Putting Muscle into Abuse Prevention

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Classis Pacific Northwest is taking seriously the call to care for the most vulnerable among us by bringing an overture (request) to Synod 2007 concerning abuse prevention.

“We need to do what we say we are going to do,” said Dr. Bern Alberda, a member of First Christian Reformed Church, Seattle. Alberda, a pediatrician, helped write the overture. He said that churches have as much susceptibility as hospitals for abuse but haven’t nearly the accountability.

Previous synods have already recommended that every classis have a Safe Church Team (formerly known as an Abuse Response Team) and that every church have an abuse-prevention program.

But this overture, if passed, would put some muscle behind those recommendations. Rev. Harry Weidenaar of First CRC said, “I think that First [CRC] felt that if we took the lead here, other churches would get on board, which is exactly what happened in our classis meeting. It just needed somebody to pioneer the effort.”

The overture would require that, by 2008, the denomination’s Yearbook would note which churches have abuse-prevention teams in place and which classes have Safe Church Teams. The Yearbook is an annual publication listing information about each church and classis.

If passed, this overture would require that by 2010 no church of the denomination would be able to call a pastor until it establishes an abuse-prevention program. By 2010, every classis would have to have a Safe Church Team in place, as well as adequate liability insurance to cover possible litigation arising from alleged cases of abuse.

Abuse-prevention teams enforce abuse-prevention policies as well as care for abuse victims in churches. Safe Church Teams provide prevention and awareness education at the classis level and also convene abuse-response panels to hear and investigate accusations of abuse within a church.

According to Beth Swagman, director of the denomination’s Abuse Prevention office, only about one-third of Christian Reformed congregations currently have a child-safety policy. The authors of this overture hope to improve that statistic and provide more opportunities for victims to have their voices heard.

“Even one story of a [young person] who was abused and whose abuser was never prosecuted is too much,” said Alberda. “It’s not justice.”

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