SEXUAL ABUSE IN THE CHURCH
On February 10, the Houston Chronicle published the first of a three-part series on sexual abuse in Southern Baptist churches and ministries. Two days after my third daughter was born, I read with heartbreak and horror about the abuse inflicted upon over 700 survivors, including children as young as three years old. The report indicated that over 200 offenders were convicted or took plea deals, with many returning to ministry and abusing again. I can’t imagine what these numbers really are, as we know they cannot be the whole story.
All sexual abuse, rape, or any other kinds of sexual exploitation or violence are heinous sins that will be brought before the Judgment Seat of Jesus Christ. They are also crimes that should be reported and prosecuted. I can think of nothing worse than using the name of Jesus to hurt people, to prey on the vulnerable, or to try and cover up abuse.
In a congregation our size, I have no doubt that we have members who have been sexually abused. Before I address what we as a church are doing to protect people in this area, or what our church’s response to accusations of sexual abuse should be, I would like to speak to you. If you have been victimized by anyone, it is an unjust tragedy. Many churches have failed to do what they should in the past to help victims of sexual abuse. God forbid that we would fail you, or in any way cause you to doubt or fear the redemptive grace and justice of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Here are some things to consider if you have been a victim of sexual abuse. First, realize that you did nothing wrong, that abuse is never the fault of the abused. Second, know that it is reasonable to be afraid of trusting others. As your pastor, I understand that some pastors and church leaders, who should be trustworthy, have violated trust. However, please reach out to someone. For immediate guidance, here are three numbers where you can reach trained professionals who are available 24/7:
- The National Hotline for Domestic Violence number is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).
- The National Child Abuse Hotline number is 1-800-422-4453.
- The Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network number is 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).
Organizations such as Christian Care Connect (connect.aacc.net) can help you find local Christian counselors. If you are not ready to speak to someone, consider reading On the Threshold of Hope by Diane Langberg or The Emotionally Destructive Marriage by Leslie Vernick. Both of these books describe the healing process after abuse and would provide a taste of the benefits you would receive from working with a Christian counselor.
In addition to resources such as these, I would also encourage you to report your abuse. If it happened as a child, a report to Child Protective Services needs to be made. If it happened as an adult, a report to the police still needs to be made. These steps not only help you restore your voice but also help protect others and make sure these crimes show up on background checks.
Third, when you are ready, please involve us as your church in your recovery. God has given us the church to help us through the worst we can experience in life. We are here to help you find grace, justice, healing, and transformation in Jesus Christ. Jesus cleans and covers us (Heb 10:22). He was a man of sorrows and is acquainted with our deepest grief (Isa 53:3). You can draw near to his throne of grace and receive mercy and help in your time of need (Heb 4:16).
As a church, we have policies in place to protect against sexual abuse, or any other kind of abuse. All employees at our church submit to background checks and personnel policies intended to prevent abuse. We have clear guidelines for ministering to our children and youth. All volunteers and employees are required to fill out an application and submit to a background check. These guidelines include instructions on how to prevent abuse, identify abuse, and report abuse. No one who has ever committed such offenses will be allowed to participate in a ministry area where these offenses could happen again. This Safe Church Policy Manual is available through the church office if you wish to read through it, and we will be offering another round of training through this policy soon.
Even with policies, procedures, and training in place, however, I know it is possible that sexual abuse might happen at our church. As your pastor, I want to assure you that if an accusation of sexual abuse by anyone in our church is brought to our attention, it will be reported, and the truth of what happened will be sought. As our Safe Church Policy indicates, we will always err on the side of protecting our people. We will do all we can to walk alongside you and care for you. We will deal with whatever happened as openly and honestly as possible.
While it is not enough to “just pray about this,” we should be praying for all those who have been abused: those 700 people mentioned in the Chronicle’s article, the many who have not come forward, and for those in our church. Our prayers should move us to love others in Jesus’ name, offering them the care, compassion, and healing that he offers us.
In closing, I want to include a quote from Russell Moore, the President of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. He states,
“Faithful Christians should lament this awful scandal, and should refocus our commitment that the churches should be the safest places in the world for vulnerable people. Yes, we need godly sorrow, but the kind the Apostle Paul said produces repentance and leads to salvation (2 Cor. 7:10).
“We should see this scandal in terms of the church as a flock, not as a corporation. Many, whether in Hollywood or the finance industry or elsewhere, see such horrors as public relations problems to be managed. The church often thinks the same way. Nothing could be further from the way of Christ. Jesus does not cover up sin within the temple of his presence. He brings everything hidden to light. We should too. When we downplay or cover over what has happened in the name of Jesus to those he loves we are not “protecting” Jesus’ reputation. We are instead fighting Jesus himself. No church should be frustrated by the Houston Chronicle’s reporting, but should thank God for it. The Judgment Seat of Christ will be far less reticent than a newspaper series to uncover what should never have been hidden.”