Hey, Church? Protect yourself; protect your people.

The world is all a-buzz with the Duggars’ news of sexual abuse allegations and confessions. I don’t want to talk about them or that case. I want to talk about the Church. Specifically, I want to talk about some crazy head-in-the-sand mentalities.

We have, for some unfounded reason, the belief that those within the Church are immune to abuse, addiction, and all sorts of problems “the world” faces. We need to stop believing this. Please. Now.

Not only must we stop propagating this fallacy, we need to act in ways that protect and help.

Ugly things exist in churches and we need to face them.

Just because we are forgiven and showered in grace does not mean we live perfect lives. It doesn’t mean that all the baggage of our past and our families and our mistakes instantly leave us. We still have scars. We still have sinful natures. We still live in a cursed world filled with temptations. We are still broken people. We may be redeemed by a perfect Savior, but we are still here, still working out our sanctification. Not only that, we’re still surrounded by other fallible human beings also working through all their stuff.

Please don’t confuse salvation (redeemed and forgiven) with glorification (renewed and perfected).

Don’t believe for a moment that Church is a utopia, protected and free from ugly things.

Let’s look at the facts.

Common statistics state that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused before they reach the age of 18. (Source.) And the statistics don’t shift just because the kids are raised in a “Christian” home. Those of you who have heard my story know I can testify to that.

Even if your church has only 20 people in it, chances are, someone in that congregation has experience with sexual abuse. Now, imagine how many affected people might be in a congregation of 100 people … of 200 people … of 500 people … or more.

Is the church talking about this? Not enough.

How would the church respond if 20% of her people lost their homes in a natural disaster? Or were going through chemo? Or were addicted to pornography?

That last one may not be too far off. Statistics also cite that 77% of Christian men regularly view pornography. (Source.

ostrich

So, 3 in 4 of our men are viewing pornography and 1 in 4 of our girls are molested. These two are connected. Several studies have found a definitive correlation between pornography and sexual assault. (Source.) Viewing porn fuels up to 85% of child molesters.(Source.)

Not only do we have victims  in the church, we also have perpetrators.

This is a serious epidemic! We cannot keep our heads in the sand. We need to do something about it.

This is about way more than the Duggars.

Sure, we should be saddened by the breaking news about the Duggars, but not because they are the Duggars. This isn’t about them. It’s about a lot more than them. It’s about all of us.

It’s about the unnamed and unknown victims. They will live with the scars and burden of these abuses for the rest of their lives.

It’s about the erroneous belief that this couldn’t and doesn’t happen to “good Christian families.” It DOES happen, and it happens a lot more than most choose to believe. We shouldn’t be shocked, but we are. We should be prepared, but we’re not.

It’s about the lack of proper handling of these situations. Check out this post for everything done WRONG in this case... failure to report, failure to seek help, statute of limitations protecting perpetrators … basically a lot of sweeping things under the rug and very little, if any, consideration for the victims. Sadly, this isn’t the only time situations like this have been handled poorly. Experts estimate that only 30% of all sexual abuses are ever reported to the authorities. (Source.)

Hey, Church? Protect yourself and protect your people.

We need to do better. For our churches and for our people.

My family’s case went through the courts over 30 years ago. Since that time many, many, many people have heard our story. They have listened and responded with shock and heartache. They’ve heard what can and does happen. But not all heed the warning.

I respond with shock and heartache when I discover how little is done to prevent further and additional abuses. Sunday School teachers hired without background checks. Child molesters given access to church nurseries. Convicted pedophiles permitted to go on overnight retreats with teenagers. Lack of security and lack of policy. All in the name of grace and second chances. This is stupid. And it infuriates me.

I shouldn’t have to explain, but I will. It’s pretty easy to protect your church and your people. You simply set up a few policies and allow no exceptions. If you don’t …

  1. You’re endangering children.
  2. You’re inviting predators.
  3. You’re torturing those who struggle to overcome temptations and past sins.
  4. You’re failing to offer hope and restoration for those who need a safe place to heal.
  5. You’re risking your entire church, all your ministry, and the legacy of all God has built through your congregation. It can all crash down with one incident. It only takes one.

What practices should churches have in place?

