If you were appalled by the article published by the law firm Rothgerber Johnson & Lyon, which I wrote about in last week’s post, here is something heartening. Victor Vieth, Director of the National Child Protection Training Center, has written an article titled Suffer the Children: Developing Effective Church Policies on Child Maltreatment. He gives ten concrete suggestions for faith institutions as they develop policies against child abuse.
Many of these suggestions are focused on current abuse, how to prevent it and how to deal with it when it happens. Some are also pertinent to abuse that happened in the past, sometimes many years in the past. The parentheses are my own thoughts and quotes from the article are in italics.
- Consult with at least one child abuse expert in developing policies. (The author notes that insurance companies do not qualify as experts in this area. I think the same can be said of many law firms. Missions should develop policies on how to deal with past abuse, not just current abuse. SIM does not have such a policy – last time I checked – and handles cases on the fly, stumbling through them and bringing more pain to the victims.)
- Understand that insurance providers and some law firms have a vested interest in preventing future abuse – and keeping quiet about past abuse. “When issues of past abuse arise, insurance companies and some law firms encourage churches to keep quiet and to limit any internal investigation….Ironically, this sort of advice actually increases the chance a church or other faith institution will be sued by victims. This is because most victims are not interested in large monetary settlements – they are interested in public, unequivocal apologies, genuine church reform and compassionate assistance in addressing the medical, mental health and spiritual damage inflicted by the perpetrator.”
- Be cognizant that many offenders are seeking “cheap grace.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer defined this as “grace sold on the market like cheapjacks’ wares. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices.” The author states that “Many sex offenders have found the value of “cheap grace” in faith communities. Simply put, these sex offenders have come to realize that if they cry readily and mouth the words of repentance they won’t have to take any action to remedy the damage they have inflicted. ” (Perhaps this explains why there are still child abusers employed by SIM. They are all too ready to extend this grace to their co-workers and peers at the expense of the victim.)
These suggestions and the other seven listed in the article are clearly meant to advocate for the victims, putting their needs first so that they are not victimized further by the church or mission. I think the church or mission has to ask themselves whose side they are on. Do they truly care about helping the wounded victim, or are they interested only in protecting their reputations? Are they going to continue to follow the advice of people who want them to cover up the truth?