Houston, we have a problem.
Unfortunately, the issue over the last two weeks was not with a NASA spacecraft. It was the explosive news from the Houston Chronicle detailing 700 victims of sexual abuse over a twenty year period in Southern Baptist Churches. The newspaper’s six-month investigation uncovered stomach-churning statistics:
- 250 workers or volunteers were charged with sex crimes
- 220 offenders were convicted or took plea deals
- At least 35 pastors, employees, and volunteers who exhibited predatory behavior were still able to find jobs at other churches
- Some churches failed to notify law enforcement about complaints or to warn other churches
- More than 100 youth pastors are in prison, registered as sex offenders, or charged with sex crimes
Reading the three-part series is shocking. But it is even more frightening to consider the ripple effects in the lives of innocent, trusting children. I’ve known too many friends affected by sexual abuse. I’ve sat with an abused teenager during a police interview. I’ve had to call Child Protective Services too many times. Children and teenagers can heal, but scars will remain.
The response from many leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) has been commendable since the articles were released. But there will be years of work and a need for numerous changes.
However, this is not just a SBC problem. This is a moment for every church to take a careful look in the mirror, including College Park Church.
The shocking revelations are a reminder to be vigilant. As a result, we are evaluating our policies and procedures through the lens of what can be learned from the Houston articles. We’re securing an outside vendor who specializes in abuse prevention to assist us with an audit and expand our training.
In the meantime, here are four protective measures already in place to keep kids safe at College Park Church:
1. We have a written child protection policy in place
Several years ago, we established written guidelines for creating a safe environment for children. This policy identifies our standard practices and expectations for staff and volunteers. It also details our procedures for handling abuse allegations or suspicions.
2. We fully embrace our role as a mandatory reporter
Because we care about children and teenagers, we believe in reporting abuse to the appropriate law enforcement agency. It is our moral and legal duty. If we are ever in doubt as to what to do, we call for advice and assistance.
3. We have background checks on all employees and anyone who works with children or teenagers
Every employee and every volunteer who works with children and teenagers must clear a third-party background check. This provides protection from those who might falsify their answers as they move from church to church. Additionally, we re-run background checks every three years for volunteers who work with children and students.
4. We have a team that regularly reviews our policies to ensure compliance
Vigilance is a key part of our protection plan. We have a team that reviews our policies to ensure that we are following our own guidelines. Additionally, they make changes to the policy as new threats or circumstances warrant.
These safeguards are not fool-proof. But they do serve as a defensive protection in our efforts to create a safe place of spiritual growth for our children and teenagers.
By God’s grace we are not in the middle of the ugly controversy revealed in the Houston Chronicle. But that doesn’t mean we can rest. The painful revelations are a sober reminder that sexual abuse is a real and present danger. We must remain deeply committed to creating a safe environment for every child and teenager the Lord entrusts to our care.
Our prayers are with the victims and for church leaders as they minister to those who are deeply wounded. Perhaps this gut-wrenching story will yield some important changes in many churches.
I hope so.
For sake of our children, this is a problem we we must prevent.
Mark Vroegop is the Lead Pastor of College Park Church in Indianapolis, and the author of a new book entitled Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: Discovering the Grace of Lament.
This post originally appeared on the CPC Resources Blog