Written by Lydia D’Ross, Ordained Minister and Outreach Chaplain for RENEWAL at Brookhaven Hospital
No faith community is free from the risk of children being harmed by sexual abuse.
Faith based organizations have a wonderful opportunity to serve in their community, and to provide services to prevent, recognize and respond to child sexual abuse. As a faith-based community, the church has the opportunity to set a new standard, teaching positive parenting skills, providing their community with parent-child relationship support and a faith-based preventive approach. Many tools are now available to the faith-based groups from mental health resources to equip the church towards prevention and intervention treatment resources.
Churches are now including abuse prevention and intervention education awareness as part of their annual employee and volunteer training. For instance, many churches have instituted a two adult rule requiring two adults present with children at all times. Church board members feel by putting these policies in place will minimize the risk for abuse to occur, especially in so called mega-churches, where sexual abuse perpetrators might get lost in the crowd.
Faith communities offer children wonderful opportunities to develop spiritually, and to be part of a larger, caring community. Families who are struggling often particularly need the friendship and informal mentoring opportunities provided by faith communities.
Churches have also instituted expansion on their volunteer background checks. These policies make it clear that your organization is committed to creating a safe environment free of sexual abuse.
In contrast, many churches struggle with their beliefs about confession and repentance in this area. Being sorry and promising it won’t happen again is not enough. Accountability and transparency must be the number one goal for any church employee and/or volunteer working with children.
Churches must also have a plan in place in the event a sex offender decides to attend your church services as it is a public event and all are welcome to the House of God- seeking redemption. “Should anyone be turned away from a house of worship? How do people of faith balance redemption with risk? What about liability issues”? [Sandi Dolbee, 2007] Very few have mercy for individuals who hurt children.
In reality, many will not know that sexual perpetrators have been attending church seeking redemption with their creator. The good news is that many churches do offer sexual addiction support groups.
Do we react the same way when we have members who just came out prison and are seeking redemption?
We are not perfect by far, but we serve a perfect God, who at the end of our death is our Judge.