Religion

How can churches prevent abuse, protect against it?

The Roman Catholic Church has been navigating the dark waters of abusive clergy and a seemingly complicitous hierarchy. But problems of abuse are not limited to the Catholic Church.

The Catholic Church has responded by accepting resignations of church personnel, and issuing a directive that requires church officials to report some crimes to the police and a promise from the pope to "implement effective measures" to protect children.

What do other faith communities think?

Our Question of Faith this month is: When dealing with abusive situations within a congregation, do churches have an obligation to do more than what the law requires? What steps, if any, does your church or congregation take to protect its membership from sexual predators, spouse or child abusers? Does your faith community have specific ministries to help such victims or to prevent such problems?

Here's how some members of the Kentucky.com Faith Blog Network responded.

The Rev. Bob Evely, Grace Evangel Fellowship, Wilmore: The body of Christ is to be "set apart." We are to abide by a higher standard. We are not only to respect and abide by the laws established by our government, but recognizing that we are directly responsible to our Lord puts us under a higher authority.

Abuse is not only a violation of the law of the state, but is also something that should never be tolerated within the body of Christ.

If we are to be effective ambassadors for Christ, we should always seek to live a life that is worthy of our calling.

The Rev. Mary Seeger Weese, Midway Presbyterian Church: Sadly, all that sexual misconduct requires is a time and a place. And it doesn't matter if you are Catholic, Presbyterian, Buddhist, a late-night comedian, a quarterback, a teacher or a fast-food restaurant manager.

Abuse can and does happen just about anywhere especially if we think it can never happen to us.

We must teach people to be aware. Aware of what is appropriate language, touching and surroundings.

People must be aware of their own bosses and co-workers and ministers and church workers and friends and even family members. Be aware of yourself.

Be on guard, because love does not overpower another person. It does not take away someone's dignity. If you are in charge or have rank, be aware your power comes with great responsibility. If you are not in charge or have little power, be aware of what is respectful to you and what feels wrong.

Joseph H. Greenfield, Help Me to Live Again Ministries, Wilmore: Regarding steps taken to protect membership, when I was serving in the East Ohio Conference, they would require training for such purposes.

Regarding specific ministries, areas such as this would fall to the pastor for intense personal counseling, and if necessary, notification to law enforcement by the administrative board.

Regarding having an obligation to do more than the law requires, absolutely we do. People of the church live so as to not only do what is the right thing, in the eyes of man, but what is right according to the word of the Lord.

Roger Bruner, Mill Street Church of Christ, London: The question reveals a problem that is in existence because church leaders have empowered themselves with the right to legislate religious practice.

The New Testament epistles from Romans to Thessalonians were written to either one local church or churches in an area, but the instructions did not vary as to how to handle any situation.

There were sexual predators, spouse or child abusers in those churches in the first century as now, and the instructions, if followed will remedy the situation. Man does not have the right to deviate from Christ's instructions as revealed by the Holy Spirit in the Scriptures; man is to obey them by faith.

Alex Grigg, assistant organizer, Lexington Atheists Meetup: It is the responsibility of every organization, faith-based or not, to at least meet the minimum requirements of the law.

Atheist organizations don't have this problem of abusive leaders very often because we don't see our leaders as being much different than the rest of us.

We also don't consider our organizations to be representative of the will of a higher power, so it is easier to acknowledge and correct any mistakes that are made.

We believe that all of us are equal under the law and that any abuser should be reported immediately. We don't have many official policies with regard to abuse, because there are very few atheist groups with formal child care or meetings geared towards children. Our events like Camp Quest, which are specifically aimed at children, do require criminal background checks of the leaders and would not tolerate any hint of inappropriate activity.

Melissa Bane Sevier, Versailles Presbyterian Church: Our faith communities are most vulnerable when we believe "it can't happen here."

If we assume any leader is incapable of misconduct of any kind, we put that person and the whole community at risk, because we do not hold him or her accountable for inappropriate behavior.

Faith communities are responsible for protecting the most vulnerable among us.

The regional body of the Presbyterian Church requires training for ministers for the prevention of sexual misconduct. Our congregation requires training and background checks for anyone who works with minors.

We believe this is essential to fulfill our commitments to those who turn to us for comfort, help and spiritual growth.

The Rev. Kory Wilcoxson, Crestwood Christian Church: In a world that often feels very unsafe, the church should strive to be a safe place. Abuse issues violate that safety, so churches should set a standard by being proactive and going beyond what the law requires in response.

And yet in some ways that works against our belief system, which is based on values like trust, acceptance and forgiveness.

The fine line churches have to walk is between protecting the victims while extending Christ's love to the aggressors. Most churches tend to stray too far to one side or the other. As with many issues where the tenets of our faith and the reality of our world collide, there aren't any easy answers here.

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