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Sexual Abuse Reporting Update

Our elders met last week to consider this serious matter in light of the Houston Chronicle article exposing sexual abuse in Southern Baptist Churches (see It was a true blessing to meet and discover that all of us were of one accord on this issue. We all agreed that a) there should be a clear and consistent method in which a person can report sexual abuse and b) all such reports should go directly to law enforcement for investigation. Let me share how we arrived at our decision.

First, it is a state law already that if there is any suspicion of abuse to a minor, it must be reported to the authorities. As Christians, we are obligated to obey the law of the land unless it contradicts the clear teaching of the Word of God. Romans 13:1-2 (ESV) 1  Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2  Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.

But that does not answer how adults should be treated. We arrived at the understanding that any allegation of sexual misconduct should be immediately reported to the legal authorities as well. This should be done promptly and without exception. Legal authorities are empowered by God to execute justice. Romans 13:3-5 (ESV) 3  For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4  for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. 5  Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. The agents of law enforcement are much more qualified to carry out investigations of such matters. And allowing them to do so, would put the leaders of the church above reproach.

But there are some who might challenge this line of thinking, that Christians should be the ones to sit in judgment over other Christians. They believe this based upon 1 Corinthians 6:1-8 (ESV)
1  When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? 2  Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? 3  Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! 4  So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? 5  I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, 6  but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? 7  To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? 8  But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers! The elders concluded that this passage speaks about civil matters NOT CRIMINAL MATTERS. It is in regards to law suits between believers. Therefore, since God has instituted government to uphold the laws of the land, we think it is best that any criminal allegations are reported to them immediately. We think this is best for the victim and to clear the name of anyone falsely accused.

So the elders recognize that for both children AND adults a mechanism needs to be created should anyone in the church feel victimized by a sexual predator. We want to create a clear path that the elders and other leaders of the church could not be seen as somehow hiding or covering up such reports. Therefore, we are going to develop a policy that will communicate clearly how to report any suspected abuse to the authorities. We want to avail ourselves of the professionals that are already connected to Providence such as public school teachers familiar with the processes, the Sheriff’s deputy already on our campus on Sunday morning and those that serve as chaplains within the Sheriff’s department.  Once the policy is created it will be presented to the church at an upcoming quarterly update for consideration and implementation. We want every children’s worker, youth worker, and volunteer to be familiar with its contents.

It is my sincere hope that such a policy will never have to be implemented. But we cannot pretend that sexual abuse does not happen at churches merely because we think everyone who attends is on their best behavior. We are obligated to be prepared and promote the safety of everyone who comes on our campus. God is honored when we care for the least of these.