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.