answer nice questions from predators.
- “Raising boys in a #MeToo world is complicated and risky.” Boys and men live in a world where masculinity is socially defined. They are taught to perform as stereotypical males, willing to show only strong, tough qualities. The culture tells them that showing emotions is feminine and weak. Instead, boys need healthy male role models that offer nurturing and vulnerability as authentic personality qualities. They need a safe place where they can experience a gamut of feelings without getting teased, bullied, or harassed. How do we do that? Use words. Teach emotional intelligence (EI) It’s tough, but there’s power in every relationship. Expect accountability for boys behavior, thoughts, feelings and belief. Seek family counseling when early signs of acting out occur.
- Trauma to a young brain (abuse, neglect, etc), causes the brain to develop with insufficient skills to master certain tasks. It is not possible for the traumatized brain to function in certain capacities. That being said, the brain is very resilient and will work hard to replace missing links as it heals from trauma. (See Keynote speaker Andy Soper’s blog Measurable Change for more on what goes on in Andy’s brain!)
We still have much to do within our churches to make them safer places. Only half of our classes have a coordinator. Not all churches have Safe Church policies. The Advisory Panel Process is a great tool to use in cases of allegations, but few have been trained in the process. The Circle of Grace, a children’s program that helps kids learn about abuse in a safe setting, could be implemented. (See Circle of Grace for more information.)
In summary, the conference proved to be a source of great connections, superb “equipping sessions,” and all around a very worthwhile two days. Major kudos are extended to Bonnie Nicholas, the Executive Director of SCM, and her associate, Eric Kas, who did an outstanding job of putting the conference together. The sectionals I attended were very worthwhile and the keynote presentations were very powerful and practical. This was one of those conferences that doesn’t just fade away from your memory once you return home. On the contrary, I am inspired to do more, study more, read more, use screens less and be a stronger advocate for victims of abuse.