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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Abuse...Could This Be Happening At Your Church?

There is no one that I know that likes to think that there church is not a safe place for all, Saint and sinner alike. However, the real fact is that church could be one of the most dangerous places for abuse in part because people become so relaxed around and with people whom they "think" they know. 

Fact: 80 to 90% of sex offenders assault people that they already know

This "comfortablity" with persons and personalities could lead to or facilitate abuse under the wrong and unmonitored circumstances as we will point out in this article. 

Abuse, In Most Cases, Is Not A Matter Of Doctrine

Before one goes on to hail their belief system (denomination or theological system) as something that exempts or insulates their church or organization from SIN and misdeeds of men and women, please keep in mind that abuse is not a denominational nor doctrinal issue. From Catholic to Protestant belief systems, one can preach, teach and believe what one wishes, and unfortunately abuse occurs. 
Three companies that insure the majority of Protestant churches in America say they typically receive upward of 260 reports each year of young people under 18 being sexually abused by clergy, church staff, volunteers or congregation members." ~ Insurance Journal 6/2007
It is important to realize that church related abuse, which can be in any form, is a pervasive and sometimes systemic issue that begins in close quarters, security and what should otherwise be sacred relationships, only to end up in frustration, turmoil and sacrilege with an ultimate result of creating distance between men and one another as well as between men and God. 

Identifying The Roots & Preventing Potential Abuse


Although abuse can occur at any time, it is good to examine the circumstances associated with abuse as to avoid those circumstances and break up any potential root under which abuse and abusive behavior may grow. I Am My Brother's Keeper Christian Advocacy Council (IMBKCAC.org) a group that helps individual churches and organizations establish victims advocacy programs, has responded by recommending certain strategies that help both identify and prevent patterns of abuse.

In the remainder of this writing, I will point out some of the more consistent trends and sentiments and situation that often leads to or signals potential abuse and abusive behavior and how an individual and church can avoid situations such as these. 

1- "Why Weren't You At Church?"

While this question seems innocuous and innocent, it could be the very question that begins a psychological manipulation and opens the door to abuse. Yes, if you attend church regularly, you certainly will be missed. most of you have even been asked this question from time to time I am sure especially if you have a particular duty at church. In that case at least this question is more than likely in order. However, as we have found through repeated discussion with many who have been abused, this question takes on a different form when it is posed from a person in position of power and authority to a person of who has no other duties at the church other than being in attendance. This is usually where questioning along this line could be problematic. 

While the question in and of itself may not be bad, the frequency or intensity at which this question can be posed should be the alarming part. If a person, no matter who they are, consistently wants the same individual or individuals to account for there whereabouts, this could be a sign of a potential problem.One should ask, what makes me so "important" or "necessary" that this particular person would single out me or my record of attendance? How did or do I catch the notice of the individual?

This type of personal and individual "monitoring" is not good for the health of the individual or the church in general and leads to subjugation of the mind and personality. In addition, while it is good to be missed, it is not a good thing when one is singled out or spoken to in private or sternly to determine one's "reasons" for not being in attendance. 

While being asked why you weren't at church is not something to be automatically alarmed about without provocation and on a general basis, it is something to watch and to keep track of especially if it is a consistent situation or if a particular person is calling a particular person or persons into account through this method. A simple "we missed you" would be a much better approach if the sentiment is purely regarding a person's missed attendance.   

2- Statement: "You Are A Single Woman, And Man is The Head. It's Your Job To Obey"

Surprising to many, this is probably one of our most discussed type of situations that we hear. A single woman, with or without children, attending a church and a "man" feels that she has a "duty" to be accountable to him or them because he or they are men. This type of misinterpretation seems to stem from the erroneous interpretation of 1 Cor. 11:3 which says:
"But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God."
As stated an erroneous interpretation of this verse is that a woman, because she is a woman and single, is supposed to automatically "obey" and "honor" everything that "a man" tells her especially when that man is her "spiritual leader". In some cases, men will talk down to a woman, especially a single woman and think nothing of it and condemn her for speaking up for herself claiming that she is out of order. Further, and more so importantly, in some cases there is a belief that a woman, should "be in subjection to her "leader" simply because she "should" and because he tells her so. If one thinks education and credentials make the difference here, you would be wrong. Folk that do this do this regardless of the education level of the women that they speak to and in many cases the women or "subject" bows down thinking that they are being humble.  

