Synod 2010 took several steps to improve the CRC’s pastoral care of victims of sexual abuse by a church leader and its care of those accused of abuse.
The proposals came from the Abuse Victims Response Task Force, appointed by Synod 2006 when it recognized that the church hasn’t always done enough when abuse cases come to light.
In fact, synod delegates prayed in unison asking God’s forgiveness for times when the Christian Reformed Church did not help abuse victims and did not discipline abusive church leaders.
Rev. Greg Schuringa, Classis Northern Illinois, who reported on the task force’s work, said, “Pastoral care has not been applied as it could have been and should have been in the past.”
So Synod 2010 urged church councils to immediately provide pastoral care for a claimant, the accused, their families, and other church members as soon as an allegation of abuse is made. It noted that someone who is accountable to the elders should be given the task of ensuring that such pastoral care happens.
Churches are urged to learn more about restorative justice and apply those approaches in abuse cases when appropriate.
The CRC’s Board of Trustees was given the task of developing additional educational resources on abuse prevention and church leader misconduct, including a handbook for church council members.
“I think, from my own experience, that most of us elders do not have the education or knowledge to help people who are abused,” said elder Peter Hagedoorn, Classis Hudson. “If we’re going to have a booklet, we’re going to have to have it pretty quickly.”
Synod also urged church councils, just as many previous synods have done, to provide yearly training for elders and deacons about abuse-related topics.
Elder Martin Boersma, Classis Grand Rapids North, wondered whether synod’s resolutions would increase the liability of a church in the case of an abuse allegation.
Kathy Vandergrift, chair of the Abuse Victims Response Task Force, replied that “not doing something, not talking about it, is not going to be an excuse any longer if [an abuse situation] arises.”
Elder Tim Miedema, Classis Zeeland, said that the process for reporting abuse does not seem to follow the Matthew 18 pattern: “Here [what you have against your brother] goes to a whole lot of people before it goes to your brother.”
Vandergrift responded that Matthew 18 assumes a power balance. “Those made powerless by abuse are given others who encourage them on their journey.”
Several delegates affirmed the task force report and the need for churches to be aware of abuse issues.
“I’m very impressed with the task force’s work, expertise, and heart for bringing healing to broken situations and for equipping the church,” said Schuringa.
“This is stuff that is so phenomenally important,” said Rev. Carel Geleynse, Classis British Columbia South-East “There’s no way that councils and churches are going to understand and get it unless we say ‘You need to sit and study this [report].’”