How to create child protection policies for your church: Part 2

Objectives and definitions

July 8, 2019

According to Christianity Today’s Church Law & Tax, one of the top five reasons a religious organization finds itself in court is sexual abuse of a minor. Churches and other youth-serving organizations must wake up and realize that abuse of minors happens far too often in our ministries. However, fear of liability exposure should not be what drives the Church to protect her people. The Church should strive to protect its congregants as Psalm 82:3-4 calls us, to “give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” The Church should prioritize protection of its congregation because God hates abuse, and we are called to care for and protect the vulnerable.

Start with policies for the young

In formulating protective policies for your church, start with your child and youth protection policies. Children’s and youth ministries are the most vulnerable because of the volume of workers it takes to run them and because the participants are young and not fully capable of recognizing inappropriate behavior or protecting themselves.  

A church must think broadly about the why and how of a protection plan prior to putting policies on paper. Our vision should be working toward creating a community that is free of abuse and is a safe haven for those who have suffered abuse. In doing so, a church must be committed to all aspects of the protection plan. 

A church must be willing to learn about abuse—the prevalence, the types, the signs, the grooming process, and the profile of abusers. In addition, the church must have policies and procedures that make it difficult for an offender to reach the target. Child abuse statistics are staggering, and churches must recognize that according to some surveys, 90% of child sexual abuse victims know the abuser, and often, that abuser is in a position of trust or authority. In addition, 80% of the incidences of child abuse occur in isolation—one-on-one settings. And finally, the research suggests that abuse is vastly underreported. 

So, what does this mean for the Church and our approach to protecting children?  

  1. We must be aware that abuse is not something that happens “out there,” but rather it happens within the Church. It is very likely that you know of and have individuals under your care who are being abused or have suffered from abuse in the past. 
  2. If the most likely scenario for abuse is in one-on-one interactions, the Church must evaluate those instances where one-on-one interactions are taking place and look for alternatives or ways to make those interactions safer. This includes one-on-one interactions between adults and children and child to child. 
  3. The Church must be prepared to talk about and educate the community on the dynamics of abuse, as well as the policies the church will be following in order to lower the risk. If your people do not understand the prevalence of abuse and know the policies, then they cannot be participants in promoting accountability and adherence to the policies. Protecting individuals in your church is a community effort.

In a prior post, we talked about forming a child protection committee. Before getting into the nuts and bolts of a protection plan, your committee should consider your objectives for adopting a child protection policy and the working definitions within your policy. In addition, the committee must have a working knowledge of the ministry areas and their programming.    

Identifying objectives

Your policy should have objectives that align with your church’s mission and vision for ministry. In thinking about a vision for a protection plan, even in our broken world, the Church should be working toward a community that is free of abuse. While this is not totally within the Church’s control due to evil, it is a goal worth aiming for in order to create a safer community with healthy boundaries and expectations. 

First and foremost, the policy should be in place to protect children and youth and keep them safe. The individuals in our ministries must be our primary concern. If anything comes before this objective, we are essentially checking off boxes to prevent liability exposure and putting the institution over the flock that we are called to serve. A protection plan is not the answer to ending abuse and harm to the children and youth in our ministries, but it is a step in the journey to lowering the risk.  

When you think about offenders, we must remember that we do not have control over the criminal intent of the perpetrator; we only have control over the way our ministries operate. Policies that address the interactions between our workers and those they serve, as well as policies that cut down or cut out situations that create isolation and opportunity are key to lowering risk and making your church less appealing to an offender. 

The secondary objectives should include protection of employees, volunteers, and the church. In seeking to protect the employees and volunteers, a child protection plan provides them with a clear framework for the expectations of serving in ministry and working with children. 

Defining key terms

Your child protection plan must define the key terms related to abuse and child protection. As you draft your plan, take time to consider how your state defines crimes against children and how it defines child abuse. Make decisions on whether you will go with those definitions or decide to be more “strict.” Listed below are key terms that must be defined, as well as suggested starting definitions for your policies:

Talking about objectives and defining abuse will help you understand and create a policy that is informed and one step closer to protecting the children and youth in your church from perpetrators and abuse.

This is part two of a five-part series. Part one can be found here. 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