Seeking Justice: Guarding against Sexual Abuse in the Church
As God’s image bearers, we are to seek justice. In Deuteronomy 16:20, Moses said, “Follow justice and justice alone.” But what does biblical justice mean? The Bible Project explains justice this way: “Justice that God dictates means a selfless way of life in which people do everything they can to ensure that others are treated well and injustices are fixed.”
Today God calls justice seekers to guard against sexual assault and abuse in the church. The subject is not pleasant, but church members cannot deny abuse happens. Hundreds of victims each year report trauma experienced within church walls. These reports are a fraction of the incidents because most survivors do not report abuse. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, only one-third of rape/sexual assault victims reported the crime to police in 2019. Others may never report because of shame, further victimization by medical professionals or law enforcement, not wanting to relive the trauma of their assault, fear of harm or the threat of death, or other reasons. How can the church seek justice for these survivors?
Justice and ensuring others are treated well start with awareness. To foster that understanding, churches can teach volunteers and congregations about how sexual assault happens, the effects, and how to protect the innocent. Accepting responsibility for others’ protection begins with acknowledging the need. Here are some practical steps churches can consider.
Design Effective Policies and Procedures.
No matter the congregation size, financial situation, or amount of volunteer resources, churches need clear policies and procedures that protect against sexual assault. Personnel or church leaders can work with volunteers to ensure they receive training, understand the policies, and follow them without exception. Updating these policies frequently also ensures they continue to guide volunteers and protect others adequately. Find resources to enhance policies and procedures at CaringWell.com.
Implement regular training.
Creating a regular program that teaches volunteers and missions workers how to recognize harmful situations increases awareness and action. Most perpetrators rely on no one noticing their subtle tactics or excusing questionable behavior. By being aware of the signs and patterns of abusers, volunteers become the front line of justice.
Develop an open-door policy.
Allow victims to have a voice. Sexual assault steals a victim’s voice, and he or she is likely too intimidated to tell a church administrator or pastor. Fear of being blamed or not being believed silences the voice further. Being welcomed, heard, and believed leads to healing.
Confront situations immediately and transparently.
Even with transparent procedures, awareness, and training, abuse happens. When it does, church leaders and appropriate personnel need to have strategies already in place to address the situation. Waiting until there is a problem is not the time to solve the problem. Decide before issues arise how to handle investigations and how to address the offense.
Prayer may seem obvious but can often take a backseat to procedure and policy. Consistent prayer for staff, program directors, administrators, volunteers, and missions teams opens doors to God’s provision, healing, and ultimate justice.
The stories of abuse uncovered too often show the need for churches, volunteers, and missions workers to guard others well. How can your church become people who are justice seekers?
by Tamela Turbeville
This article originally appeared in Missions Mosaic April 2021. Subscribe today for the latest Heartbeat of Missions articles in Missions Mosaic!