This whole situation is based on a FALSE interpretation of the word of God. A woman is not simply subject to a man because she is a woman. As stated this stems from a false belief that the bible extends some kind of open patriarchalism into modern society. Similar to a requirement under Muslim Sharia Law, adherents to this and women that complain are told that the woman is always in a "lesser" position and role as it pertains to a man. This type of teaching can be dangerous, and in many contexts just what we see to a degree rehearsed in all too many churches.

In cases such as this, it would be advisable to request that the spouse or other responsible, alternate sex church leader be present for and during all conversations where certain instructions or requirements are given. In addition, it would also be advisable to address this concern with specificity demanding that counseling and advice be given strictly on biblical basis as opposed to a basis that requires subjective opinions.

If none of that does the trick...it's time to seek another church for your continued spiritual growth and development.     

3- Statement: "You Need To Let Me Know Where You Are And What Your Are Doing." 

I have spoken to and received calls from many women who claim that this type of sentiment was rehearsed to them prior to abuse. The person in authority, usually the pastor or some other ministerial leader, would suggest that the woman and in some cases the man, clear their actions with them first or at the very least make a report to them for their "benefit", "blessing" or "security". If this reporting does not occur, there will be some sort of indirect or even direct counseling sessions or at the very least stern words and in some cases a demand for an apology. This would be usually followed by some way to make amends in which case small demands may lead to larger, more inappropriate demands over time.
As we can observe, this is another way to modify behavior and in some cases ultimately manipulate the mind by creating shame, guilt, and second thoughts over situations and personal decisions. In addition, these type of sentiments can lead to physical abuse. Sentiments such as these are ungodly and are not a biblically ordained manner in which one should deal with anyone in the church. Yet we find some that continue to experience this type of response from authorities within the church. Unfortunately, some have become so accustomed to this sort of reasoning that they think it is normal and make no complaints until it is too late.

Only allow individuals to whom you are directly accountable to know your actions at all times. A spiritual leader need not know detailed information about you or your whereabouts at all times. Volunteering such blurs the lines of demarcation and facilitates an inappropriate situation. 

4- "You Don't Know Enough" or "You Don't Know What You Are Talking About" 

These practices extend further into biblical discussion and debates over doctrines and practices. 

A lady once shared with us that in a biblical discussion in an open group at church that everything she said was glaringly focused upon, and if not opposed, "clarified" by a particular pastoral leader. This was followed by an offer to her to extend to her a special study so that "she could learn" to communicate what she was talking about a little more effectively and comprehensively. This is ungodly and reeks with all kinds of potential abuse!

Still, yet in another situation, a woman was told that she had no say in church business simply because of her gender. No mention of what she was qualified to do, but in all things she had to be in "subjection" to the man because that was said to be in "biblical order"; or at least so she was told. 

Although sentiments along gender lines are more in line with the article I have done called "Sexism In The Christian Church Pt. 2" this type of action could rather easily open the door to mental, emotional and even sexual abuse and should be condemned strongly as an acceptable behavior and interaction among believers within the Christian church. Failure to engage this type of open classism and abusive posturing could lead many down a path of destruction that at least, on the surface, has an appearance of biblical order, but is actually contrary to biblical, and especially New Testament, teaching and modes of operation. 

5- Ministry & Auxiliary Leaders...Double Up And Change Them Consistently
GuideOne Insurance Co. (West Des Moines, IA) reported around “160 reports of sex abuse against minors every year for two decades.”​
Contrary to popular belief, pastors are not the primary individual bringing abuse into the fold.  As noted above, the SIN of abuse is also conducted by volunteers in ministry or persons associated with the ministry. Two methods recommended by professionals that can be implemented to help avoid and prevent potential abuse of children in the ministry is to: 

1- Double up responsibilities through dual oversight and
2- Consistently and routinely change leaders. 

There should always be two ministry leaders for every ministry group and the gender of the ministry leaders should not be the same. In addition, ministry leaders should be ready to hold one another accountable for actions and interactions, especially with children. There should be no unaccounted for time alone with children one on one. All interactions should be wholly and totally above board. 

Further, even if one person is the primary individual to interact with youth, another person should serve both as a monitor and a person with whom contact regarding any situation can be made without fear of reprisal. Children are reluctant to report abuse, therefore the door should be opened to report inappropriate behavior without fear. A plan should be set in place. Parents or guardians should be included in this plan and receive notification of all those who will have contact with their child or children.

