On March 18th, Rachel Held Evans’ blog featured Boz Tchividjian of G.R.A.C.E. –Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment and a former prosecutor and grandson of Billy Graham. The interview addressed how to prevent and respond to abuse in churches. In this discussion, Tchividjian laments many church’s over reliance on back ground checks without implementing additional safety measures to prevent abuse.
If only many Churches did even that.
In my experience on the Kenai Peninsula, while many established denominations do require criminal background checks (and some even child protection background checks), independent or non–denominational churches do not have a policy that requires this. Even some denomination affiliated churches out of desperation for nursery, Sunday school, or VBS teachers will gloss over their own requirements. I once had an acquaintance who came to one Sunday service with a relative be asked to help with a VBS program the following week, even though she was unknown to the church staff and was an atheist. She asked the question “What if I was a child abuser. How would they have known?”
Members of the community who have have had their children removed from their home for abuse or neglect and even some sex offenders who work directly with children in churches in this area. The church leadership is unaware of their history due to the lack of back ground check.
In other cases, the church leadership actually is aware of the person’s criminal background, but believes that the person has repented and is no longer a danger to children. They even sometimes testify on their behalf. For example, a pastor said that he has really good judgment when it comes to people, so he didn’t do background checks. People who sexually abuse children are masters at lying for obvious reasons and why wouldn’t a pedophile say he was reformed or born again if it would give him access to children? Do I believe that God can miraculously heal a pedophile and reform him? Yes. Do I believe in supernatural forgiveness by God for them if they repent? Yes. Should that person ever be able to work directly with children? No. It is always more important to safeguard children than for any individual to work directly with children.
In even more severe cases, the church actively protects sex offenders by refusing to report to the civil authorities, which is a crime because clergy are mandatory reporters. In these cases they use the Matthew 18 model of how to reconcile with someone in the church who has wronged another member, instead of following the Bible’s teaching to submit to government authority. See this blog as to why that is not appropriate. In the case of Sovereign Grace Ministry leadership allegedly continually protected the pedophile rather than the child. If you decide to read this link be warned it’s very graphic and disturbing. According to the charges presented in this document, church leadership refused to report to civil authorities, threatened members so they would not report to authorities, forced meetings to reconcile between the victim and perpetrator, tried to get charges dropped when they were filed, and impeded the investigations. They expected immediate forgiveness of the perpetrators crimes, which they interpreted to mean no consequences for the abuser instead of the gradual process of letting go of hate or anger that a victim can choose to do. They continually let known perpetrators have access to children and told parents of victims not to tell anyone about the abuse because that would be gossip. On top of this, leaders have either been silent or defended the perpetrators.
It is not gossip to protect children by making parents and leadership aware of a person’s sex offender status. It is not unforgiveness to allow the civil authorities investigate and try a person who abuses children and just because God can supernaturally change a person’s heart and behavior, does not mean that their past behavior’s consequences disappears. The church’s priority should always be children’s safety first before any hurt feelings of potential children’s ministry staff, before any inconvenience of background checks, and before any embarrassment of having hard conversations of why someone may not be suitable for working with children.
The church’s priority should be children because Jesus’ priority was children. It was him who said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Matthew 19:14
Here is a great link about some things you can do in your church to prevent abuse. Ask about your church or religious establishment’s policies regarding who works with children and when in doubt, in Alaska check the Sex Offender Registry or Courtview . If you suspect a child is being abused please call 1-855-352-893 in the Kenai Peninsula Area. Remember, it’s not your job to prove suspected abuse. It’s your job to report it.