Churches That Are Making Good Decisions About Protecting Children and Responding to Abuse

Cross and Candles via flickr – courtesy of J McDowell (Image source)
Cross and Candles via flickr – courtesy of J McDowell (Image source)

In a season when we continue to learn about churches making bad decisions about child sexual abuse, the darkness can easily overwhelm us. In those painful moments, I often find myself in tears asking and wondering, where is Jesus in all of this mess?

If Jesus is the head of the Church, shouldn’t His church be the greatest protector and supporter for the vulnerable and the hurting? Where is Jesus when churches fail to respond wisely to sexual abuse and then refuse to take responsibility or repent for such colossal failures? Where is Jesus when churches make expedient decisions that affirm offenders, rather than making difficult decisions in the best interests of children and abuse survivors? Where is Jesus when churches go out of the way to advocate for offenders, while hurting victims watch in terror and isolation? Where is Jesus when churches refuse to acknowledge their need for help from experts, thinking that they know best? Where is Jesus when churches simply aren’t teachable? Where is He? These are the painful questions I am asking all too often these days.

In these moments, when I am just about to give up on finding answers, God often displays His kindness and love to me by showing me flashes of light in the darkness. This week, God has reminded me of the  many churches across this great country that have taken remarkable actions related to understanding and responding to child sexual abuse. As Henri Nouwen aptly explains, these flashes of light reveal the hidden but real presence of God. These flashes of light are the glimpses of Jesus I’ve been so desperate to see.    Let me show you a few of those flashes of light.

I’ve seen glimpses of Jesus in a church that demonstrated public repentance. In 2011, senior pastor Peter James of Vienna Presbyterian Church, before his congregation, stated, “We failed as leaders to extend the compassion and mercy that you needed. Some of you felt uncared for, neglected and even blamed for this abuse. I am sorry. The church is sorry.” Six years earlier, the church learned that its youth director had been engaged in sexual offenses against the minors in the church. At the time, the church made the offender resign and reported the offense to child protective services.

However, James admitted that the church had failed in its response because they did not inquire if there had been other victims. Tragically, there were many more victims. Through a series of amazing events, the church leadership became growingly convicted that they had failed so many children and families. They decided to publicly acknowledge those failures—against the advice of their insurance carrier, which was focused on minimizing the legal exposure of its insured.

A local therapist, who worked with the church, saw the church damaged some of its most vulnerable congregants. The therapist also saw how the church’s efforts to hear victims, investigate, and apologize, “have made a difference.” The church has since begun a ministry that serves victims of abuse. By stepping forward and publicly repenting of its failure to protect children and respond correctly to abuse disclosures, this church gave the world a beautiful glimpse of Jesus.

I’ve seen glimpses of Jesus in a church that made difficult decisions in the best interest of children and survivors. In 2009, Jimmy Hinton replaced his father as the pastor of Somerset Church of Christ outside of Pittsburgh. Growing up, Jimmy watched and admired his father, a kind family man.  That all changed in 2011 when a woman approached Jimmy and disclosed that his father sexually abused her as a child.

In that moment, Jimmy faced a life-changing decision. He could ignore, silence, or marginalized this woman in order to protect his father, or he could affirm her and call law enforcement. Jimmy decided to report these crimes to the police. He states, “I’m not saying I wanted to believe that about my dad.”  However, he chose the right decision, not the expedient one. Hinton continues, “Doing the right thing isn’t doing what we want to believe. It’s about doing the right thing.”

Jimmy’s father was charged with over 200 counts of child sexual abuse and is currently serving between 30 and 60 years in state prison. The chief detective in the investigation stated, “I’ve never seen anybody who took action like Jimmy did.”  By making difficult decisions that protected children and survivors, this church gave the world a beautiful glimpse of Jesus.

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SOURCE: Religion News Service
Boz Tchividjian

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