We found out recently that an adult member of our church had intentionally touched a child sexually, and repeatedly. As an elder, I was called in. It was my first experience with this sin, but sadly, our church has dealt with it several times before. I’m grateful this incident did not, to the best of my knowledge, happen on our property, or by a member of our staff. Nevertheless, it has destroyed a marriage, damaged a child and permanently sullied the reputation of the perpetrator.
So, what should a church do to make this sin less likely to occur, and how should they deal with it, if and when it does?
Acquaint yourself with the profile of a pedophile Here is a link to a blog at familytalktoday.com, entitled How to Protect Your Kids from Sexual Abuse. (http://www.familytalktoday.com/parenting/11698791/)
Criminal background checks should be mandatory for all church employees and volunteers. This should be done in all churches. In fact, I would not attend a church who did not do this as a matter of routine. However, all churches should understand that these checks only catch those who have been convicted. And your church should have written policies for adults interacting with children from nursery, to sleeping arrangements for high school ministry overnight events.
The police must be notified whenever the possibility of pedophilia exists. Parents should first report any incident to the police or Child Protective Servies (CPS). Rapid input is required to prevent further molestation within the church. Church leaders and members are not trained to determine whether or not an incident constitutes abuse. Most police departments have trained personnel who can assess the situation.
Never, ever blame the victim for the abuse. It is ALWAYS the fault of the adult, the one in power, for the abuse. When one blames the victim, one is unintentionally, victimizing the hurt child. There will be a time, at a later date to discuss prevention with the child, but even this should be done by a professional to avoid, even the appearance of guilt.
The leaders must focus on the victim and leave the “reputation” of the church up to God. We must do the right thing even if it means that the church gets sued or the reputation of the church in the community is tarnished. We claim to believe in the omnipotence of God, but we seem to want to “help Him out” by protecting the reputation of our church. Our job is to do the right thing. God’s job is to care for the church.
Do not expect the victim or the victim’s family to forgive immediately. True forgiveness takes time. This is a horrific crime, which deeply impacts the family and the child. Church leaders should not press any victim or their parents to forgive their abuser immediately or quickly. Forgiveness in such situations may take years.
Be very cautious about overly focusing on support for the pedophile. I’ve experienced men’s group rallying around a pedophile to support them, because their life has just fallen apart. This can appear to make the pedophile, who has terribly harmed a victim, look like a victim himself. Never forget that this pedophile has committed a heinous act. Actually he may have committed other acts, still unknown. Rarely are these “one-time” crimes. Provide the perpetrators with the help they need, but comforting the victim is the church’s priority.Having said that, don’t ostracize this person either. I recommend continuing to have friends engage with this person in social situations or continue in Bible studies or prayer groups. They need friendship and spiritual direction, and intensive counseling. But, don’t allow them to feel like a victim, simply because their life is falling apart. There are “wages” for sin.
Appoint church members with the gifts of mercy, to love and support the victim and family. Churches do a good job of supporting those families who have new babies or a serious illness. But because this sin is so unusual, we don’t always know how to respond. We don’t always know how to comfort the depression, anger, fear and guilt that are typical of traumatized families. Because we don’t always know what to do, some Christians simply avoid these families. Please don’t. Ask them how you can help. But just listening to their pain, without advice, is often what’s most needed.
The congregation should be warned as soon as possible about the abuse. Parents have the right to know that a pedophile has been in their midst. They should be alerted immediately so they can question their own children about potential abuse. However, before parents do, the church ought to hire an experienced counselor to guide parents through this investigation.
Do not believe the pedophile who “repents” immediately. It is important to understand that many pedophiles only show remorse when they are caught. Many claim to be sorry but the recidivism rate is very high. True repentance is demonstrated over time. In the meantime, as an elder, I would never allow a pedophile near children alone again or even let them near the children’s ministry area! While this might appear unforgiving, the first priority for the church leaders is protecting children, not demonstrating to proven pedophiles that we trust them. Children first!
“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.” Matthew 18:6
(A number of these great ideas were edited from blog entitled, The Wartburg Watch 2014.)
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