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.