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Do No Harm | Part 4

by Anna Mondal

In Part 3, we looked at ways for pastors to speak and act with wisdom as they care for the vulnerable. As they are clothed with compassion and humility, pastors can help and not further harm victims of abuse. In this final installment, we’ll briefly discuss abuse prevention, resources for church safeguarding, and final thoughts on victim care. 

Prevent Abuse: Safeguard your Church

It’s important to care for victims of past abuse. But it’s equally crucial for pastors to proactively build systems and policies that help prevent abuse from happening in real time in their own church context. Whatever the ecclesiastical structure, pastors have a voice in how they choose leaders and run ministries. They have power to create a safe environment for the vulnerable. But they also risk being careless or selfish with that power, thus making the house of God a safe place for criminals (Matt. 21:13). [1]

Many Protestant churches in North America are years behind on safeguarding policies and uneducated about common behaviors of predators and pedophiles. [2] When predators are actively abusing in ministry contexts, churches often “didn’t know because they didn’t want to know.” [3] This is an entire book-length topic. For a small beginning, pastors should know that if they want to screen for sexual offenders, it’s nowhere near enough to run a simple criminal background check on nursery volunteers and youth workers. The safeguarding initiative developed by GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in Christian Environments) and trainings, policy recommendations, and legal counsel offered by MinistrySafe are stellar places to begin. 

Victim Care Matters to God because People Matter to God

Again, the reason for going to these lengths to prevent abuse and care for victims is not to make the church politically correct. It’s to protect the oppressed, which is a uniquely God-like attribute. It’s because all humans have inherent dignity and value as image-bearers of God. We are tiny, but we are crowned with glory and honor (Psalm 8:1-5). If God is mindful of little ones like us, shouldn’t we follow Him? 

When it comes to caring for the vulnerable, there’s no room for pastoral ambivalence. “Violence and abuse…is a sin against the victims and a sin against God,” write Justin and Lindsay Holcomb. “When someone defaces a human being—God’s image bearer—it is ultimately an attack against God Himself.” [4]

Pastors will never have absolute power to prevent and cure oppression. Only Christ rights the world and mends trauma—He is the Author and Arbiter of victim care. Our churches, however, can make it easier or harder for this to happen. Pastors should ask themselves—am I a safe, Christlike person for people in pain? Do I educate my congregation about abuse? Is my church safe for the little ones? 

Conclusion

Beyond the borders of pastoral care, Jesus Christ is the doorway into true life (John 14:6). This Man of Sorrows, personally familiar with victimization, promises His people that He is making all things new (Rev. 21:5). Scott Harrower writes, “Answering the question of God’s relationship to horrors must take the person, life, and works of Jesus as its starting point.” [5] Above all things, abuse victims need to see and know and love and be loved by Jesus, the God with scars Who willingly entered into horror to bring us into peace (Isa. 53:5). Pastors must be willing to hear the worst of a victim’s experience. And then they must gently, wisely, skillfully place the victim’s hand into the scarred hand of Jesus Christ. 

“[Christ] bore every bit of ruin you will ever face in a life; even yours. Seek him in those ruined places—others and your own…Look for His face in the ruined lives that sit before you and he will transform you into his likeness—so that those ruined creatures you [care for] will look into your ruined face and see the Lamb of God.” [6]

 

 


[1] Ten percent of churchgoers under 35 have left a church because they didn’t believe sexual misconduct was taken seriously, according to a 2019 study sponsored by LifeWay Christian Ministries. One in nine felt unsafe and unprotected from sexual abuse in their church. See “1 in 10 Young Protestants Have Left a Church Over Abuse” Christianity Today, https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2019/may/lifeway-protestant-abuse-survey-young-christians-leave-chur.html (published May 21, 2019, accessed June 9, 2020).

[2] MinstrySafe training curriculum covers these issues in great detail. See https://ministrysafe.com/the-risk/. For an outside perspective, see Jim Yardley’s “Abuse By Clergy is Not Just a Catholic Problem,” New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2002/04/13/us/abuse-by-clergy-is-not-just-a-catholic-problem.html (April 13, 2002).

[3] Joyce Seelen, lawyer representing over 50 cases of sexual abuse victims in Protestant church contexts, in a comment to Jim Yardley of the New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2002/04/13/us/abuse-by-clergy-is-not-just-a-catholic-problem.html

[4] Justin S. Holcomb, Lindsey A. Holcomb, Is it My Fault? Hope and Healing for Those Suffering Domestic Violence (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2014), 199.

[5] Scott Harrower, God of All Comfort: A Trinitarian Response to the Horrors of This World (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2019), 124.

[6] Diane Langberg, Suffering and the Heart of God: How Trauma Destroys and Christ Restores (Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press, 2015), 2.