Safe Churches for All

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It’s time to make our churches safe for all members of the CRC.

The Christian Reformed Church has a wonderful ministry called Safe Church. Its mandate is to provide leadership for churches on abuse awareness, prevention, and response. To date, the mandate has focused on keeping children and youth in our churches safe from abuse by church leaders. But are they the only ones subject to abuse?

I believe it’s time to acknowledge that anyone in our churches could become a victim of abuse, including pastors or other church leaders. Abuse can happen to anyone. And so we need policies and procedures developed by experts in the field to help us deal with such devastating situations, no matter who they happen to.

Abuse may be physical, emotional, sexual, and/or psychological. It may take the form of harassment or stalking. In this day and age of instant communication, abuse may come in the form of unwanted emails or texts.

Now that all of our church offices are open to both men and women—who may be married or single—the risk increases. This is especially true for female and single leaders or pastors.

Persons with mental illness can pose challenges for leaders and councils, especially if there is lack of understanding about how mental illness affects persons who suffer from it. Are the staff offices in our churches designed and located for the safety of the staff who use them? Do we encourage communication about potential abuse situations and offer support—including professional support—when needed?

It’s time to make our churches safe for all members of the CRC. Let’s not sweep these issues under the rug any more, as if they are a rarity. Even one case of abuse is one too many. Instead, let’s start discussions and develop policies and procedures that will help protect children and youth as well as pastors and leaders. Let's learn how to deal with the reality of abuse in a loving and reconciliatory manner, as Jesus would have us do.

A good start may be to make Safe Church Ministry’s Listening Panel available to all members, including leaders who feel they have been abused. Policies and procedures will also need to be developed to help churches deal with cases where abuse has been determined to have occurred.

Safe Church Ministry is the ideal group to oversee these discussions and to develop those policies and procedures. Only with their help can we have the assurance that our churches will be safe for all members.

About the Author

Elly VanAlten is a retired Registered Nurse; a regional advocate for Disability Concerns, Classis Alberta North; and a member of the Safe Church Committee at her church, Trinity Christian Reformed Church in Edmonton, Alberta.

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Comments

I'm really happy to read this - this is an important discussion for churches to have. 

Thanks Elly for a wonderful article. I agree that churches need to be concerned first with preventing abuse, all kinds, before it happens. That's the best strategy. Then, since we can't prevent all abuse, the response of the church becomes critically important when it occurs. As you point out, it's not a rarity, "we need to learn to deal with the reality of abuse". In an abusive situation each person involved has unique needs that must be addressed. And it affects the whole community as well. Community resources are often required in addition to the spiritual  resources the church can offer. A more holistic response happens when we work together in fellowship with the Lord, and with his people. Hiding it, or sweeping abuse under the rug will never bring about healthy church communities that honor our Lord.

Safe Church has many resources on its website, including a document that outlines a procedure for responding to abuse or harassement directed at a pastor (which could be easily adapted to other church leaders as well). You can find it listed with other documents related to policies on our website (www.crcna.org/safechurch). Just click on the left side bar under creating a safe church policy and you'll find a list of policy-related resources (look under documents for "Suggested Guidelines for Handling Objectionable Behavior Directed Toward a Pastor")

Thanks again Elly for your excellent article.

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