The following article is excerpted from the Jan/Feb 2012 issue of FrontLine.
What We Are Learning
In Part 1, two common misconceptions of child abuse are discussed:
Misconception 1: It can’t happen here.
Misconception 2: Acts that do not involve actual intercourse are not “so-bad.”
In Part 2, the following misconceptions are discussed:
Misconception 3: Child sexual abusers have a certain look about them – they’re “weirdoes.”
Misconception 4: A professing believer who commits this kind of abuse must have just fallen in a moment of weakness.
Misconception 5: The requirement to report abuse interferes with the ministry of the church, and things are best handled internally, at least at the beginning.
Misconception 6: The testimony of the church will be destroyed if we acknowledge that abuse can occur or has occurred in our church.
Part 3 follows:
There are many other misconceptions that we could consider concerning child sexual abuse. However, we also must consider what should be done in response.
First Response: We must educate ourselves.
The misconceptions above and many others as well are correctible through information that is readily available. Many pastors and other ministry leaders should become better acquainted with the various aspects of this problem, including its scope and nature, the characteristics of child molesters, your state’s reporting requirements, and the effects of abuse on victims. There are many resources now available on the Internet and elsewhere.
In addition, we must take advantage of the knowledge and skills of people within our congregations. One difficulty in many churches is that the pastor is expected to be the expert on everything. To the contrary, God’s intention is that the body of Christ should benefit from the participation of all the members. Churches have members and leaders with valuable knowledge and experience, such as schoolteachers, law enforcement personnel, legal professionals, and private and public social service personnel. Many of these have had some sort of training in dealing with this issue and some members could be tasked with the responsibility on behalf of the church to do the necessary research and make recommendations to the church leadership about appropriate preventive measures.
Second Response: We must acknowledge and learn from past failures.
As in other ministry areas, a sober assessment of the crisis may also lead us to the conclusion that we mishandled certain situations in the past. A past decision about how to handle a situation, even if it was made in good faith, may now cause regret in light of the resulting consequences. If we have made mistakes, we should own them honestly, ask forgiveness for them where appropriate, and do what we can to ameliorate their consequences. If we realize that we are currently dealing with a situation in the wrong way, then we must take rapid but thoughtful corrective action.
In addition to recognizing specific mistakes, we may have to acknowledge that we have failed to approach the overall problem with sufficient diligence or vigor. This is not to disregard those many individuals and ministries that have done good things in this area, including gathering information, instituting policies, reporting suspected abuse, and ministering to those injured by this sin. Nevertheless, the more we learn, the more many of us realize that we could have done better. The truth of the matter is that child sexual abuse touches virtually every institution in society. Moreover, as the news continues to demonstrate, many people and institutions with reputations for integrity have failed to respond rightly in this area. Nevertheless, for the Bible-believing church to say that it has not responded any worse than other institutions is itself an indictment of we who believe that God has called us to be salt and light in the world. Certain groups, institutions, and denominations have gotten out in front on this issue. Although we are not in a competition, this fact should mobilize us in Fundamental churches to redouble our efforts as well.
As we discuss what needs to be changed, we should be careful not to spend too much of our time dwelling on the failures of other individuals or institutions. This is not to say that we should not hold ourselves accountable and that we cannot learn from the past failures of others. Nevertheless, we must avoid the trap of thinking about child sexual abuse as though it were someone else’s problem. Instead we must focus our principal energies in determining how our churches and other ministries can better protect children and in helping others do the same.
Third Response: We must implement appropriate prevention and response strategies.
Becoming better informed about child sexual abuse leads to some disturbing thoughts. Chief among these is the idea that a child molester could be in the pew next to us. Frankly, this is frightening. However, there is constructive fear and there is destructive fear. On the one hand, destructive, carnal fear can lead to denial, panic, and bad decisions. Sometimes it causes us to ignore a danger we are afraid to face. Other times it leads to seemingly self-protective behaviors that make matters worse. On the other hand, Biblical, constructive fear motivates us to deal with the problem. Noah obeyed God, being moved by reverent fear because he believed God’s warning of pending judgment (Heb. 11:7). The prudent person sees the disaster coming and “hideth himself” (Prov. 22:3). Constructive fear acknowledges the truth, assesses the danger, and takes appropriate action.
In this case, appropriate action includes implementing a prevention and response plan that has elements such as screening workers, setting and enforcing behavioral boundaries, and training people in the church to detect and respond appropriately to potential or suspected abuse. In addition we must be better prepared to minister to the many victims of child sexual abuse (both children and adults) and to confront and help bring to genuine repentance those who have committed such acts.
The Purpose of this Issue of FrontLine
All of this is a tall order, and understaffed churches and overwhelmed pastors are not likely to invest the necessary time or energy without a sense of the urgency and gravity of this evil. The interview with Rachel Mitchell in this issue of FrontLine should be very useful in this regard. She is the Chief of the Sex Crimes Bureau for the Maricopa County, Arizona, Attorney’s Office and has taught extensively in this field. Her insights are extremely helpful for gaining an understanding of the true nature and seriousness of the threat to churches as well as for taking basic steps to protect our children and our ministries. In addition to this interview, there is a section in this issue giving advice and resources concerning the development of a child sexual abuse prevention policy in your church. Also, Dr. Jim Berg provides some important Biblical insights for helping people who have been victimized.
Some of the information and counsel offered here is well established among those who deal regularly with this subject. Other aspects of the problem need more investigation. We confess that the more we learn about this topic, the more we need to learn. The resources provided in this issue should be just the beginning of your investigation.
Jesus Christ commanded His disciples to allow the little children to come to Him. He also pronounced the severest of woes on those who put a stumbling block in their way. Let us purpose by the Lord’s help that we will be those who obey the former instead of those who allow the latter.
Dr. David Shumate holds advanced degrees in law and theology. He has served as an associate pastor and seminary professor. He is currently the director of a mission agency located in Phoenix, Arizona.
Due to the importance of the issue of child protection, we are publishing these articles in their entirety, albeit in a serialized format. The articles on Protecting Our Children will be made available in pdf format as soon as our serialization is complete. This article may be shared in its entirety as long as no alteration is made to the text and full acknowledgement is made as to the author and source.
We encourage our readers to subscribe to FrontLine, the print voice of the FBF, a magazine designed for the edification of God’s people. Click here for subscription information.