Written by Dr. Phil Monroe
Thursday, 16 February 2012 00:00
Is Your Church Prepared to Handle an Abuse Allegation?
Someday, we may look back at 2011 and discover that we finally reached a tipping point in abuse reporting in the United States—when reporting abuses became the norm over cover-ups and silence. In any case, we are witnessing a tremendous surge in reporting of abuse. As difficult as it is to learn about sexual abuse of the most vulnerable in our society, it is doubly hard to hear that other leaders knew of the abuse and did not stop it or report to the right authorities. While hindsight always tells us that the right response to abuse allegations is to report, the repeated failure to report ought to suggest to us that maybe it is quite hard to make the right choices under pressure.
Why is it hard to report when allegations come our way?
When faced with an allegation, many of us freeze up. “No! It can’t be possible,” we think. This is something that happens in other settings. We think we know the alleged perpetrators and that they couldn’t have done it. We worry that the report might be false. We worry about the impact that the revelation of the allegation will have on the church community or the family of the one being accused. We worry that reporting to public officials will lead to further distrust of the church. In short, fear, denial, deception, and a desire to maintain our own sense of security encourages many to ignore reporting. For more reasons (e.g., groupthink, abuser winsomeness) why we fail to act when we hear of abuse, check out this post I wrote for Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment.
Is Your Church Prepared to Act?
Elementary schools run routine fire drills in order to cut down on unnecessary decision-making in a crisis. We do not want teachers contemplating what books to save or which direction to lead the children but to follow the previously practiced drills. So too, churches do not want to wait until an allegation arises to decide what course of action to take. Do your leaders know why they would report, to whom they would report, and how to minister to victims and perpetrators alike?
What can you do to get prepared?
- Start a discussion group about caring for victims and common deceptions by perpetrators
- Build a theological argument for why it is essential to report as part of pastoral care
- Train church leaders to know who to call when they learn of abuse allegations
- Take our July course , Preventing and Responding to Abuse in the Church! (watch our website for more info!)
- Learn about reporting laws in your jurisdiction
- Develop a policy for how the church will handle alleged victims and perpetrators, their families, and the church community
- Find another church who has experienced abuse and learn from their mistakes and successes
- Seek out ministries like www.netgrace.orgor local counselors who can provide consultation
Follow the advice of Rev. Al Mohler to report first and pastor second. In this way we practice true religion (James 1:27).
Phil Monroe is Professor of Counseling & Psychology and Director of the Masters of Arts in Counseling Program at Biblical. He maintains a private practice at Diane Langberg & Associates. He blogs regularly at www.wisecounsel.wordpress.com. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/phillip-monroe.