Regular changes should be made in ministry teachers and leaders as well. I know most of us had the same Sunday School teacher for years and we grew up. Many of us have thoughts and blessings of the knowledge and care of what those teachers brought into our lives. However, THIS is a different day.  

First, changing ministry leaders enhances the church by giving more individuals an opportunity to expand their gifts and talents. Consistently having the same youth leader, teacher, or director can desensitize both the teacher and child to inappropriate behavior and situations where actions may be unmonitored due to being "comfortable" with the association. This is DANGEROUS and should be avoided. In many instances, a handshake has led to a hug, has led to a grope, has led to other ungodly and inappropriate behaviors and actions. 

In reality, some churches are not able to routinely change ministry leaders because of the size of the church. In those cases, routines should be changed and modified and individuals should be made to deliver definitive schedules to their leaders as to avoid the appearance of evil and to make themselves accountable to those who oversee them. An ounce of prevention is more than worth a pound of cure in this area. 

6- Do Not Allow Children To "Find Their Own Path" In Dealing With Others Children
For the period 2003-2008 criminal prosecutors reported a nearly 300% increase in reports of "peer-to-peer" abuse.
Abuse from child to child is also known as "peer to peer" abuse. Children are not and should not be self monitors. Some children and even some adults are unable to make value based decisions that facilitate the best possible outcome. I believe that singer Kirk Franklin once stated that he was introduced to drugs in a church parking lot by way of someone else in church. Children abusing children and introducing others to abuse or abusive situations is nothing to take lightly and is a very serious issue within the context of the church.

One should never leave children to themselves especially in a closed environment. Responsible adults should always be on hand to oversee and account for actions and activities and to assure the best possible outcome. 

7- An Adult Needs One On One Time With A Particular Youth Or A Group Of Youths

Once again, this situation should be examined especially when there is a repeated need to be alone with a child or children. Alone time with a non-family member adult (and in some cases family member) could signal danger. In times where things like this are necessary, doors should very seldom, if ever, be closed, and parents, spouses and other accountable individuals should be notified 100% of the time and time constraints should be kept at all costs. In other words, if a meeting is to last for half an hour, it should continue to be half an hour, NOT an hour and a half without strict notification and an exact accounting of the reason why the meeting must last longer. In addition, and at all costs, unrelated third parties should be present to insure personal accountability and provide accounting if accusations should arise.

In a particular case an adult desired to have a sleep-over with a group of church youth. The topic of discussion was preadolescent sexual activity. Questions primarily centered around what, if any, sexual activity that the youths had already engaged in in some type of effort to "minister" to them of how to avoid sexual activity. Both the setting and the topic however was totally inappropriate and did not facilitate the health of the church or the youth. 

Adults should never have sleep-overs with children at any time and study material content should be supervised and approved by both male and female spiritual leaders to assure that no inappropriate matters will be discussed in a closed setting. Gone are the days of simply reading and teaching from a booklet. Many booklets are written with a particular slant and some folk writing them are not necessarily saved.

Conclusion

Hopefully these things will help you identify certain behaviors and help implement a plan or preventive measures against abuse of all kinds within the context of the church. Things such as these are measures that lead to good spiritual health of the church. To implements steps and safeguards is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength. Only the strong will stand to assure that their environment will be a safe one.

In this journey we are stewards of Christ and in all things we give HIM glory by our stewardship. Practices such as these distinguish a ministry and foster good stewardship and accountability. They also tell families that the ministry is serious about the development and safety of the individual and family.

In the days of fast and "feel good" church, there is also fast and "feel good" SIN. For the abuser, the SIN of abuse feels good for a season but ends in severity of frustration and futility.

Thankfully, Jesus is STILL the answer to sin in all forms. He has come that we may have life and have it more abundantly. Safeguarding the church and its members from abuse and creating a safe environment for all people is what we should be doing without question. That is MINISTRY!

If you or someone you know is suffering from abuse and inappropriate behavior of individuals within the context of the church or church related setting, call IMBKCAC at (800)827-7279 or email us at Imbkcac@gmail.com for help or direction in dealing with your situation. All inquiries are free and confidential.  

Blessed!         

1 comment:

  1. It is obvious that you are well-learned, Pastor Burnett. I commend you on this article. Abuse is such a horrible thing and leaves sometimes covert marks. One sad thing about abuse is that it sizzles down. By this, I am saying that an abused, unhealed person usually becomes an abuser. Sad to say, we do find this behavior in the church.

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