One of the questions that has come up, related to the theme of the conference of The Gospel and Human Sexuality, is about the issue of sex abuse. So how should churches think about the topic of sexual abuse, and what counsel would you give to pastors if somebody were to come to them reporting an experience of sex abuse? How should they handle that kind of situation?
Well, if someone comes and says I’ve been abused sexually, or I know someone who has been abused sexually, you have to first of all recognize that there are two authorities at work here, and both of them need to be involved: Caesar has a responsibility to deal with this at the civil level; The church has a responsibility to deal with this at the ecclesial level. You immediately call the police, even if you don’t know whether or not this is true—you don’t know whether or not this has actually happened. You call the police and you say Caesar has a responsibility; the government has a responsibility to investigate this. You also though have to—you can’t simply say well, we have sex abuse happening, and that’s a civil issue so the civil state deals with it. They do. But you also come in and deal with it in terms of church discipline, which means you are saying if this is someone who is sexually predatory in our congregation, we are also going to deal with it at the level of church discipline, and we are going to deal with this very, very seriously.
All the way up to that point you do a number of things as well. And I think churches are getting better at this, though not good enough in many cases. You come in and say how do we do background checks on people who are going to be working with children or with teenagers in our congregation? How do we inform people in our congregations what to do if they suspect that there might be something bad happening here? Who do they tell? How do they let them know? You start communicating that. And I think sometimes churches just don’t do that because they are saying we don’t have a problem here right now, and if we say that, that is going to alarm people. But it doesn’t alarm people. Instead it gives people a sense of you actually know how serious this is, and you are taking proactive measures to make sure that it doesn’t happen.
And then you also have in place ways to minister to people who have been sexually abused, whether somebody who was sexually abused very recently, or whether it is—when you just look around at our culture and how many people have been preyed upon sexually, there are people in your congregation, no matter where you are, right now, and some of them are battling with all sorts of psychological issues that come with people saying to them or implying to them that somehow they were at fault or to blame. You need to eradicate that and say no, you are not to blame for this. We are ministering to you as somebody who was a victim or who is continuingly a victim of what has been done to you. To be able to talk about this so it’s not something that someone who has experienced this is thinking well, I am the only one, and if I were to come forward about this they are going to act as though I am crazy, or they are going to act as though I did something to cause this to happen. Or they are going to act like I am somehow spiritually defective. No! None of those things are true. So that person who has been abused, we need to be the people who are ministering to that person as well. And so I think that means being very diligent about protecting and then also being very diligent about ministering to those who have been hurt.