Childcare Responsibility & Intentionality
Sunday morning the Houston Chronicle published the first in a series of articles investigating numerous sexual abuse cases in Southern Baptist contexts. My guts ache over reports like this. I grieve over the way sin wrecks lives and splits families. I grieve for the children harmed and for the others still scared perhaps. I grieve that some who claim to honor Christ with their mouths have dishonored Christ with their deeds.
I know that the fellow members, making up the church I help pastor, share in the same grief. Grief of this kind can generate questions and fears: How can I help prevent abuse? What is my church doing to protect children? Are my kids safe? Such questions are warranted, and I write the following both to reassure parents attending Redeemer Church and to equip others beyond Redeemer Church.
The Chronicle’s report serves as a sobering reminder for all of us to ensure the best care for our children. Sadly, many of us are well aware of the prevalence of sexual abuse. We wish we knew nothing of them at all, but the nature of this present evil age leaves us facing some grim realities. Our only hope is in Jesus Christ who gave himself to deliver us from this present evil age. Still, while we anticipate his perfect kingdom, our Savior’s own just pursuits must characterize all we do.
In that light, I want to (re)post several principles that guide Redeemer Church when it comes to protecting the most vulnerable in our midst. These principles undergird our current policies for our DIG and nursery ministries, and our hope is that they cultivate a safe environment for children even beyond these ministries.
1. We must do what we can to value God’s special commitment to caring for the most vulnerable among us, and seek to uphold policies and practices that will best represent God’s fatherly care and just treatment of all his image bearers (Deut 10:18; 22:8; 24:17; Ps 10:18; 82:3-4; Isa 1:17; Matt 18:5-6; Jas 1:27).
As a church, we’re stewards of the children God brings into our lives. Being the most vulnerable among us, we must do what we can to provide utmost care for these children. Our Parent Handbook outlines the policies and procedures in place at Redeemer Church. Also, all serving in childcare must complete a thorough and direct ministry application, submit a criminal background check, provide a list of character references, interview with an elder or ministry leader, view the MinistrySafe sexual abuse awareness training videos, and abide by the policies in the Parent Handbook as they serve.
2. We must practice biblical submission to God first and foremost, and then to the various authorities God places in our lives insofar as they do not compromise God’s revealed will in the Scriptures and in Jesus Christ (Prov 1:7; Acts 4:19; 5:29; 1 Pet 2:17).
In terms of caring for children, several areas of biblical submission must be considered at once. We’ve sought to give our attention to these areas of biblical submission, and the questions offered below represent the types of questions we answer on a regular basis as God entrusts children to our care:
- Parental authority (Eph 6:1-4). Who are the child’s parents/guardians? How well are the parents/guardians fulfilling their calling to nurture and protect their children? If such care is ever compromised, how will the parents/guardians be further equipped or held accountable? What plan of care will be in place for children who have suffered neglect or abuse?
- Church authority (Matt 18:15-20; Eph 5:21). How are the members equipping one another on a regular basis through formative discipline? Should abuse or neglect occur, how will the members hold one another accountable for the abuse/neglect through corrective discipline and excommunication? What ways are the members actively serving the children entrusted to us?
- Pastoral authority (Heb 13:7, 17). Are the men in leadership reflecting God’s compassion for the vulnerable? Will these men pursue justice for wrongdoers, including contacting those authorities and counselors who are competent to handle matters of abuse? Will they lead the church with integrity and not seek to hide information when that information will serve the good of others?
- Civil authority (Rom 13:1-7; 1 Pet 2:13). See the next principle for further development…
3. We must submit to the apostolic command to trust God and be generally subject to the governing authorities he establishes (Rom 13:1-7; 1 Pet 2:13).
That means we are responsible to comply with the laws of the State of Texas and the law enforcement officials in our community, including Child Protective Services, for the well-being of our children. Should any member have “cause to believe that a child’s physical or mental health or welfare has been adversely affected by abuse or neglect,” the Texas Family Code requires an immediate report to: (1) any local or state law enforcement agency; (2) the Department of Family and Protective Services; or (3) the state agency that operates, licenses, certifies, or registers the facility in which the alleged abuse or neglect occurred (Tex. Fam. Code §261.101(a) and 261.103). A report may be made to the DFPS Abuse Hotline by phone at 1-800-252-5400 or online at www.txabusehotline.org.
Members should also report suspected child abuse or neglect to the elders of Redeemer Church to allow for appropriate ministry to all parties. At all times during this process, confidentiality will be upheld to the extent necessary to allow for appropriate ministry and to avoid gossip and unnecessary knowledge of sin or untoward circumstances.
4. We must be willing to maintain transparency with one another and expose the darkness before one another, so that we gain the light of Christ (Matt 18:15-20; Gal 6:1-5; Eph 5:8-17; Jas 5:19-20; 1 John 1:5-10).
Wherever it will serve to uphold the purity of the church, preserve the integrity of our gospel witness with outsiders, and establish and execute a plan of care for the victims of abuse, the elders should find ways to lead the church through tough but necessary conversations. Special members meetings provide a healthy context to share the appropriate information with the church, outline a plan of care for those involved, answer questions from members, and pray for God’s help in the process. Even more, though, members meetings offer an excellent context to raise awareness of special cases where known potential threats may persist (e.g., an older child with a mental disability and little self-control; a child in foster care with abusive tendencies) and to instill preventative measures of care while the body seeks to serve these families and their children.
Moreover, Redeemer Church should continue working toward a culture where victims of abuse rest assured that they will be heard, protected, and cared for. Perish the thought that local church autonomy would ever become an excuse for neglecting due diligence or a cover for doing what Christ hates.
5. We must adhere to our policies and procedures—upholding every wise precaution as faithfully as possible in an evil age—while resting in the fact that God is our ultimate security and God will one day right all wrongs (Ps 73:25-26; 1 Pet 2:23).
The subject of abuse is never easy to discuss and nearly always will conjure up the worst of fears for parents and churches. That includes fears related to the potential abuse of our own children, fears related to our inability to foolproof any system, fears related to governing authorities that sometimes make unjust decisions, and fears related to the ongoing and heart-wrenching consequences in any of the above. But we must remember that our ultimate security must rest in the Lord alone, and his grace will be sufficient for whatever evil we might have to face.
As a further recommendation for parents, the Book Nook now offers a good resource for equipping children against sexual abuse called, God Made All of Me: A Book to Help Children Protect Their Bodies. The book description appears below.
It’s easy to convey the message to children that their bodies or particular parts of their bodies are shameful. This misconception fuels confusion, embarrassment, and secrecy, and often prevents children from recognizing or reporting sexual abuse.
God Made All of Me is a simply-told, beautifully-illustrated story to help families talk about these sensitive issues with two- to eight-year-old children. Because the private parts of our bodies are private, the home is the ideal environment where a child should learn about his or her body and how it should be treated by others.
God Made All of Me starts from the fundamental truth that God created everything and applies that truth to kids and their bodies. It equips parents to talk with both boys and girls about their bodies and to help them understand the difference between the appropriate and inappropriate touch of others. God Made All of Me allows families to build a first line of defense against sexual abuse in the safety of their own homes.