18 Church Trends (and More!): Trend 4

Continuing my highly derivative series on church trends, the next 10 are from an article by church growth consultant and author Thom Rainer:

4. Increased frequency of allegations of child sex abuse in church.

Sexual predators see churches as places of vulnerability and opportunity. Too many churches are not prepared or equipped to deal with these issues. Please see my recent post on this topic.

A couple of points:

  1. Sexual abuse is not a new problem and may not be a growing problem. Rather, church members are now less inclined to pretend there’s no problem. They are more willing to file suit. The abysmal handling of pedophilia by the Catholic Church has led to outrage against churches in general when it comes to child abuse. The church no longer has the benefit of the doubt or the traditional immunity from suit. That is, suing a church is no longer unthinkable.
  2. Your church needs a formal, written child abuse protection policy. Your insurer likely requires one, and if you have one, you’d better honor its terms.
  3. State laws are being constantly reviewed and toughened. Last year’s policy may no longer comply with state law.
  4. Be sure you have insurance in place that protects not only the church but also its officers. Ask for “D&O” coverage — directors and officers — which will normally pick up the elders and staff — but ask to be sure they’re covered. If not, the insurance company may pay the claim and then “subrogate” against the individuals who failed the membership — the church leadership. Talk to your agent.
  5. Involve professional social workers and trained early childhood development experts — such as the head of a preschool program. They often receive training in this area. And include a good lawyer — even if you have to pay. This is no place to save money.
  6. In many states, volunteers are exempted from liability, but (a) anyone who is paid for his church work is not a volunteer and (b) there is often an exception for wilful or wanton (reckless) violations of the law — and so follow your policy and the law.

My goal in writing this is to scare the bejesus out of you. Many churches are naive or just plain lazy when it comes to basic child protection policies. They should close their doors and let someone who loves children care for them.

A few simple rules:

A. The pedophile will be someone you trust implicitly — because no one gives the care of children to people considered untrustworthy.

B. Many pedophiles join churches just to gain access to children. Make new members wait 6 months before being involved with children (including teens and babies) — even if the new member is a trusted aunt or cousin or whatever. Even if he comes highly recommended from another congregation. Even if he’s the preacher.

C. Never, ever allow an adult to be alone with a child — even in the restroom.

D. The percentage of church ministers who’ve had illicit affairs is staggering. Sex between consenting adults is not a crime, but it destroys families and churches. Make sure your staff follows the church’s policies. No exceptions. No second chances.

E. Adopt a stringent sexual accountability policy for your staff and other leaders. Put it in the employee handbook. Make everyone you hire sign it. And if someone breaches it, fire them. No warnings. No second chances. No matter how much the teens or parents or kids love him or her. It’s just not that hard to follow the rules, and anyone foolish enough to break the rules is too foolish to be on staff.

F. In fairness, be sure to have met with the staff and tell them all this — or else you’ll feel too guilty when it comes time to fire a favorite youth minister for giving a girl a ride home unaccompanied. Answer questions forthrightly — but don’t imply that exceptions might be made. Pedophiles are skilled manipulators, and most never get caught.

G. This is not just about your personal liability. It’s more about the children and the life-altering suffering they go through at the hands of an abuser. But you could get sued and lose your house and savings and be forced into personal bankruptcy. (Consider buying a personal umbrella policy, but mainly just follow the rules you adopt and the local reporting laws.)

H. If an allegation is made, take it seriously. In some states, you are required to report this to the local child protective services, and they’ll insist on doing the investigation rather than the church. Contact a lawyer (and a good social worker) and obey the law.

I. Consult with experts. There are good people with training and experience to help churches through these kinds of situations. It will traumatize the entire congregation. Some members will take sides against the elders — and so it’s all the more important that you let the authorities handle the investigation.

J. If a known sexual predator wishes to join your church, the fact that he has been released from jail does not mean that he’s rehabilitated. The overwhelming odds are that he never will be rehabilitated. Grace does not require you to forget his past or give him a second chance. DO NOT LET HIM IN THE CHILDREN’S WING OR ASSOCIATE WITH CHILDREN EVER.  Have a frank discussion with him. Tell him that church policy is that he’ll never, ever be allowed to work with children. And if he threatens suit, then you know for sure that he’s a pedophile.

A repentant pedophile would want to be protected against false accusations and so would want to stay away from children. A pedophile will work hard to manipulate other members into advocating for him. Don’t even have the conversation. Rules are rules, and there are no exceptions. There is nothing to discuss.

K. False accusations of sexual impropriety are also increasingly common. It’s a serious problem at all levels, and it tends to make some of us skeptical of the legitimate claims. The safest and only sensible course is for adults — especially adult men — to never be alone with a child or member of the opposite sex. Ever. Don’t take the risk that a neurotic teenager or college student accuses you of sexual impropriety when you’re unable to defend yourself because you broke the church’s accountability policies. At best, you’ll be fired. At worst, you’ll lose your marriage, your children, and go to jail.

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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One Response to 18 Church Trends (and More!): Trend 4

  1. David Himes says:

    Just as an example of the reality of this:

    During the Christmas season, I appear as Santa Claus at about 40 events.

    Although I’m not often asked for it, I secure a background check each year as well as Entertainer’s Liability Insurance, which includes coverage for accusations of sexual abuse, because the risk of false accusations is so high.

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