It should come as no surprise that Christians are crying out #MeToo. After all, as my mama used to say, the church is a hospital for sinners, not a haven for saints. Although she didn’t make that expression up, the point is that those who are harming others may very likely be in your church – along with the ones they hurt. Yet, it is very alarming that some of the perpetrators are on staff at churches. Based on a recent revelation, there is a whirlwind of discussion surrounding forgiveness versus restoration to ministry (or joining the ministry) after involvement in specific sins. Certainly, since the Bible is clear that we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God, no one comes to the ministry unscathed. There is always sin in the past – and there will be sin in the future. But the nature of the sin matters. It matters for the safety of the flock, and it matters to the Kingdom of God. There should be no question that someone who has abused or assaulted someone should not be placed in a leadership position. This certainly does not mean that the individual can’t share their story of redemption, and tell others how they too can find forgiveness and freedom. Yet, that same individual shouldn’t be around members of a population she or he once harmed. For example, someone who abused a child should not be allowed to work with children – shouldn’t even be around children. And we have to ask – should that person be in leadership at all, even with another population? Do we really want a child abuser leading the men’s ministry? This does not mean there is no place in the church for that individual. But there are places that are more suitable; where that person can grow in his relationship with Christ without placing children at risk or having others look to that person as a role model. I can hear the responses already – what about David? What about Paul? And you’re right. These individuals most certainly committed heinous sins, and God used them mightily. If God can use a donkey, He can use any human He chooses. But the church still has a responsibility to protect all members to the very best of our ability. These may seem obvious, but here are some tips to support you in this important endeavor:
- Don’t leave one adult and one minor alone with one another. Always have others in close proximity. This can get tricky as teachers arrive to their classes early and wait for students to arrive, but at a minimum the door should be open and others should be in the same vicinity.
- Have safe diaper changing and restroom policies in place and faithfully follow them. While girls are more likely to be abused than boys, and men are more likely to perpetrate than women, don’t ignore the fact that boys can be abused and women can be the abusers.
- Do a background check on EVERYONE that is going to be working with anyone under age 18. Don’t make any exceptions to the policy and if anything concerning is returned, don’t make exceptions to allowing these individuals to work with your children or youth.
- Be very cautious about how you physically interact with children and youth. What may seem like an innocent hug to an adult may feel uncomfortable to the young person – and if it feels inappropriate, it is. (As an aside, don’t force your children to hug or kiss people they don’t want to. We can teach children to be polite and respectful without forcing physical contact.)
A final critical suggestion: Think about your church’s safety and security through the lens of a visitor, rather than through the lens of the members that have known each other for decades. As you do, you will likely develop policies and procedures that will help ensure everyone’s well-being. This is too important to continue along with the status quo. Do your part to protect those that come to the Lord’s House.