Alert for Abuse
Abuse in churches is in the news more often than it was a generation ago. Maybe it’s more prevalent, but on the other hand, it’s now more likely to be publicly reported. This parallels the Me Too movement of reporting sexual harassment in schools, businesses, and government. Watchfulness is the key to both preventing and detecting abuse.
In the Bible
The Bible speaks of wolves, lions, and bears attacking sheep. As David recounted, the victims were often lambs, because they were weaker than adult sheep and could not defend themselves as a ram could. Likewise, there are sexual predators who prey upon our lambs – children.
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves" (Matthew 7:15).
“Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves” (Luke 10:3).
“I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock” (Acts 20:29).
But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth" (1 Samuel 17:34).
He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them (John 10:12).
“It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin” (Luke 17:2; See also Matthew 18:6 and Mark 9:42).
In the News
Our focus in these news stories is how the abuse was discovered or how it could have been prevented.
Mathews County, Virginia, June 10, 2018 - A 15-year-old boy who was a special needs student at school was molested by a volunteer from church. The next day he told his teacher, who called the sheriff's office. Investigators found incriminating DNA from the suspect. When the case went to court, the senior pastor at the church asked the boy to recant his allegations, because years earlier he had recanted another allegation. However, forensic evidence upheld the boy's testimony in this case.  Sleep medications were reportedly used to facilitate the assault.
- The victim reported the abuse to a trusted adult, his teacher.
Indianapolis, Indiana, 2017 - The youth leader of an Indianapolis church cultivated a relationship with a girl, age 14. He had at least 15 sexual encounters with her in various places, including the church office. The youth leader was already a registered sex offender.
- News articles do not disclose how the abuse was discovered. Since the perpetrator was already a registered sex offender, the question is how he was allowed to be a youth leader in the church.
Martinsburg, West Virginia, 2005-2012 - A teen boy whose family has influence in a certain denomination babysat preschool children for spending money. It turned out that he was molesting children he took care of. A mother noticed changes in her sons' moods and behavior. Then the sons told her of the molestation. This was reported to local authorities. Other cases were reported. The boy was charged and the denomination was sued.
- Changes in victims' behavior led to discovery of abuse. Did the offender's family members know about his inclinations or abuse when they recommended him as a babysitter?
Menlo Park, California, July 2018 to July 2020 - The pastor of a church found out that one of his sons was attracted to children. The boy told his father that he did not act on his attraction, so for almost 1½ years the pastor-father let him work with children as a volunteer and told no one about his son's attractions. Then the son told his brother, who told the church elders.
The elders hired a lawyer to investigate, but the lawyer was not experienced in sexual abuse cases, so the investigation was ineffective. Finally, the elders asked the pastor to leave, but not until the story became public.
- A relative reported the teen's sexual attraction to children. The pastor should not have allowed his son to work with children when he knew of his attractions.
Somerset, Pennsylvania, July 29, 2011 - Two years into his pastorate, the pastor was told by a woman that she had been sexually abused by the previous pastor - his father. He reported it. Then they found out that many others were victims. His father confessed and is serving time in prison. Now the pastor also has a ministry of recognizing and preventing sexual abuse.
- Abuse victims told their pastor, who reported it.
This Month's Special Resource
This month's free downloadable special resource from Sheepdog Church Security is "A Code to Live by: A Childcare Giver's Code of Conduct for Your Church's Safety Ministry." To get it click *HERE* and you will also be subscribed to our weekly email updates and the monthly newsletter The Church Guardian. Find more information on Child Protection in the Church Security Guide. We also have a training course, Protecting Children from Abuse 
Watching out for Child Abuse
The Bible describes civil and religious leaders as watchmen (Ezekiel 33) and shepherds (Jeremiah 3:15; 10:21; 23:1), and Job made a reference to his sheepdogs (Job 30:1). They are charged with leading and protecting the people, alert to danger and ready to warn and defend. When it comes to protecting children, youth, and vulnerable adults from all kinds of abuse, "shepherds" and "sheepdogs" are very appropriate terms.
A shepherd checking his sheep coming into the fold will see injuries and treat them. In the field, a shepherd is alert to all kind of dangers, leading his sheep to safe pastures. He keeps an eye out for predators. The slightest hint, such as the howl of a wolf, bear tracks, or a tuft of lion's fur on a thorn bush, will raise the shepherd's awareness to Level Orange (specific threat identified). Whatever the defensive weapon is - sling, bow, club, knife - it is close at hand, ready to use.
So it is with shepherds and sheepdogs in the church. We guard against threats to the flock that have two legs, not four. As Jesus and Paul said, some of the wolves may themselves be shepherds (Matt. 7:15 and Acts 20:29). We must watch the gate, watch the shepherds, and watch the flock.
