You have undertaken a difficult task which is potentially fraught with controversy. Nonetheless, I believe that it is God who has raised you up for this work “for just such a time as this.”
Your reference to Matthew 18 tests us as to whether we are “true” shepherds who understand how repugnant to the chief Shepherd’s heart is anything that would harm “little ones” into whose care He has entrusted us. The stories in your letter provide fresh evidence of the heartbreaking effects of sexual sin against children and young people and all the more harmful when it is perpetrated by, or tolerated by, those who are in a position of trust. Too often today the godless world around us is able justifiably to accuse Christian leaders of tolerating and covering up this kind of sexual sin when it happens amongst us. And so “the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God.” Our God is holy. What is at stake is the honour of his Name and our credibility as His witnesses in today’s world.
Regarding laws concerning mandatory reporting in Canada: Canadian provinces have legal jurisdiction in this area so standards will vary between provinces. In our province the law requires that “anyone who has reason to believe that a child or youth has been or is likely to be abused or neglected, and that the parent is unwilling or unable to protect the child or youth, must report the suspected abuse or neglect to a child welfare worker.”
Our assembly experienced a tragic situation regarding a family in assembly fellowship in which both parents of a developmentally challenged mid-teen girl were found to be involved in sexual abuse of their daughter. The case came to the attention of the assembly leadership after the girl reported some details to one of the believers. The leadership reported the situation to the local Child Protection Agency, the couple’s children were removed from their care, legal charges were pressed, the father was eventually sent to prison, and the mother was denied access to her children. Perhaps the most instructive lesson to us was the importance of immediately recognizing the legitimate responsibility of government (Matthew 22:21) and approaching them with an attitude of respect, transparency, and accountability. In turn they treated the assembly with great respect, seeking out our advice regarding the disposition of the children, eventually entrusting the assembly with the children’s care, and using us extensively in counseling programs for both the parents and the children.
Another situation was recently brought to our attention by a Christian family from the community who, while visiting the assembly, observed sexually inappropriate behaviour by a young developmentally challenged man who regularly attends some of our meetings. This situation represented a failure of our procedures to protect vulnerable children in the young man’s presence. The situation was addressed by leadership in the context of a wide consultation with the whole assembly. Our procedures regarding this man’s presence in the assembly have been improved. To our joy the visiting family, a home schooling family with young children, expressed their appreciation for how the matter was dealt with and have themselves come into the fellowship of the assembly. The young man’s parents, who do not profess Christian faith, well-known in the community, have also expressed their gratitude to us. Again our lesson was the importance of taking seriously our Biblical responsibility for care and protection of the flock in the difficult issues of perverted sexuality and sexual sin.
Dear brothers, I thank our blessed Lord for your wise, responsible, godly leadership in assemblies in these difficult days. May He continue to direct you and use your ministry to strengthen and bless many assemblies in North America.
Because of Calvary,
“An elder in a Canadian assembly.”