Greetings in the name of our Holy God. We trust that you are well and pressing on in loving service of our Savior.
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.
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)
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,
Directors of Protect His Sheep