An open letter to the leaders
of our North American churches

DEAR BROTHERS IN CHRIST

Greetings in the name of our Holy God. We trust that you are well and pressing on in loving service of our Savior.

we write concerning an urgent matter.

Through the Galilee Program and other ministries in which we are involved, we have had the privilege of meeting many young adults from assemblies across the United States and Canada, as well as other countries. These young adults have told us of God’s blessings in their lives and the churches in which they fellowship. We thank God for the great work that He is doing.

Unfortunately, some of these young adults have also shared disturbing information concerning the sexual abuse of children in various assemblies. Several have even given first-hand accounts of abuse they personally experienced as children.

One young woman, who spoke to us in 2015, told us that she had been sexually abused as a child by a man in her assembly. She also believed that her experience was not an isolated incident, but representative of a problem that is more prevalent within our church circles than we realize. At that point, we advised this young woman (as well as the others who had informed us of being sexually abused) to speak to her parents and elders about the problem.

“We now believe that we underestimated the seriousness and urgency of this matter, and that our response was inadequate.”

In July of 2017, the young woman’s sister also participated in the Galilee Program. She too expressed her concerns about the sexual abuse of children, both boys and girls, in Christian families. She shared that her sister had written about her experience as an 11-year-old victim for an online blog and that more than 20 women in the assemblies had responded to her story, some of whom had also been sexually abused as children.

We have since contacted and obtained permission from 14 of the respondents to read their stories. Of the responses we read, 10 or 11 had personally experienced sexual abuse. All respondents appeared to agree that the sexual abuse of children in Christian communities (with whom we fellowship) is not uncommon.

While it is difficult for us to estimate the magnitude of the problem, we believe there is sufficient evidence for us to bring this matter to your attention, as church elders and leaders. To our relative surprise, the abusers are not primarily non-acquaintances, but rather fathers, grandfathers, siblings, and cousins; church leaders, including elders, itinerant preachers, and evangelists; and other members of the church body. In light of this information, we urge you to review your guidelines and practices regarding the pastoral care of children in your assembly.

It is our understanding that:

(1) most U.S. states consider elders, missionaries, and full-time workers to be clergy and require them under the law, as mandatory reporters, to notify the authorities of reported child abuse;

(2) some U.S. states require any person who suspects child abuse to report it to the authorities;

(3) in Canada, varying by province, doctors, social workers, teachers, and all others who have reasonable grounds to suspect any form of abuse or neglect of a child may be obligated under the policy of their work place or provincial legislation to report the suspicion and the information on which it is based to the appropriate authorities.

We see our particular role in responding to this matter as limited to raising awareness in our communities, providing public resources, and offering Christian support and prayer to anyone who reaches out to us. Nonetheless, we have urged those who have shared their stories, or the stories of others, to immediately report to the authorities all cases in which a minor has been abused or is in imminent danger or harm, and we will continue to do so.

We strongly believe that, as elders and leaders of the church, we all have a moral and ethical responsibility to immediately report to the relevant authorities any disclosure of abuse of a minor. While we are not attorneys and do not intend this to be a legal mandate or to be used to solicit disclosures of abuse, we prayerfully believe this policy is best for all involved.

Even more important than a potential legal obligation to address abuse within our communities, it is clear that failure to protect the children under our care is also an offense against God. Jesus told His disciples:

It is inevitable that stumbling blocks should come, but woe to him through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should cause one of these little ones to stumble. Be on your guard! (Luke 17:1-3)

Paul exhorted the elders of Ephesus:

Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which He bought with His own blood. (Acts 20:28)

Moving forward, we ask that you please consider the following questions:
1) Have you instructed parents on how to speak to their children about sexual matters, as a safeguard against abuse?
2) Are you, and those involved in ministry to children, aware of the signs of child abuse?
3) Do you understand your responsibilities, as possible mandatory reporters, in the state or province in which you reside?
4) Do you have adequate safeguards in place to protect children participating in the ministries of the church, including the vetting of workers (e.g. background checks) and prohibitions against adults being alone with children?

We thank God for those elders who have already addressed the problem of child abuse in the church and have adequate safeguards in place. If this is true of your assembly, please reach out with support to other assemblies in your region. To assist those elders who have yet to address this matter, to provide additional support for those who already have, and given the urgency of the matter, we have set up this website to provide easily accessible resources. At your discretion, please feel free to share this page with others in your assembly.

We pray for God’s encouragement and discernment as you continue in the faithful service of ministering to His flock. May He bless you in your care of the children in your assembly.

In Christ’s Service,

James McCarthy, Steve Price, Brady Collier
Directors of Protect His Sheep

Recommended Resources:

Familiarize yourself with these resources selected by our team of editors to help you educate yourselves and those in your care.

Going to Jail with Jesus

November 15, 2019
Thoughts on whether church elders are qualified to counsel child sexual abusers.

