Safe Church—What Can You Do?

In the face of something horrific, have a ready response.

When the unthinkable happens and someone you care about tells you they’ve suffered abuse, what do you do?

1. Ready yourself and your congregation to handle abuse, because it is all too common. Several ministries may be helpful in finding the right educational materials. See a list of resources in this issue.

2. Record everything. Write down the date, time, and content of all conversations you have with alleged victims and any others involved. Try to get as much information as possible before offering your opinion.

Work with the alleged victims to write a report of what they experienced. The report should include name, age, where they live, their occupation, when they first met the perpetrator, when the events took place, and what occurred. It should end with the statement: “I swear and affirm that this information is true and accurate to the best of my knowledge and ability” and their signature and the date.

3. Report to the appropriate authorities. Depending upon where you live, reporting any claim of child abuse may be mandated by law even if you can’t prove it really happened. While the Bible tells us not to engage in needless lawsuits against one another, it also tells us to “be subject to the governing authorities” (Rom. 13:1, NIV). Covering up crime will bring disrepute on the church.

If the abuse is not a criminal matter but still a moral issue—for example, a pastor in an inappropriate relationship with a church member—it should be reported to the appropriate level of church administration.

If a person has been abused, encouraging them to confront the abuser alone isn’t wise. It may be more appropriate for that confrontation to occur with another person present. In any case, we should be very careful not to retraumatize victims of abuse by sending them back to the person who violated them in the first place.

4. Refer both victim and perpetrator to appropriate counseling resources.

Jennifer Jill Schwirzer is an author, licensed counselor, musician, and speaker who lives in Orlando, Florida, United States.

"Safe Church Features" article was originally published in Adventist World, September 2019. Online article posted 09-01-2019.

Published in Mosaic newsletter, 2020 Q3

Photo credit: | Kelly Sikkema