Even though it was over ten years ago, I’ll never forget the night that my best friend from home called and asked if I was watching the news. I thought this was a strange question since we were living in different cities at the time. She informed me that a gentleman who was our former youth pastor, who was serving as a senior pastor of a church close to me, and who was a man we both dearly loved had been arrested for sexually abusing children. To say I was shocked was an understatement.
I think many Americans have been shocked in recent weeks as every news cycle presents reports of allegations of sexual abuse, misconduct, or harrassment. The crazy part is that no part of American culture seems to be exempt: Hollywood, elected officials, journalists, and business CEO’s have all lost their jobs as well as their reputations in recent weeks.
Many words have been written and spoken concerning this epidemic in recent days. Here are a few of my thoughts…
- Sexual sin is a pervasive problem. We all know that sex is everywhere. As sex has taken over our culture, secret sexual sin, including the mistreatment and assault of others, has grown rampant. For whatever reason, this is the season in which it is being exposed in high profile cases. My prayer is that God will use some of this to give courage to those who have been sinned against. I pray that just maybe these situations might open up society’s eyes to the dangers of using sex as business and entertainment.
- The church is not immune. One night last week I stumbled upon the Twitter feed for #churchtoo. This feed was filled with heart-breaking stories of women who had been harassed, molested, and even raped in church settings, many by church leaders. I wish I didn’t know people who have survived these situations, but I do. I wish I didn’t know people who had offended in this way, but I do. Many churches have failed many people in this area. For us to pretend otherwise is naive.
- No person is immune. Each of us is one moment, one temptation, one choice away from stupid. It is easy for me to point fingers. It is easy for me to be judgmental. It is a whole lot harder for me to remember that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Scripture in 1 Peter 5:8 teaches that “the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour.” These weeks have shown that he is indiscriminate in his devouring.
In light of these realities, it is our responsibility as believers and as leaders to do what we can to protect ourselves, our families, our ministries, and our church members. Sexual sin is real and it can come in a form that is destructive to others. Here are five ways you and I can seek to better protect those God has put in our care:
- Have personal boundaries that go way above reproach. Just a few months ago, Vice President Mike Pence was catching quite a bit of flack for following “rules” first made famous by Billy Graham. These guidelines prohibit meeting with, traveling with, or dining with someone of the opposite sex alone. The media blew up over this and even some people in Christian circles insinuated that this was unnecessary and could potentially hinder the careers of women. Despite the world’s reaction, it is interesting to me that followers of these rules are likely to be the ones left standing after all the dust settles with allegations and revealed misconduct. As leaders we MUST prioritize the protection of ourselves, our marriages, and our ministries. Talk with your spouse about what steps you need to take. Even if your spouse trust you 150%, that is not the point. The point is by having boundaries in place you can remove any temptations, but you also remove any opportunity for misunderstandings or accusations of misconduct.
- Make sure you have accountability in your life. Someone in your life should have access to every email and every text you send and receive. Again, this is not only to prevent you from doing something stupid, but it also protects you if you are ever accused of anything. Additionally, you need to have people who are close enough to you to see when you are heading down a wrong path and who are bold enough to call you out on it. Several years ago, I had a dear friend sit me down and share some things she was noticing in me that she was uncomfortable with. Did I love that conversation? No. Did I want to agree with her? No. Was she right? Yes. Did her gentle concern make a difference? Absolutely. Way too often we lead in isolation. We must allow other people in our lives to provide the accountability we need.
- Make sure your church is a safe place for hurting people to get help. The hardest part of reading those tweets about sexual abuse in churches was the number of women who expressed that they weren’t believed by church leaders or they were immediately questioned about what THEY did wrong. Make sure your staff is equipped to respond in a healthy and positive way if someone comes forward needing help and healing.
- Strictly enforce the policies you have to keep kids and volunteers safe. No adult should ever, ever, ever be alone with a minor for any reason. Ever. Drill this into the minds of all of your volunteers. Don’t be afraid to speak up when you see this policy violated, even if it is not within your area of ministry. It is always better to address it and apologize that you misunderstood the situation. Always err on the side of fighting for the safety of both your kids and your volunteers.
- Have a clear and communicated system for reporting abuse. All volunteers should be trained on how to report abuse that they suspect or that is revealed to them. Know the mandated reporter laws in your state. Communicate to volunteers that they should always bring concerns immediately to staff but also communicate that if there is something they are concerned about, they have the right to report it themselves. Make sure there is nothing in your church’s culture that could intentionally or unintentionally result in covering up abuse or protecting someone who is harming others.
Such a broken world. Come quickly, Lord Jesus.
What would you add to this list of ways to protect yourself and your church?