Talking to Your Kids About Sexual Abuse

November 15, 2019
Parents must keep their children out of potential risky situations and teach them what to do if someone tries to exploit them sexually.

What Is Child Abuse and Neglect? Recognizing the Signs and Symptoms

November 15, 2019
This factsheet is intended to help you better understand the Federal definition of child abuse and neglect; learn about the different types of abuse and neglect, including human trafficking; and recognize their signs and symptoms.

Mandatory Reporting Laws: Child Abuse and Neglect

November 15, 2019
All states have set in place variations of mandatory reporting laws in order to decrease and prevent these incidents from occurring. These laws help ensure that cases of child abuse are reported to the proper authorities.

Clergy as Mandatory Reporters of Child abuse and neglect

November 15, 2019
While clergy-penitent privilege is frequently recognized within the reporting laws, it is typically interpreted narrowly in the context of child abuse or neglect. The circumstances under which it is allowed vary from State to State, and in some States it is denied altogether ...

Protecting Children at Church: 6 Suggestions

November 15, 2019
I’ve counseled and known far too many people who are broken, marred, angered, and scarred by abuse that they experienced... The grave sin of abuse...is a horrible blight on society. And in turn, the abused are the ones who suffer greatly...

Protecting Kids From Pedophiles in Churches

November 15, 2019
Before you start thinking that could never happen at your church, don’t kid yourself. A few months ago there was a children’s pastor arrested at another influential church in Twin Cities for a propositioning kids on the Internet. In my opinion this problem is only going to get worse and most of our churches are not prepared.

Behaviors of Sexual Predators: Grooming

November 15, 2019
Grooming is the process during which a child sexual offender draws a child in by gaining his or her trust in order to sexually abuse the child and maintain secrecy. The offender may also groom the parents by...

Hand of God Documentary

November 15, 2019
This film is a documentary about the life of Paul Cultrera, who grew up in the 1950s in Salem, Massachusetts. A Catholic priest befriended him and sexually abused him. The consequences for Paul have been lifelong. The film tells his story and failed attempt in the late 1990s to confront the Catholic Church.

Hand of God Documentary - Canadian

November 15, 2019
This film is a documentary about the life of Paul Cultrera, who grew up in the 1950s in Salem, Massachusetts. A Catholic priest befriended him and sexually abused him. The consequences for Paul have been lifelong. The film tells his story and failed attempt in the late 1990s to confront the Catholic Church.

Spotlight (Docudrama)

November 15, 2019
Spotlight is a docudrama about the Boston Globe’s Pulitzer Prize winning investigation into sexual abuse in the Catholic Church that began in 2001. The series of articles released by the paper resulted in the exposure of child sexual abuse by clergy worldwide and the criminal prosecution of tens of thousands of priests.

How Can Your Church Become A Safer Place for Children?

November 16, 2019
We would like to think that “church people” and Christian ministries are among the safest people and places for children, but this is not true. One convicted child abuser said: If ministries of your church do not currently have safeguards in place to protect children from abuse, speak to the leadership and encourage them to […]

United States Toll-Free Crisis Hotline Numbers

November 30, 2019
A selection of US-specific hotlines to services helping with abuse, trafficking, mental illness, missing children, and other situations.

Canadian Toll-Free Crisis Hotline Numbers

November 30, 2019
A selection of Canada-specific hotlines to services helping with abuse, trafficking, mental illness, missing children, and other situations.

Does this really happen?

March 28, 2020
“That does not happen here” was my first response when I was explained the problem in 2015. While conducting the Galilee program five years ago, one of the interns tearfully poured out her heart concerning her sexual assault when 11 years old. What was more startling was that the perpetrator was a person in fellowship […]

Endorsements of the Open Letter to Leaders

Phil Barnes

Elder, Executive Director, Missionary Service Committee Canada

I heartily endorse the efforts being made through this letter to stir up courage among elders to face head-on the issue of sexual abuse within their own local churches in an open and forthright way, to create environments in which the abused feel safe, empowered and believed when they tell their story, and to be willing to take the necessary action in dealing with perpetrators regardless of the consequences.

Let us not underestimate the positive impact that rescuing victims and disciplining perpetrators will have within the local church and as a testimony to a world that, to our shame, is now becoming more proactive on this issue than the church has been. Let us also consider the high cost of inaction, willful ignorance, and abdication of our spiritual responsibilities.

~ Phil Barnes

Nate Bramsen

Missionary

Over the past decade of public ministry, I have heard the stories of numerous youth who have dealt with abuse and spoken out. That said, in the light of the many voices that are fearful to speak out, I wholeheartedly support this effort to bring awareness and wisdom to local churches as it pertains to this matter of protecting our children.

