By / Jul 1

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:

  • Main objectives to be met by the policy;
  • Definition of terms;
  • Recruitment and screening of employees and volunteers;
  • Code of conduct for employees and volunteers;
  • Supervision and interactions with children and youth; and
  • Responses to disclosures of abuse and mandated reporting.

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.

By / May 2

Parenting is hard. But it is even more difficult for Christian parents to raise kids in today's changing culture Join us for the fourth annual ERLC National Conference on "Christ-Centered Parenting in a Complex World" on August 24-26, 2017 in Nashville, TN, this event will welcome key speakers including Russell Moore, Jim Daly, Sally Lloyd-Jones, Todd Wagner, and Jen Wilkin.

Register by May 12th and receive a FREE Austin Stone Kids Worship Album. Learn more here

By / Jun 22

“It’s going to be an issue.”

You may recall those five words that were spoken by Solicitor General Donald Verrilli in the oral arguments phase of Obergefell v Hodges. Specifically, that sentence was Verrilli’s response to a question from Justice Alito about the tax-exempt status of private religious schools that continued to define marriage traditionally over and against the definition of the government. Justice Alito made a salient observation: If the Obama administration’s contention was that traditional marriage laws were analogous to racial segregation, wouldn’t schools that defined marriage traditionally be in the same category as those (such as Bob Jones University in the 1990s) who continued to enforce anti-segregation campus policies (and, thus, were ineligible for tax-exempt status)?

Verrilli’s response was telling; it signaled a willingness to acknowledge the latent tension in the same-sex marriage debate between the advance of “equality” and the preservation of religious liberty. The lines demarcating where marriage revolution begins and the protection of dissenters ends were, according to the state, blurry. The solicitor general’s comments were, of course, intentionally vague and uncertain, but a year after the Court ruled in the revolution’s favor, it’s becoming apparent how correct they were.

Biola University, located in Southern California and one of the country’s most well-known and prestigious evangelical colleges, now finds itself arguing for its right to be evangelical. The state legislature is seeking to amend a non-discrimination law which would stipulate that the only schools that can be granted religious exemptions to the non-discrimination statutes are schools that exist for the training of pastors and theological educators. Schools that offer more general programs—like a degree in humanities, engineering, or public education—would be required to submit to the non-discrimination law, effectively ending any legal protection for colleges and universities that want to only admit professing Christians or maintain campus-wide spiritual life programs. 

The effect of the amendment would be to redefine religious liberty so as to make a clear distinction between institutions that integrate religious faith and public vocation and those that focus only on parochial training. Conceivably, supporters of the bill are fine with the idea of students receiving a religious education that teaches that marriage is the union of a man and a woman, and that sexual expressions outside this category are morally problematic—as long as this education is clearly not intended to go beyond the walls of a church service or a seminary lecture hall. Pastors and polemicists, yes. Business managers and brain surgeons, not so much.

Such a distinction is one that owes much to a faulty understanding, increasingly common on the Left, of what it means to be “religious.” Conservatives have warned for some time now of a serious attempt by sexual revolutionaries to make religious belief synonymous with religious worship; ergo, the private ritual of religion is what’s protected by “free exercise,” not the living out of such beliefs in the public square. The language desired by the California legislature feels like a clear substantiation of this concern. 

Would the amendment protect students from discrimination? Certainly, the amendment would probably initiate the shuttering of several California colleges that LGBT activists would consider “discriminatory.” Because the non-discrimination law applies just as much to religion as it does to sexual orientation or gender identity, the language would essentially force Christian schools to relinquish their confessional identity—they could be sued, for example, for refusing to hire an atheist to teach sociology, or denying tenure to a New Age transcendentalist professor of comparative religion. What sounds like fairness to many progressives is in reality the dismantling of the idea of Christian education. 

But there’s another issue at hand, one that supporters of the proposed amendment need to answer. While it’s true that the new language would probably curb discrimination in the sense of forcing the closure of many schools that teach traditional ideas about sexuality, the  proposed solution is less obvious. Advocates seem to think that protecting seminaries and religious training schools from the anti-discrimination language is still OK. But why? Why do seminaries and other institutions that train students for ministry deserve legal protection if cross-disciplinary schools like Biola do not?

Perhaps the thinking here is that larger, liberal arts schools such as Biola are more susceptible to infringing on students’ rights than smaller, ministry-minded institutions. But this seems to be a completely arbitrary notion. Consider what two supporters of the amendment, one a current Biola student, had to say about the bill:

Erin Green, a senior at Biola and executive director of Biola Equal Ground, an unofficial LGBT student support group, said it’s a common misconception that students who are LGBT wouldn’t choose to attend an evangelical Christian college.

“Here’s the thing – who’s paying for college?” Green said. “Parents are paying for college and if they’ve grown up in an evangelical environment, a parent is choosing the college. A lot of students have no choice.”

For students who are gay or transgender and deeply connected to their faith, the dissonance they feel on campus is intense, said Jordyn Sun, national student organizer for Soul Force, an advocacy group that works with LGBT students at evangelical Christian colleges.

“This is a Christ-centered university and I have faculty saying they love me, yet I can’t be myself on campus,” said Sun, who graduated in 2014 from Azusa Pacific University, a Christian college in Orange County that has not sought an exemption to Title IX. “I think it does more mental, emotional and spiritual damage to people than anyone realizes.”

