A Church that Gets It
By Boz Tchividjian
A former church youth volunteer in Bluefield, West Virginia, was recently arrested on charges of child sexual abuse. The arrest was a culmination of the actions by an amazing church that actually took the right steps when learning that one of its members was suspected of abusing a child. As a result, at least 12 individuals have stepped forward to report being sexually abused as a child by this individual.
This church understands the importance of responding with excellence to disclosures of child sexual abuse. This church gets it! Here are 6 lessons we can learn from them:
Immediately call the police: Upon being alerted to suspected abuse, the church leadership immediately went to law enforcement and reported what they had learned. This church gets it – the law mandates that we report the suspected abuse of children to those in authority. Reporting abuse may save the life of a child and is the only way perpetrators will be brought to justice.
Remove suspected abuser from access to children: When the church leaders were informed about the alleged abuse, they immediately suspended the suspect from attending worship services. He was subsequently removed from all church related activities. This church gets it – Christians have a spiritual and lawful responsibility to remove suspected abusers from having access to little ones. We must always caution on the side of protecting the vulnerable amongst us.
Persistent in the search for truth: After reporting to the police, the church was told that the defendant’s behavior was “inappropriate”, but not “actionable”. In many ways, it would have been much easier for this church to accept the response from law enforcement. They could have patted themselves on the back for reporting the matter, and simply claimed that their hands were tied. However, church leaders were not satisfied that they had “gotten to the bottom of the situation” and decided that they had no choice but to conduct their own investigation. As a result, “actionable” evidence was uncovered and immediately reported to the police. This church gets it – the search for truth in order to protect little ones and serve abuse survivors is a profound way to live out the Gospel.
Cooperate with law enforcement: This church cooperated with law enforcement from day one. This church gets it—police are not the enemy, but in fact are the best equipped to investigate allegations related to the abuse of children. Even when law enforcement seemed to throw in the towel, the church leaders demonstrated continued cooperation by immediately turning over the additional evidence it had uncovered. This church gets it – the authorities must have the cooperation of witnesses in order to conduct thorough investigations and bring justice to perpetrators.
Focus on loving and serving survivors: Shortly after the arrest, the church released a very powerful statement relating to the arrest of its former volunteer. The statement starts out by saying, Westminster wants to thank the courageous survivors who have come forward. Their voices have carried light into darkness and have empowered others who face abuse. Quite simply, those who have come forward are heroes. Wow! This church gets it – when learning of abuse allegations, the priority of the Christian community must be to love, serve and protect the abuse survivors. This statement clearly reflects that the culture of this church is one in which victims of all types of abuse are welcomed and safe. What a beautiful real life demonstration of the words of Jesus, Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
Be teachable: The public statement released by the church also states, We are also committed to a careful re-examination of all our child and youth safeguarding measures and policies. This church gets it – even churches that seem to have a solid understanding of this issue must remain teachable and learn from the past. Though this church responded with excellence to this very difficult situation, it acknowledges that it must become better educated and equipped in protecting children. Such a statement speaks volumes about its teachable spirit. Teachable churches are safer churches.
If all churches learned to “get it” like a church in Bluefield, West Virginia, perhaps the Christian community would become the place where children are safest and weary survivors find true rest. Don’t you think Jesus would approve?
Boz Tchividjian is the founder and executive director of GRACE.
This article was originally published on January 31, 2014 for the Religion News Service (RNS). Used with permission.