There are many ways churches can protect themselves and their members. While these policies may appear to focus on children, they offer protection for the adults, too. Just as one credible offense can bring down a church, so can one false allegation uncontested. These policies should be put in place (1) to protect the children, but also (2) to protect the adults and the congregation as a whole.

Establish smart policies. What are the best ways to prevent abusive opportunities? How can you keep track of your kids and your workers at all times? A few simple rules could go a long way toward protection:

  • All children and volunteers must sign in and out of each gathering.
  • Children may never be alone with just one adult; a second adult must always be present.
  • Bathrooms are private places; adults wait outside.
  • Co-ed events require co-ed leaders.
  • Separate sleeping quarters must be strictly enforced for overnight events.
  • Volunteers must attend annual training sessions.

These are just examples and just starting points. They’re also simple common sense. Unfortunately, too many churches, for want of an honor system, don’t implement them. It’s time we do. For a more exhaustive sample check out this policy held by one church.

Require applications and background checks for all adults working with minors. This includes employees of the church and volunteers, anyone over the age of 18 working with people under the age of 18. It includes every activity from nursery through youth group. The applications don’t need to be exhaustive, just something to have on record that provides you with their personal information, experience, and testimony. You can run background checks online for a reasonable fee. BackgroundChecks.com offers bundled packaging to make it easy and affordable for small organizations.

Another fantastic resource is ProtectMyMinistry. This website offers background checks, training, and video instruction for safe policies within your church or organization.

Consistently train your volunteers. The more official you are the more seriously your volunteers will take their jobs. They will meet the expectations you set … but only if you properly communicate those expectations. No one will follow a policy they know nothing about. It’s a great idea to hold annual training sessions that (1) teach new volunteers and (2) remind veteran volunteers of your set policies and expectations.

Establish reporting procedures. No one wants to think about ugly things happening in their church, but, if we’re prepared to handle them, the experience can be less ugly. Don’t try to handle this “in house.” Contact the proper authorities. Know who to call and what to ask. Keep records of everything. Hold your workers accountable. Accept no malfeasance.

Offer counseling and conduits to healing. Mary DeMuth posted a great piece about this recently. In it she explained:

In faith communities like the Duggars, abuse victims are encouraged to be filled with grace. It’s not that simple.

Sexual violation cuts deeply. It eats away at worth, esteem and personhood. I believe it is one of Satan’s greatest weapons against humanity, paving the road for future self-destructive behavior, suicidal thoughts, feelings of utter worthlessness, sexual dysfunction, guilt, shame and any manner of disorders. And moving beyond it is excruciating, long and sometimes debilitating.

Instant forgiveness and “putting it behind you” only delays the healing process.

[READ MORE…]

We all want second chances. We want grace and we want to give grace, but it’s not always that easy. Healing is a process. Overcoming is a process that cannot be forced or rushed.

Have the tools ready to help those who need it. If you’re not trained to counsel, find someone who is. Have that number handy. This is critical for the restoration of victims and of perpetrators.

Seek the truth always. Don’t take sides prematurely. Let your workers know you’ve got their back. Refuse to shame victims. Honor the meek and defend the broken.

It’s not all ugly.

Here’s the thing: ugly things exist in the church, but beautiful things grow when we shed light on them.

When we hide the ugly things, they grow and fester and turn way uglier. When we shed light on them, we can bring healing and truth and righteousness. We can alleviate pain and promote justice and grace and all sorts of really, really amazing things.

Once again, those who know my story know I can testify. If we had an afternoon to share over coffee, I’d tell you all about it. We would likely cry and laugh and praise our God. Not because ugly things exist, but because He overcomes them. He is great and He is good and His love never ends.

Let us do our part, dear Church, to prevent the ugly things where we can. Let us be prepared to offer tools of love, grace, and healing where those ugly things come in spite of our best efforts.

TALK TO ME: What does your church or organization do to protect the vulnerable? If your story includes abuse, what tools and resources have fostered healing in your life?

About the author : Tanya Dennis

Writer : Speaker : Freelance Editor : Abolitionist -- I love God and live to help others fall in love with Him, too. My blog is a mishmash of thoughts on books, parenting, community, justice and finding God in the midst of it all. Join us twice monthly for Big Word Bible Studies, an in-depth exploration of Old Testament books. Learn more at: www.TanyaDennisBooks.com.

View all articles