Protecting Children from Sexual Abuse Gets in the Way, Says WORLD Magazine’s Andrée Seu Peterson

Protecting Children from Sexual Abuse Gets in the Way, Says WORLD Magazine’s Andrée Seu Peterson October 16, 2013

Evangelicals have a child sexual abuse problem, but some of them don’t seem to want to admit that—or to take the necessary steps to fix the problem. Take Andrée Seu Peterson, for instance, a columnist for WORLD magazine. She recently wrote a column titled “Protecting the Children in the Church—from Us.” It seems that Andrée is more concerned about herself—and her ability to walk into the bathroom with the children when she walks them for a potty break during Sunday school—than she is about preventing children from being sexually abused.

I am about to describe to you an incident that occurred on Sunday that is really a non-incident, or would have been in your grandmother’s time.

I was the “helper” in the kindergarten/first grade Sunday school classroom. A little girl had to go to the restroom so I told the two teachers I would take her down the hallway and be back in a jiffy. The two stopped and said I needed to take another child with me: there must be two at a time. And so a second child was solicited to make the trip.

I thought it slightly odd but took both children, and that was that.

It just so happened that this was also the Sunday I was required to attend a mandatory class on child abuse. It was at this meeting I learned, to my surprise, that the reason for the compulsory escort of two children at a time was for their protection—from me!

This is, evidently, the direction the church has taken in its goal toward zero possibility of harm to the children in their temporary charge. The pastor leading the class said the pages of regulations, and the forms we were to fill out consenting to a government background check, were 98 percent for the sake of the children. I bided my time nervously to learn of the other 2 percent.

It was also established that a teacher is not to enter the restroom (I do not mean the individual stall inside the restroom) with the child. At this point I admitted publicly to my fresh violation but was forgiven because of my ignorance of the rule.

Also, a teacher may not be in a room with a child alone. (I raised my hand and said that some of my best experiences in school as a child had been that one-on-one time with a teacher.)

. . .

I went home and thought about a few things. One is that the obsequious capitulation to the government’s ever-encroaching demands leads to ridiculous extremes and will eventually cause the church to lose its soul: The 2 percent will in the end swallow up the 98 percent.

The other is that we know what Jesus would have done with the little children who wanted to be near Him: He would have held them in His arms.

To be honest, Andrée reminds me of those homeschool parents who respond to the idea that homeschooled children should be protected from child abuse with “What? My children don’t need protection from me! I’m a great mom!” Awesome, but you know what? This is not about you. Do you know what is an appropriate response if you’re concerned that rules being instituted to protect children aren’t set up well? Oh, I don’t know, maybe suggesting improvements? Not, you know, raging against the idea that we need safeguards to protect children from abuse. Because doing that makes you look, to put it very nicely, extremely out of touch.

Boz Tchividjian, Billy Graham’s grandson and a professor at Liberty University, recently made news with his assertion that evangelicals are worse than Catholics when it comes to covering up child sexual abuse. Boz is the executive director of Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE), which earlier this summer created a petition calling for an end of evangelical silence on the abuse of children in evangelical churches and communities. There is growing momentum pressuring evangelicals to actually deal with this problem, and the changes taking place at Andrée’s church are a positive part of that. And that’s something Andrée is, apparently, not okay with.

After Andrée’s column, Boz took to twitter, which resulted in this exchange:

I do have to say, I’m impressed that WORLD pulled the article. They shouldn’t have published it in the first place—it should have gotten stopped the moment it went to an article—but at least they did ultimately admit that publishing it was a bad call and respond by pulling it. Andrée failed to mention the necessity of these rules today, WORLD says, but from a reading of her column it’s pretty clear that she “failed to mention” the necessity of such rules because she doesn’t think they are necessary.

In case there’s any question about whether evangelicals have a problem with child sexual abuse, I want to finish by offering some links. Perhaps of greatest import is the far-reaching sexual abuse coverup scandal that has rocked Sovereign Grace Ministries in recent years. The reverberations of the accusations, lawsuit, and continued shifting of blame have rippled through American evangelicalism like a chilling wind. Even in the midst of this, many evangelical leaders have stood by the actions of the Sovereign Grace Ministries leadership (Boz says more about this here). The Tina Anderson story is also important: Fifteen-year-old Tina was raped by a deacon at her church, and then forced to apologize for her sin in front of the congregation while her rapist went free—and continued working in the church’s children’s ministry. And then there was the serial sexual abuse of boys committed by a teacher at Grace Church in Oklahoma—no one would believe such a loving and kind man would do such a thing, so warning signs went unheeded as boy after boy was molested.

Evangelical Tom White, the leader of the Voice of the Martyrs, committed suicide last year when allegations that  he had molested a ten year old girl came to light. I wrote about this at the time, and I had so many evangelicals swarm the post with their comments defending Tom White that I had to write no fewer than three followup posts on the ways evangelicals make excuses for child abusers and sexual offenders and even welcome them back to the pulpit. There are also brutal evangelical camps and boarding schools for “wayward” teens, such as the Hephzibah House in Winona Lake, Indiana. The stories that come out of such group homes are horrifying.

The website Religious Tolerance has been collecting cases of sexual abuse by evangelical and fundamentalist clergy. They have compiled, quite literally, hundreds upon hundreds upon hundreds of cases.

The evangelical church has a problem with child sexual abuse, and a lot of it stems from the willingness to ignore accusations, cover up evidence, disbelieve victims, and make excuses for perpetrators. I’ve heard of plenty of cases where known perpetrators of child sexual abuse were allowed back into positions of power because had “repented” of their sin and been “forgiven.” This problem is endemic, and it needs addressing—from the inside, if at all possible. Boz feels that change is coming—his words are “Aslan is on the move“—and the actions of Andrée’s church suggest that he is right. Somehow, though, Andrée doesn’t get it.

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