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Preventing Abuse:

Beyond “Don’t”

Over the last few decades, preventing abuse in churches, – especially sexual abuse of children – has taken a rightfully high priority. Though the Roman Catholic Church in the US has received the greatest attention, abuse – physical, sexual, verbal, spiritual – has scarred members in every Christian denomination and tradition.

Our usual response? We hold seminars lecturing people “Don’t do it” and turned to background checks and careful scrutiny of every person around a child. Everyone becomes guilty until proven innocent. Because of the onerous strains this puts on our churches, some of us then throw up our hands and just trust for the best.

In the end, these kinds of prevention programs have two consequences:

  1. We alienate or scare away potentially good child and teen ministry workers
  2. and

  3. We instruct predators on the details of all of our safety features and even suggest to them ways of abuse that may never have occurred to them.

There is a better way.

(At this point I need to give credit to Rob Voyle for his reflections on this issue. I would recommend anyone who wants to know more about this approach to take one of his seminars on the Appreciative Way)

The problem is much like the insight Jesus gave about demons who are cast out. (Luke 11: 24–26) If we do not fill the house with something good, the evil will come back with a vengeance.

In that vein, we need to move beyond asking “How do we prevent abuse and keep abusers out?” to “How do we want children and other vulnerable people to be treated in our ministries?” By focusing on making our churches places filled with love, safety, respect and care we ignite our imaginations to create that sort of experience. Some of our procedures may still be driven by insurance concerns (background checks, etc.) Others will reflect distinctively Christian ways of holding each other accountable to creating this Christ–like environment. More importantly, in our training, ministry design and behaviors we will express that this is not a safe environment for abusers.

Will this absolutely prevent abuse? No. Abuse has a demonic perseverance. At the same time, as we call each other to live the life of Jesus and hold each other accountable to a positive standard, we will be able to detect and question people who do not live up to that standard.