Watch the Gate
Jesus said, "I am the door of the sheep" (John 10:7). This figure of speech draws on the habits of shepherds in that day. They built enclosures in the areas where they pastured the sheep. Where caves were common, a stone wall would be built across the entrance leaving only a narrow doorway.
Before sunset, the shepherd led the flock to the enclosure and let them enter one-by-one, counting them as they passed and checking for burrs, cuts, limping, etc. When they were all accounted for, the shepherd would lie down in the opening - he himself was the door or gate to the sheep. Anyone coming in would first have to deal with him.
A fire was lit in front of the entrance to discourage wild animals. A thief would be seen by the shepherd, who could keep the intruder out.
In the Indianapolis church, the shepherd (Pastor) let the wolf (sexual predator) in where he preyed on one of the lambs. He was already a registered sex offender. If the pastor had done a background check, he would have found this out and would have had a reason to not let the man have access to youths and children. Since the registration was in a nearby county, a search of the local sex offender list should have had his name.
For us that means we should check out the background of every person volunteering to work with children and youth. Also, if we are informed that a certain person coming into the church has a problem with children, we should check it out to see if that is so. If it is, the person may have to be kept out of services and meetings where children are present.
Watch the Shepherds
Unfaithful shepherds are mentioned in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Paul told the Ephesian elders that the wolves will come "from among your own selves" (Acts 20:30). Most of us know of persons raised in the church who became (or proved to be) unfaithful.
Apparently, the sexual assault in Mathews County was the first on the youth pastor's record. Many churches and denominations have had to deal with wolves within the fold. The question is, "How do we keep someone with that problem from going that far?"
We don't mean to be overbearing, but we must have safeguards and accountability in place. This begins with screening applicants. Not everything shows up on police and court records. In fact, once someone begins acting on their sexual attractions for youth, children, and vulnerable adults, several persons may become victims before this is reported. In other words, the first reported offense is likely to not be the first actual offense.
Safeguards begin with good child protection polices and established procedures. One procedure is having each staff member and volunteer sign the Childcare Giver's Code of Conduct. Other safeguards are the rule of two, visibility, monitoring, and limiting personal access time with the children.
- Rule of Two - Simply put, no adult or adolescent volunteer or staff should be alone with the children, especially not with one child. Also, no adult volunteer or staff should be alone with one youth.
- Visibility - Activities with youth and children should be where they can be seen. Some structural changes may have to be made for this, such as Dutch doors (top half can be opened), interior windows, and cameras. For nursery and toddler care, camera views should include the toddler restroom and baby changing table.
- Monitoring - Children's department leaders and Safety Team members should make the rounds, dropping in on childcare and youth areas unannounced and unscheduled. This is the "Anytime Effect" - people tend to be more careful when they know they may be visited at any time.
- Limiting Personal Access - Of course we all want good relationships with those we deal with regularly. This is all the more reason to be careful where inappropriate relationships could develop. Policies limiting personal access are there to protect both the person leading the class, group, etc. and the members of the group or class. Inappropriate relationships between adults often begin innocently enough when two individuals spend too much time together. The same goes for adults and children. Limiting personal access limits both temptation and opportunity.
Watch the Flock
The shepherd watches for signs of injury and illness in the sheep. In the Psalms, David refers to a shepherd treating wounds with oil and broken bones with splints. In the church, pastors, childcare staff and volunteers, and Safety Ministry persons need to be aware of the physical and emotional health of children and youth. There are several signs which may indicate some kind of abuse.
What Is Abuse?
Before we get into the signs themselves, let's look at the kinds of abuse.
Federal law defines child abuse as:
- "Any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation"; or
- "An act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm."
This breaks down into four kinds of abuse:
- Physical Abuse
- Sexual Abuse
- Emotional Abuse or Neglect
These kinds of abuse are not mutually exclusive. In fact, two or more kinds of abuse often occur together.
What are the Signs of Abuse?
How do we recognize child abuse? There are several signs which may indicate child abuse. However, most of these are not stand-alone signs (note that the child disclosing mistreatment is a stand-alone sign). Usually it takes a number of signs together to reasonably suspect abuse, since any one of them alone may have another cause. To use a current parallel, you don't want to be pushed into quarantine for Covid-19 because an allergy caused you to sneeze.
