Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Child Molesters in the Church - Church Policy

Most Protestant churches do not have a “church policy” regarding child protection.

That’s unfortunate, because it can have serious consequences. If an incidence of child molesting hits your church, be sure that a lawsuit is likely to hit the church. That "hit" could be a crippling financial blow that might destroy it. It does not have to be that way, if the church would take certain steps to protect itself legally. Those steps necessarily involve the protection of the children in the care and custody of the church.

It is somewhat ironic that if you asked the pastor of most churches whether they had a Child Protection Policy, they’d indicate they do have such a policy. Sadly, they don’t even recognize what is meant by that term. The position of some, radical though it may seem, is that since everyone is against child molesting, then it can be said that it goes without saying that the church is against such things, thus, there is a “policy.”

Others are a bit more sophisticated.

One church I know held a view that sounds something like this: Every church member is against child molesting and for child protection. We take steps to watch out for this kind of thing. It’s a heinous thing and we don’t want any child harmed. Our church has certain standards with respect to the lives of our workers. If a worker is found to be living in sin, we will dismiss that worker immediately. We make sure a worker meets our standards even before they are accepted as workers. We will handle these kinds of issues ourselves. We know what to do. [and blah, blah, blah...]

Still other churches hold to the view that they watch out for such things and are very aware about the need to beware of sexual predators who might victimize a child under their care. They have security monitoring the premises. They warn the workers to be careful. Workers are instructed to never be alone with a child. All events are chaperoned by at least two adults.

But, they still don’t have a church policy. They think they do, but in reality, they don’t.

A church policy must have, at a minimum, the following features:
  • 1. It must be in writing.
  • 2. It must be designed so as to reasonably protect the children in the care and custody of the church.
  • 3. It must be disseminated.
  • 4. It must be implemented.
  • 5. It must be followed.
  • 6. It must be comprehensive, that is, it must cover all the bases.
  • 7. It must be understood and understandable.
Many, if not most, church leaders assume they have a “handle” on the issue. They presume to understand what it is that the church must do in order to protect both the child and itself. But, far too many do not. Some do. But, many are ignorant of their ignorance.

For example, I recall a conversation with a pastor who was one of those who assumed he had things under control. One piece of the conversation went something like this:

VG: So, if you’re called to the stand, you’d testify that everyone in your congregation knew about your policy?

Pastor: Well, maybe not everyone. But, we did talk about it with the deacons and everyone in that meeting got a handout, plus every Sunday School teacher got one.

VG: So, if you had a worker who wasn’t in that meeting, would he or she have gotten that handout?

Pastor: I, uh, well, I don’t know. I suppose. I’m assuming that the leaders would have made sure of that.

VG: But, you realize that you would be the one on the stand answering questions like that? And you do understand that the old proverb, “the buck stops here” is very much applicable?

Pastor: Sure. I will make sure every worker gets a copy.

VG: Suppose a child comes to the church for the first time with her parent and mom leaves her off in the Sunday School. Now, suppose further that on this particular day, a man comes to the Sunday School class looking for this child. And, suppose that on this particular day, there is a new worker there who didn’t get her copy of the “rules” you handed out. Or, perhaps she didn’t read them if she got them. She hands the child over, but it turns out the man is not her father, nor even a relation. He disappears with the child. Is there any liability on the part of the church?

Pastor: I suppose so, yes.

VG: I can tell you that for certain there would be. But, let me ask you this: Do you have any proof that you gave a copy of the policy to these workers? And if you do, is there any proof they read it? And, that they understood it? And, that they will comply with it?

Pastor: No.

As we talked further, it became clear that the “policy” they had was completely inadequate. There were so many potential problem areas not addressed that any jury would have found against the church because their efforts to protect the children in their care was not “reasonable.” Indeed, they took more security precautions to safeguard their cars and the premises than they did the children. It wasn’t because they were a bad church. They were just ignorant of the large number of areas that must be addressed, some of which are complex, in the undertaking of formulating a valid church policy. For example, they had no policy or even an awareness of the problem dealing with who is able to take a child out of his or her Sunday School class. It was kind of understood that if someone showed up for the child and knew the child by name, and the child went with them, that was all right.

If a church does not have a written church policy that is published to the congregation and followed regularly, then some day, a child will be harmed and the church will be harmed. The harm to the child will be permanent. They harm to the church may prove to be “fatal” in economic terms, and even if not, the reputation damages may have consequences lasting for decades.

Predators are cunning, devious, and able to spot vulnerabilities in a church system. Sometimes, there’s almost nothing you can do to protect against them. A dedicated molester will find a way. But, if a church makes it too difficult and places obstacles in the way, he’s usually going to look for an easier target. He’s got a virtual banquet of churches to choose from, ranging from those who are arrogantly ignorant, to those who are just ignorant. He’s not going to choose the churches that are aggressively establishing guidelines and policies designed to thwart his evil.

There is a book I highly recommend on the subject. It is designed to not merely inform, but to educate and motivate. The book contains some useful forms, but most of all, it contains all the reasons why your church, if it is to survive in the coming days as an outreach to the community, must address the issue of what to do about protecting the children and the church.  The book is entitled “Protecting Your Church Against Sexual Predators.”

I may be a bit biased, but frankly, I think it is a “must read” for every church member, not just the leaders. An informed church is a church on guard.

An ignorant church is a "candy store" for a child molester.

Some day, one will visit your church.

It's almost a statistical guarantee.

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