Thursday, July 7, 2011

A Pastor's Heart - Shepherding When Tragedy Strikes

Please take time to read this excellent article by W. Duncan Rankin: "A Pastor's Heart - Shepherding When Tragedy Strikes."

Depending on where pastors received their academic and/or seminary training, they may not be sure what to do or where to turn when child abuse of any sort happens within their own congregation. Sadly, some pastors are urged to deal with matter entirely within their own church walls instead of working with local law enforcement.

The federal Child Welfare Information Gateway has a well developed section of information devoted just to state laws on child abuse reporting. Pastors need to understand the laws in their own states on mandatory reporting and their own responsibility to protect children in their congregation from child abuse of any kind.

I'd like to highlight a few sections in Rankin's article:

     "After a decade or two of high profile charges, cases, and settlements, the church is now only beginning to come to grips with the tragedy of child sexual abuse. Crimes perpetrated by clergy have rightly received special attention, since a bond of presumed trust when violated is particularly heinous.
     Scandal is also created, however, when church leaders do not respond properly to allegations of child abuse or even to the sheer fact of its existence in our modern culture. Yes, the subject is not a comfortable one, and its implications are explosive for individual lives and ecclesiastical organizations. But does not the Christian faith call church leaders to vigilance in this matter?
     When faced with harsh and uncaring attitudes towards little children, Jesus rebuked His own disciples, telling them: “Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14). Praying for and blessing the little children with the laying on of hands, Jesus modeled the proper posture and attitude that His followers were to have towards these little ones."

The article also provides some very practical tips for considerations a pastor must address when dealing with abuse within his own congregation:

     "Finally, church pastors and other leaders must be shepherds who mend the flock of God. Pastoral care should always be offered to both victims and perpetrators, as well as their families. But the table is not level in this regard. Victims must be given priority rather than short shrift.
     All too often, the Christian doctrine of forgiveness and reconciliation is misused and applied clumsily to the area of child sexual abuse. When dealing pastorally with a victim and her family, the first matter is to make the church safe for her to attend. Misguided ministers and counselors who foolishly force victims and their families to be constantly re-exposed to and, thereby, emotionally re-victimized by their perpetrators commit a grave sin. Victims deserve priority: the church must be made safe for them to attend.
     Therefore, it is the Christian duty of perpetrators to remove themselves to another local fellowship, after making full disclosure of their situation, so that they no longer are a source of spiritual confusion and harm to victims and their families. It is also the duty of church leaders to see to it that this protection is provided."

A friend that leads children's ministries at her church gives a strong recommendation to this book: "When Child Abuse Comes to Church" by Bill Anderson.
"In 1988, Bill became the senior pastor of a church where he has learned how a shepherd protects the flock, where he fails and where he succeeds, when his church was shaken by a highly publicized child abuse case. Anderson recounts his story and gives practical advise to other pastors..."
Disclaimer: I am not an affiliate with, nor do I have any relationship with the author of the book. I am simply recommending the book as a resource that was recommended to me.

For other resources for churches, check out the other articles available from G.R.A.C.E.

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