The Child Welfare Information Gateway has a list of signs of child abuse. These signs are in the child, in the parent (or caregiver), and in both parent and child (not all of them can be seen at church):
- Shows sudden changes in behavior or school performance
- Has not received help for physical or medical problems brought to the parents' attention
- Has learning problems (or difficulty concentrating) that cannot be attributed to specific physical or psychological causes
- Is always watchful, as though preparing for something bad to happen
- Lacks adult supervision
- Is overly compliant, passive, or withdrawn
- Comes to school or other activities early, stays late, and does not want to go home
- Is reluctant to be around a particular person
- Discloses maltreatment
- Denies the existence of—or blames the child for— the child's problems in school or at home
- Asks teachers or other caregivers to use harsh physical discipline if the child misbehaves
- Sees the child as entirely bad, worthless, or burdensome
- Demands a level of physical or academic performance the child cannot achieve
- Looks primarily to the child for care, attention, and satisfaction of the parent's emotional needs
- Shows little concern for the child
- Parent and child
- Touch or look at each other rarely
- Consider their relationship entirely negative
- State consistently they do not like each other
What we do when we suspect child abuse is covered in another article. However, here we will say that when abuse is reasonably suspected or certainly known, it must be reported.
Abuse is more common in churches than most of us know, especially sexual abuse of children and youth. In biblical language, there are wolves among the lambs. We, as the sheepdogs, must do what we can to protect our lambs from the wolves.
There Is More
This is one of three articles on protecting children and vulnerable adults: The other two are "We Resolve" (to Serve the Least) and "With Our Wings" (How to Protect the Vulnerable). The final article in January focuses on an active shooter incident.
- Kris P. Moloney, "Protecting Children from Abuse v4," Sheepdog Church Security: Training Bundle (Classroom) [https://sheepdog-church-security.thinkific.com/courses/protecting-children-from-sexual-abuse-in-the-church-training-bundle]; Individual Training (Online) [https://sheepdog-church-security.thinkific.com/courses/protecting-children-from-sexual-abuse-in-the-church].
- Scott Daugherty, "Boy testifies a pastor at Mathews County church asked him to recant his allegation of a youth leader's sexual assault," The Virginian-Pilot, September 25, 2019 [https://www.pilotonline.com/news/crime/vp-nw-church-youth-leader-sexual-assault-trial-20190925-krkbzrxdkndhtilmebyos3efta-story.html].
- WAVY Web Staff, "Mathews Co. youth pastor sentenced to 15 years in prison for sexual abuse of teen boy," 10 WAVY.com, February 13, 2020 [https://www.wavy.com/news/crime/mathews-co-youth-pastor-sentenced-to-15-years-in-prison-for-sexual-abuse-of-teen-boy/].
- Ryan Martin, "Indianapolis youth pastor sexually abused girl in church office, authorities say," IndyStar (The Indianapolis Star), February 15, 2018 [https://www.indystar.com/story/news/crime/2018/02/15/indianapolis-youth-pastor-sexually-abused-girl-church-office-authorities-say/341076002/].
- Cho Park, Erin Brady, Juju Chang, and Eamon McNiff, "Families speak out against the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints over sex abuse allegations: Multiple families are suing the church and several church officials," ABC News, June 29, 2019 [https://abcnews.go.com/US/families-speak-church-jesus-christ-day-saints-sex/story?id=63690802].
- Carol Kuruvilla, "Pastor Steps Down After Megachurch Learns He Let Pedophile Son Work With Kids," Huffington Post, July 30, 2020 [https://www.huffpost.com/entry/john-ortberg-resignation_n_5f22d01ec5b68fbfc87fc983].
- Judy D.J. Ellich, "Pastor trying to deal with the sins of his father," November 24, 2018 [https://www.dailyamerican.com/news/local/somerset/pastor-trying-to-deal-with-the-sins-of-his-father/article_cbbd6654-c5f2-55f9-9210-41bbc757403e.html].
- Jimmy Hinton, "What Place Do Pedophiles Have in the Church?" Wineskins, April 8, 2014 [https://wineskins.org/2014/04/08/what-place-do-pedophiles-have-in-the-church/].
- Kris P. Moloney, "A Code to Live By: A Childcare Giver's Code of Conduct for Your Church's Safety Ministry," Sheepdog Church Security [https://sheepdog-church-security.ck.page/f512da9e07].
- Kris Moloney, "Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults in the Church," Sheepdog Church Security [https://sheepdogchurchsecurity.net/child-and-vulnerable-adults/].
- "The Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) (42 U.S.C.A. § 5106g)" as amended in 2010, quoted in "Definitions of Child Abuse and Neglect," Child Welfare Information Gateway, Children's Bureau, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services [https://www.childwelfare.gov/topics/can/].
- "What Is Child Abuse and Neglect? Recognizing the Signs and Symptoms," Child Welfare Information Gateway, Children's Bureau, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2019 [https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/factsheets/whatiscan/].