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As I Was Saying is a forum for a variety of perspectives to foster faith-related conversations among our readers with the goal of mutual learning, even in disagreement. Apart from articles written by editorial staff, these perspectives do not necessarily reflect the views of The Banner

Content warning: Mentions sexual abuse of minors

“I considered church people easy to fool,” says the Instagram post in all capital letters. I know immediately the kind of deception the quote refers to, as it’s featured on an IG account I follow called Consent Parenting. 

Consent Educator and CSA Prevention Expert Rosalia Rivera is quoting a repentant child sex offender who has, for the sake of teaching prevention, shared some of the methods he used to groom families, communities and children. The statement, taken from the book Predators by Anna C. Salter, continues: “[Church people] seem to want to believe in the good that exists in all people . . . I think they want to believe in people. And because of that, you can easily convince, with or without convincing words.”

The comment section under this post is filled with heart-breaking comments: people (mostly women) who were assaulted in Sunday school or youth group, stories of young people who finally came forward to their parents and were told, “You must have misunderstood what he was doing. He is too much of a man of God to ever do that.” Some mothers confess the anxiety they feel every Sunday as they drop their children off at children’s ministry, entrusting them to the care of near strangers despite the many horror stories they’ve witnessed or experienced. 

Reading these devastating stories and seeing Rosalia Rivera’s insistence that we have protective policies in place, I think about my struggle to find reliable volunteers when I worked as a church youth leader. I once vented to a long-standing volunteer that I needed to have a certain ratio of adults to youth in order to host overnight events, and that it was a challenge to find people who wanted to sleep on a church basement floor, much less get a Vulnerable Sector Police check and provide references.

“I don’t think this is a very litigious community,” he suggested compassionately. Meaning, “Don’t worry about meeting the ratios of adults to youth. Don’t worry about dotting all the I’s and crossing the T’s of the safety policy. We trust people here.” He was trying to alleviate my stress. But I knew that, despite the major inconveniences of constantly approaching trusted adults to join us at pizza parties, the requirements handed down from the denomination were there for a reason: to protect me, the students who were coming into our ministry, the church, and the message of Christ. 

Consent and safety educators like Rosalia Rivera encourage parents to inquire at new churches and organizations about their protection policies. One online commenter explained that when she did so, she was informed, “We all trust each other here. We only put good people in leadership over children.” It’s difficult, when we want to create an atmosphere of trust and good will, to recognize that we also need to be aware of the ways that sin can lurk unseen among us. It’s the dark side of our fallen nature that most of us don’t even want to contemplate. And yet we know even in our own denomination of heinous evil perpetrated against children by people trusted by entire congregations. True trust is not unconditional, but is cultivated in an environment of accountability and attentiveness to the needs of everyone, especially the most vulnerable. 

We all hope to God that no one in our congregation even contemplates abusing the most vulnerable people who walk through our doors. But we also need to remember that even if everyone who serves in your church does so with the purest of motives, your Safe Church Policies are a form of sharing the gospel. They create an atmosphere of welcome and security to the visiting mother who is nervous to leave her child for an hour in the hands of a stranger. They comfort the person who sits in your pew, who sees the hall monitor checking the classrooms and knows that what happened to them won’t happen to someone here today. They empower the youth leader who observes bruises on the arms of a teen to know the proper steps to help him find freedom from domestic violence.

Safe Church policies don’t cultivate an attitude of fear and apprehension, but rather create peace as we communicate to our visitors and members that we care for each other. We can have both environments, where we see the good in each other while doing our best to eliminate the worst. 

Having led family ministry in a local church, I know the logistical nightmare it can be to stay on top of police checks, to ensure there are always helpers in place, to get volunteers trained. It takes a village to safely raise children in faith. But in a world where churches are again and again being exposed for their cover-ups, sexual misconduct and abuse, Safe Church policies help spread the gospel; they communicate to newcomers and old-timers that we take seriously Christ’s call to welcome the little children, to protect them, and to raise them in God’s love. 

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