Both Green and Sun’s comments seem heartfelt, but they have an enormous logical tension: If the goal of anti-discrimination law is to ensure that students don’t have to choose between their education and their sexual and moral beliefs, why should such law stop short of protecting students who want a seminary or ministerial education? Why are the experiences of liberal arts students more worthy of the force of anti-discrimination law than the experiences of seminarians?

But the reality is that this is the kind of tension that the architects of the marriage and gender revolution have assiduously avoided acknowledging. For years, we have heard from the contemporary activist class that the issue was one of civil liberties and not of conscience. But what else could the targeting of Christian higher education be, if not a clear move toward paving over conscience?

California’s hostile stance toward conscience is bold, but it very well may be a harbinger of things to come. Three days after the horrific murder of dozens of people at a gay nightclub in Orlando, The New York Times published an astonishing editorial that laid part of the blame for the tragedy at the feet of conservatives who criticized same-sex marriage and contemporary gender ideology. These conservatives, the Times editorial board argued, were responsible for a climate of “hate” toward LGBT Americans, a climate that manifested itself in Orlando. This irresponsible and ridiculous rhetoric is, of course, just rhetoric; but coupled with California’s actions against evangelical colleges, it seems to signal a real oncoming threat to traditional Christian belief.

After all, this isn’t just about sexual orientation and gender identity. It’s about the right to take seriously a narrative of human nature that disagrees with the progressive consensus. Forget same-sex marriage. Why should the California legislature suffer any school that forbids premarital and extramarital sex to exist? Why should any school be allowed to tell an adulterous husband that he is morally disqualified from ministry? Why should any institution of higher learning be allowed to lecture on the permanence and indissolubility of marriage to a student who has fallen in love with someone else?

Thus, Christian education itself unravels. Those who believe that a government bold enough to mandate the exile of Obergefell dissenters can stop short of attacking the very idea of a transcendent human story are engaging in a delusion that will, I think, be very short-lived. What is ultimately at issue is not whether couples of the same-sex can live together on a college campus. The ultimate question is whether any institution—whether Biola or Boyce Bible College—may attempt to shape the consciences of her students in ways that run afoul of a very modern, very Western sociopolitical “norm.” 

And for that question, those who favor scrubbing out California’s Christian colleges need to offer something better than, “It’s going to be an issue.”

This article was originally published at Mere Orthodoxy.

By / Jun 24

What comes to your mind when you think of the pro-life movement?

Perhaps it is angry protesters standing outside of the local Planned Parenthood, waving posters of aborted babies. Maybe it is the image of the most recent person on trial for murdering an abortionist. It might be your local church’s crisis pregnancy ministry or the friends you know who go downtown to help shepherd women away from abortion clinics. Maybe it is something that is seemingly detached like legislators, laws and politics. Or maybe it is your own experience with abortion. Regardless of your experience, almost all of us think of something when we hear the words “pro-life.”

In many ways, the abortion issue can cause us to feel weary. The statistics can spur hopelessness. The constant barrage of anger, bitterness, and hateful banter can make it seem like a pointless cause. But in the midst of it all those numbers are souls that once lived in bodies—little image bearers of our Creator. Being pro-life is not about politics. It is about the gospel.  

Why should we care?

As Christians, we of all people should be the most concerned about life in every stage, especially in the helpless stage of the womb. But why should we care? From the beginning of time we understand that God created men and women equally in his image (Gen. 1:27). People bear the image of their Creator—God. This is staggering. Every soul lost through abortion is an image bearer of the King. But to take this even further, Christians are to also care about the least defended, the least protected, and the helpless. Who is more helpless than a 10-week-old baby nestled not-so-safely in the womb of a mother who is determined to kill it?

It’s really easy to be passionate about really good causes that are visible—world hunger, racial harmony, poverty, human trafficking. In a lot of ways it is easier for us to forget that the cause of the unborn is just as real and just as horrific as the child who is prostituted—we just don’t see it plastered across the television.

How can we help?

Fighting for the cause of the unborn is a tangible way for Christians to live out what it means to live as Jesus lived.

For starters, one real way to become passionate about the cause of the unborn is to know where the local abortion clinic is located. My drive home from work used to take me right by the downtown abortion clinic in Louisville. It was always a strong reminder to pray for the many women who walk through those doors. You might even be surprised to notice that many abortion clinics are either right in the heart of an urban, poor neighborhood, or near a university campus—not a coincidence at all. In some cities there are people who are willing to pray outside these clinics and even seek to counsel women away from abortion as they arrive at the clinic.

If you want to be even more involved, find out where the local crisis pregnancy center is located. Being pro-life means being pro-mom. These women are often scared, confused and alone. Many of them need a godly, older woman to shepherd and love them. I know that our local crisis pregnancy center is constantly in need of women (and men) to volunteer their time to help women in need. And I am sure many of these centers across the country are no different.

God is the author of life. Psalm 139:13 says: “…for you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.” This is where we start in the pro-life discussion. Life matters. We have been given new life by the work of Christ on our behalf. To be pro-life means to desire that babies and mothers are saved both physically and eternally.