How to create child protection policies for your church: Part 1

July 1, 2019

In recent years, the #MeToo movement and other high-profile public scandals have increased public awareness of the incidences of sexual abuse and assault in our society. The Church has not been immune to this trend, and some of the worst instances have occurred in faith-based communities where unsuspecting parents and children have been preyed upon by predators who, in some situations, had a prior history of offending.

The series in the Houston Chronicle brought light into some very dark places and revealed widespread abuse in our churches. In many of these stories, the Church failed in two ways: (1) by not protecting against abuse and (2) by not responding well to abuse. The hope is that the Houston Chronicle series has put a microscope on the need and call for churches to respond to and care well for survivors of abuse, as well as look for direction on how to protect individuals in their congregations from those who seek to do harm. We must heed the call in Proverbs 31:8 to “speak up for those who have no voice; seek justice for those on the verge of destruction.”

Focus on getting educated

As churches consider measures to prevent abuse, they must first focus on educating themselves about abuse dynamics and perpetrators. While abuse at the hand of a stranger is within the realm of possibility and should be guarded against, the greater danger is the person that the child knows. Research shows that in 90% of child sexual abuse cases, the child knows the perpetrator. Offenders use relationships, positions of authority, trust, and sometimes threats in order to gain access to their victims’ lives in order to harm them. By leveraging their role as a “trusted” authority figure, perpetrators may not even have to use physical force. Rather, they rely on intimidation, threats, and a child’s fear of not being believed in order to keep the victim compliant. 

While the Church has no control over the evil intent of the perpetrator, the Church does have control over its ministry areas, how they operate, and who is eligible to serve in those ministries. The Church must do everything in her power to lower the risk of sexual abuse and assault by reviewing ministry operations involving children and youth, screening of employees and volunteers, and mitigating risks associated with opportunity and isolation. 

Protecting our children and youth through policies

Law enforcement and military use the term “harden the target,” which means making the target more difficult to reach or impact. Children’s and youth ministries are prime targets for perpetrators, and churches must evaluate ministries in order to make them less attractive and accessible to perpetrators. By (a) creating policies that protect children and youth, (b) screening out potential risk, (c) educating our congregations about abuse, and (d) responding to reports of abuse in ways that are informed and thoughtful, we create ministries that are safer for our members and less appealing to offenders.

As allegations of abuse surface across denominations, churches are seeking to create safer places of worship and regain trust. Whether you are a church with robust policies or you are just beginning to think through what policies your church needs, this series will give insight on how to think about child protection policy, develop your own policy, or revise existing policies to better promote safety and trust in your congregation. 

Church leaders spend hours preparing for church events and sermon series; whereas,  policy and procedures are seen as necessary mundane things that have to be in place, but careful thought and attention is not given to this process. Thus, churches end up with borrowed, pieced-together policy in order to check off a box. Policy is, ideally, not something that is created and sits on a shelf. Policy is your guide and what you live by; not what you aspire to, but what you actually do. It is who you are. 

Churches should use great care in formulating policy because it can be a double-edged sword. Because churches often see policy as the avenue to protect their organizations from liability exposure, there is a great temptation to simply “cut and paste” found policies without considering whether they are the best fit for the individual church. Other churches will often avoid detailed policies because the policy could be used against them to establish a standard of care in legal proceedings. However, good policy in the area of child protection is meant to protect the individuals in your church, not just the church as a whole. In protecting individuals, you are protecting the entire church.

The motivation for good policies

As God’s people, we should prioritize protecting the vulnerable over risk management. In Matthew 18:1-6, Jesus gives value and high priority to children. Churches must follow his example and value people over the organization. Liability exposure should not be our motivation in creating and maintaining good child protection policies. We must change this mindset and understand that policy is a way to love and care for people well by keeping them safe from harm. 

Making and following good policy is God-honoring and a way to steward the trust that our congregation and the community puts in us to be watchful and protective of those who may not be able to protect themselves. Formulating good policies, requiring compliance with these policies, addressing violations of policy, and responding well to disclosures of abuse are all ways that you protect and shepherd your congregation well.

Forming a team

No matter where you are in the process, it helps to start with some sort of committee that oversees the policy process. This committee should be made up of individuals who work with children and youth, both inside and outside the church. No matter the size of your church, the following types of people could be instrumental in formulating and reviewing policy: children’s director, youth pastor, a parent, a seasoned volunteer, a social worker, a member of law enforcement, attorney, counselor, medical professional, and school teacher. 

Form a team that is adequate to cover multiple areas of expertise and share the workload, but keep it small enough that the group can take meaningful steps toward creating a robust policy of protection. Members of your team should understand abuse dynamics, have a strong desire to protect children and make your church a safe place, and be logical and practical in the way they seek to implement their ideas.

Child protection policies should address the following areas:

While policies don’t check all the boxes to prevent abuse and care for those who have been abused, they are essential to the process. Churches can protect and care for individuals in their churches by taking these initial steps to be educated about abuse, to protect their targets, to be rightly motivated, and to form a team to oversee the policy process.

Visit caringwell.com to learn more about the Caring Well Challenge and help make your church safe for survivors and safe from abuse. 

The content of this post is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction. No information contained in this post should be construed as legal advice. Please seek legal counsel from an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

Samantha Kilpatrick

Samantha Kilpatrick is an attorney with over 20 years of experience in the practice of law. She is currently a partner with Kilpatrick Law Group, PLLC in Raleigh, NC. She is a former prosecutor with experience in the areas of domestic violence and sexual assault crimes. Currently, in private practice, … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24