~ Nate Bramsen

Scott DeGroff

Itinerate Bible Teacher

“He who covers his sin will not prosper, But whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy.”—Proverbs 28:13

“O Lord God of Israel, You are righteous. . . . Here we are before You, in our guilt, though no one can stand before You because of this!”—Ezra 9:15

I am in hearty agreement with the brothers who penned this letter. This problem among us is serious, and we must respond to it in a God-honoring way (humility, brokenness, repentance, confession, and a seeking of the Lord for His forgiveness and healing). There are many ways to be a good example, and one of them is to stand and acknowledge the sin of the people and confess our guilt in the presence of a holy and worthy God. Ezra did this. Nehemiah did this. Moses did this. It is our due diligence to deal with both the reality of these issues among us and be diligent to put into place standards that will safeguard those under our care.

Lord, help our response to reflect the severity of this issue, the holiness of our God, and our desperate need of His healing and restoration. Work among us to make us a people "useful for the Master" (2 Timothy 2:21).

A Sinner Saved by Grace,

~ Scott DeGroff

Ron Hampton

Elder, MSC WorkerCare & eTeams Director
 

I endorse the efforts being made by Jim, Brady, and Steve and join them. As a community of churches across North America and the world, we need to know the right thing to do, then do it—in every case, no exceptions. “Without faith it is impossible to please God.”

Since we are witnesses, what we say and do reflects upon the Lord Jesus Christ and is meant to reveal something of who He is to others. We are to be recommending Him to those who so desperately need Him.

In the kinds of cases of abuse which we are addressing here, what we’re not saying and not doing also reflects upon our Savior. It’s our problem and not His, but He takes the hit. When we consider the wolves in sheep's clothing or the rogue sheep more important and valuable than those who are attacked, it’s reasonable and right for people to make the accusation, “Christians are hypocrites.”

Unfortunately there are many stories known to me. Predictably and heartbreakingly, most involve powerless children and women, both younger and older, as victims. Most perpetrators are men known to those who suffer because they hold positions of trust and perceived power. As we are now involved in WorkerCare overseas, I know we will hear more stories that will tragically be added to this list. Of all the stories I am aware of, two stand out because they are not typical: They involve men who as teens were preyed upon and abused by older women. The psychological and spiritual impact in both cases was crushing for them and affected their future marriages and families.

Regrettably, having often learned the hard way as an elder and mission worker, I urge everyone: We need to please God by taking steps of faith. We need to stop showing favoritism. We need to trust and obey rather than trying to reason and rationalize ourselves out of necessary and godly action. We need to represent the Good Shepherd of the sheep who always did what was right when it came to the wolves and rogues.

All things can work together for good but only if we love the Lord enough to DO what He says… protect His sheep!

~ Ron Hampton

Mark Kolchin

Assembly Elder, Know the Word Ministries

The issue of sexual abuse among children in assembly circles has often been overlooked, mishandled, and even denied. Many innocent and trusting children, both girls and boys, have suffered deep emotional scars from physical violations experienced during the most vulnerable and impressionable years of their lives—often with devastating, long-term effects.

Seeing the need, the Galilee Program has committed to launching an assembly-wide initiative that, with God’s help, will motivate many in assembly leadership to take the necessary steps to implement a program in their local fellowship to stem the tide of this far-reaching moral epidemic. Their efforts in the Lord are worthy of your consideration, and we ask that you stand with them in prayerful support and active involvement in this endeavor.

~ Mark Kolchin

Jerry Maniate

Physician & MSC Canada Board of Directors

The issue that has been raised in this letter is one of tremendous importance and sadly increasing prevalence in our society, but increasingly also in our churches, because they are often representative of the communities that they are embedded within. I would like to thank the young woman who spoke up for the courage and willingness to publicly cast light on what for many is a dark and never-revealed personal secret, even amongst brothers and sisters in Christ, and even family members. We need to be reminded that sadly there are many more like this young woman amongst our churches, and they need to know that they are safe, especially with those whom they are in fellowship with in Christ.

I would like to thank, as well, the brothers in Christ who have been burdened to boldly cast a light on this dark secret. The reality is that wherever there are vulnerable populations, such as children and youth, there is considerable risk for sexual abuse, and that includes our churches. Depending on the demographics of your local church, these events may occur within the local church, or may be happening to children and youth in their home or other setting. Regardless of where the incidents occur, these children and youth need to be physically, socially, emotionally, and spiritually supported to understand what has occurred and how to journey through the stormy waters that surround them.

As shepherds, there needs to be a sensitivity to the risks and harms that are awaiting the flock, especially the most vulnerable. There needs to be a willingness to publicly speak about these topics in love and tenderness, while also being true to the Scriptures, so that those affected directly will feel that they are loved and supported through this challenging journey.

