After a few decades of publicity surrounding the issue of sexual abuse in the broader culture, one might think that churches have developed better ways of handling it. However, there are regularly reports that indicate otherwise. Especially churches without a Safe Church program are vulnerable to mishandling sexual abuse allegations. This is highly problematic because it further victimizes victims and often emboldens and protects abusers. To help churches in developing policies and procedures, I want to share some best practices. We have to do better and perhaps this can help to further the discussion and create safer communities for the most vulnerable among us.
Obey Mandatory Reporting Laws
All jurisdictions have mandatory reporting laws…It is the responsibility of church leaders to be familiar with the mandatory reporting laws in their own jurisdiction and then follow those laws. That is a matter of obedience to what Scripture says in Rom. 13:1. Sexual abuse is a crime and it needs to be dealt with as such by the civil authorities in the way they have laid out. If a church member was murdered by another church member, would you keep it in-house, even for a short while? Know the law, follow the law.
Protection is Paramount
Whatever policies or procedures are developed should always keep in mind the safety not only of the complainant, but also of others potentially at risk. “Love your neighbour as yourself” is the second great commandment according to our Lord in Matt. 22:39….
As a rule, when there are allegations of sexual abuse involving a congregation member, the church leadership should inform the congregation in a timely and well-considered manner….
Choose to Take the Victim Seriously
According to Michael Kruger in his recent book Bully Pulpit, “…the percentage of false accusations in cases of sexual abuse hovers between 2 percent and 7 percent. And given that most abuse cases are not reported, the actual percentage is probably lower still” (p.88). Think of the enormous price that complainants often have to pay for coming forward – it is a huge risk. …
To Serve the Victim Best, Get Trauma-Informed
…Many church leaders have made blunders in dealing with sexual abuse victims because they did not understand the complexities of trauma. If someone in your care has been abused, it serves their best interest for you to get the best understanding you can of trauma so that they are not hurt further. Two recommended books: Trauma and Recovery by Judith Herman and The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk (particularly the first three chapters).
Do Not Neglect the Care of Victims
It can sometimes be difficult and awkward, but church leaders should never ignore the pastoral needs of the abused person, especially as these may be long-term…
Wes Bredenhof | “Ten Best Practices for How Churches Should Respond to Sexual Abuse” | April 13, 2023
- Subscribe To The Heidelblog!
- The Heidelblog Resource Page
- Heidelmedia Resources
- The Ecumenical Creeds
- The Reformed Confessions
- The Heidelberg Catechism
- Recovering the Reformed Confession (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2008)
- Why I Am A Christian
- What Must A Christian Believe?
- Heidelblog Contributors
- The Open And Hidden Costs Of Sexual Abuse
- Support Heidelmedia: use the donate button or send a check to
Heidelberg Reformation Association
1637 E. Valley Parkway #391
Escondido CA 92027
The HRA is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.