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EDITORIAL: Taking steps to protect children

In Georgia, a former youth minister faces statutory rape charges. He’s accused of a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old church member.
In Indiana, a minister pleaded guilty last summer to sexually assaulting a teenage girl.
These cases — both involving Churches of Christ — remind us of the vulnerability of church leaders to Satan’s attacks.
Even more strikingly, however, these cases point out the need to take steps to protect children.
Yes, we all sin and fall short of the glory of God. Yes, God can forgive any of us. Yes, we should pray for the men ­— and in other cases, women — who violate our trust.
But we must make children, God’s precious gift, our top priority. We must pray for the victims and minister to them. We must never blame the victim.
No one should suggest — as a few did after one of the recent cases — that the teen shared in the culpability. It is this simple: A child cannot consent to sexual contact with an adult.
In one case, church elders acted quickly to make counseling available to victims. In another case, leaders committed to conduct more in-depth screenings and background checks before hirings.
In still another case, leaders openly discussed the case and made clear they were praying for all involved. “Especially for the victims,” an elder said.
We applaud such positive Christian responses. As the elders of one church put it, “God can bring good even out of awful circumstances.”
The automatic reaction of some is to attribute the recent cases to young, single ministers. In the cases referenced, though, the ministers were married. One perpetrator is in his 50s.
Despite the actions of a few, ministers deserve respect and support. We praise God for the faithful Christians — young and old — who work so diligently with children and teens.
Nonetheless, we live in a sex-saturated culture. Many members, preachers and even elders struggle with sexual temptation and the easily accessible nature of Internet porn.
In such a society, it should not surprise us that sexual sins — and crimes — occur. We can’t stop all abuse, but we can take responsible steps to limit the potential for it:
• Make sure your church has procedures for selecting and evaluating employees and volunteers. Check references. Conduct criminal background checks. Search the Internet. No exceptions.
• Set appropriate limits for adults’ interactions with young people. Have two adults present at all times if possible. Avoid any hint of immorality — or flirting — in text messages and other contacts.
• Be vigilant in reporting and responding to abuse. In many cases, people later say, “We had suspected it for years.” May we not avoid our responsibility by such denial.
When abuse happens, it is easy to want to sweep it under the rug, under the guise of protecting the church. Heaven forbid such a response!
Protecting institutions in cases of abuse is neither right nor responsible, but protecting our children is.

  • Feedback
    Background checks, while they are another tool, are not a substitute for active parental involvement. Patterns of a person’s past life are not enough to allow us to relax our role in the guidance and protection of our children.
    Remember…In the life of any deviant, any sinner, any criminal, there has been a FIRST victim.
    Russ Sharp
    Edmond church of Christ
    Edmond, Oklahoma
    December, 14 2010

    As a parent of a soon-to-be youth group member, I see this as a reminder that youth/family ministries, when used properly, are simply a tool to aid parents in spiritually guiding their children through some increasingly tough years of their lives–and to help the kids reach out to their friends.
    May this be yet another wake-up call to all that we cannot, even in a small way, abdicate our responsibilities to be fully involved in our children’s lives, just because of the existence of multiple ministries to help us along the way.
    It’s sad to say, but we all must consciously ask ourselves what new ways Satan could attack us by leading us into situations we should not be in–whether we are involved in full-time ministry or not.
    Russ Sharp
    Edmond church of Christ
    Edmond, Oklahoma
    December, 13 2010

    The Westover Hills church in Austin has taken a very strong & proactive approach in this regard. There are steps to become ‘kidsafe’ certified including a background check and a minimum of two non-related adults at all times with children. We’ve taken it a step further now and had Steve Arterburn here two weeks ago to discuss purity & accountability. I hope more churches will follow this type of model to protect everyone!
    Andrew Collins
    Westover Hills
    Round Rock, TX
    December, 6 2010

Filed under: Editorial Staff Reports

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