The article by Houston Chronicle has horrified me to my guts.
Abuse is sickening and is wrong. Any tricked, forced, manipulated or coerced activity for the pleasure of the abuser is satanic.
It has grieved my heart reading all the cases of abuse mentioned which have been dismissed by church leadership by turning a blind eye on this very sensitive topic. Being newer in the SBC world as one of the young ones in the ministry, I was in fact infuriated to hear about this.
Churches ought to be the safest place for those who are ministering to the vulnerable and seeking help.
Therefore, abuse is demonic and is pure evil. All abuse is wrong and as the people of God, we must stand for justice. This is a warning sign for churches to wake up and take appropriate measures of change in the system from the inside out.
So, how should we respond when we initially hear about abuse cases?
Here are a few steps to respond immediately when one encounters abused victims in the church.
1. Know the Abuse
For many church leaders, when coming to the table of abuse there are preconceived ideas of abuse. So often times abuse in churches is based on misinformation and misconception. How an organization responds to anything is often based on the belief system.
Therefore, in order to understand with proper biblical framework abuse must be seen in the light of creation, fall, and redemption.
What is a man? Taking a Dichotomist view standpoint, there is a physical/spiritual standpoint.
Abuse often begins first by attacking the non-physical side of the spiritual (heart) level by mental, emotional, verbal abuse.
Therefore, people don’t even have to touch a person to abuse them. You can abuse a person via Facebook, instant message, through a text, or even showing minor child pornography.
When counseling a person, abuse therefore first slowly begins to kill the person’s identity through manipulation and coercion.
As a result, these abused people often seek for attention as the center of the party or even shows bright personality. However, after weeks or months of continuation of repeated abuse often reveals noticeable signs of withdrawing from fellowship, less smiling or laughing or diminished identity.
The person becomes very private, ashamed and even emotionally numbed yet unaware of what is happening. There becomes a false dichotomized hope for keeping the peace by staying silent in the relationship.
Once ignored long enough, this abuse will manifest in visible signs such as physical bruised which often is too late.
2. Listen to Victims
DO NOT ask questions such as,
“What kind of clothes were you wearing?”
“What time of day were you meeting?”
“Why were you meeting alone with the person?”
Those are not helpful comments for the victims.
Listen and believe every word that comes from the person.
The investigation by official agents can take place later, but the initial stage is to simply listen and to encourage the person, “You are not alone. We will take every step to make this right,” and sympathize and weep with the person.
3. Report the Crime
Before you even leave that room, you must Dial 9-1-1.
Church leaders (even pastors) are not trained in this area, and this has nothing to do with bible colleges or seminary training. This is just not the area of expertise clergy run into.
Give the reporting to the proper authorities and not to cover up.
Why? You are not only protecting the vulnerable, but you are protecting your entire ministry as well.
This does not mean you do not offer pastoral counseling and having proper church discipline, but it is the job after you call 911.
The most hateful thing a Christian can do is to cover up and this is a love in disguise that causes more damage to the hurt victims and the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Seek Outside Church Training and Prevention Consulting
It is past time for a church-wide prevention training and putting in place a system in place with high priority.
Yes, church leaders must first apologize for those who have been victimized by the abusers. This horrible act of abuse must be dealt with seriously, and the predators must be executed for justice.
However, I have spoken to too many leaders over the past decade who say, “Well, not my problem. That will never happen to us.”
The reaction is hoping that this wave will go away into a none reality world. This abuse cases are at every door-step of churches and ignoring abuse cases is an oxymoron of having truth and love for the neighbor.
The standards of abuse prevention cannot be just met by some piece of paper of, “Bylaws” and put aside to simply collect dust in a file cabinet. Those documents must be revisited and also enforced revision with standards of consequence once the standards have been broken.
If these basic principles cannot be met for the reason of, “busyness” then that church has no right to have the doors open to ministry. Those churches might as well close the doors and no longer should be able to serve in the community.
Every church has the responsibility to make sure the vulnerable (including children) to be safe under the banner of Jesus Christ.