~ Jerry Maniate

Viji Roberts

Elder

Churches are to be safe places considering the transforming work of Christ in the lives of those who attend them. Yet, it is this strength that is most susceptible to turn to jello because of at least three reasons. First, the continuing presence of sin where even the most well-intentioned among us should not presume that we will never become the aggressor ourselves. So, the need for us to be held accountable. Second, the false sense of security with those with whom we are familiar--a social comfort that lowers our guard, and caution for familiarity breeds carelessness. So, the need for rules of engagement. Third, the unvetted walk-ins to our meetings. These are those we don't know much about, some of whom are seeking to know Christ. Our automatic response and adrenaline rush, however, is to be extra-protective. This often makes the churches feel unwelcoming and aloof. So, the need to know about the safeguards in place. The struggle of churches is therefore this balance between soul care and people safety. How do we handle the concern for the salvation, growth and maturity of the souls, with the concern for the safety of all these souls? Awareness! Awareness! Awareness!

Awareness by having well-documented process of care—policies and procedures. Awareness by training those in ministry. Awareness by communicating these to the congregation regularly. That is where www.ProtectHisSheep.com comes in.

I see this resource as extremely important and timely. I pray that your church will benefit from this ministry.

~ Viji Roberts

Alex Strauch

Elder, Author

There is hardly any greater privilege then being a shepherd of God’s precious, blood-bought children. The New Testament strongly emphasizes the protecting, guarding, and watching ministry of spiritual shepherds (Acts 20:28-31). Shepherds are to protect God’s sheep with their lives. And for that, they will give an account to the Chief Shepherd (Hebrews 13:17).

Protecting the sheep not only means protecting them from the false teacher, but from anyone who would hurt and abuse them, particularly the little lambs who are vulnerable to deceivers and predators, even within the family circle.

There is nothing in the guarding ministry that is more difficult than having to confront family members with the abuse of their own children. But they must be confronted, because they are people in authority and trusted positions, abusing their power over vulnerable members of the church family. Those who abuse children are deniers, deceivers, and predators. They will do everything possible to protect themselves: try to intimidate you into silence, accuse you of doing evil, and even blame the victim. Even the congregation may try to silence the accuser. The best thing we can do as shepherds of God’s flock is expose the sin and deal with it. Covering up such scandals is false protection and an even further disgrace to the gospel message and to our churches than the scandal being hushed up.

It takes great courage, strength, and obedience to the Word of God to expose and deal with abuse. It takes great commitment to protect the little ones. Today that means practical things like requiring background checks and fingerprinting, having policies about appropriate conduct, following up on any rumors of physical or sexual abuse, and giving public warnings against any kind of abuse of children, sexually or physically. Of all places, the local church should be most diligent in protecting children from sexual and physical abusers.

I fully endorse the efforts of those responsible for this public call to awaken us to this grave sin against God’s little ones, and to not be silent or cower before child abusers.

~ Alex Strauch

Hillview Bible Chapel

Cupertino, CA
As elders of an active assembly, we wish to endorse the open letter to parents warning them of the dangers of sexual abuse of minors.

Sexual abuse is real. Unfortunately, it is real in the church, as well. If the Body is reaching out and seeing people saved, you will need to confront this abuse. Our society has succumbed to the travesty of sexual “freedom,” and the results are playing out in homes across America. But, this abuse has also occurred in families who have gone to church all of their lives.

For us, as elders, this reality is not just theoretical. Over the decades, we have encountered it many times. The number of women who were molested as children or young women is astounding. The struggle men have with the sensuality prevalent in media and society is very real, and some make choices which bring great harm. Yet, it is not only girls. There are young men who have been molested, as well. Our job is to shepherd these sheep, tend to their wounds, and set them on a course of healing.  

Most of these crimes occurred before folks came into our assembly. Some, though, have happened afterward. Almost all were revealed as we became involved in people’s lives and heard their stories. As they work through their struggles, we help them to follow Christ. We do need to carefully follow the biblical pattern of finding the truth as we investigate these things, but we should be prepared to believe those who come forward. We need to remember what we believe—that the sin nature is in all of us. When you hear people ask how something like this could happen, we should ask ourselves if we truly understand the wickedness of sin. If not, maybe this explains why so many take the wonder of our salvation so lightly.

It takes much time to handle these sensitive situations biblically, but what choice do we have if we are to shepherd the flock of God in a way that would honor the price He has paid for us? We need to be diligent. We need to do justice, and we need a good testimony that is maintained not by hiding sin, but by exposing it (Eph. 5:11) and restoring all involved with grace and love based on the Lord’s truth.

This open letter to parents is an admonition we all need to take to heart.


Counting on the Lord’s mercy and grace in this time of need,

The elders of Hillview Bible Chapel,

Steve Caldwell

David Johns

John Shepherd


Kenrick DeVaul


David Johnson


David Westwood

           

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