If you follow the news, you are probably well-aware of a scandal plaguing another Christian denomination. Hundreds of religious leaders are accused of abusing over 1,000 children. And if you really follow the news regularly, you are familiar with the fact that unfortunately, stories like these are common in the religious world. The abuse in other scandals might not be as statistically widespread as our current news cycle, but many churches, communities, and entire denominations have struggled with sexual sin. A senior pastor might harass a subordinate. Church leaders could fail to report incidents. Entire organizations might attempt to “cover up” abuse.
Child abuse is tragically prevalent in our culture, regardless of state, class, or other social group. Because we are called to bear witness to the love of Christ, the church ought to be the safest place for anyone. What saddens me about reports of abuse is that if allegations are indeed true, then leaders of the church have valued institutional reputation over human lives.
I wanted to address this in the church blog this week by briefly detailing what we in the Methodist church are doing to address the sexual abuse epidemic:
- According to our Book of Discipline, we believe that sexual abuse and harassment within the church are incompatible with biblical teachings of hospitality, justice, and healing. Misconduct of a sexual nature within the life of the church interferes with our moral mission to make disciples. Abuse is sin. Abusers need to repent. We absolutely should never mistreat other people.
- All Methodist churches are required to have a “Policy on Misconduct” signed by pastors, staff, and committee chairs (updated yearly). Concord’s one on file details practices such as documenting and reporting cases of abuse and/or harassment.
- I’ve worked in two Methodist annual conferences (here in Arkansas and one in Texas). In both environments, I was required to attend sexual ethics training every couple of years. Pastors are also required to undergo background checks and psychological evaluations.
- In any pastoral role, I’m required to report any instances of child abuse/neglect–even suspected or suspicious circumstances, too.
One last point I want to emphasize isn’t very “theological” but much more practical. If you see or suspect something, say something. Scandals of abuse don’t simply happen overnight. They are often the result of people ignoring or thinking “not my problem” when others experience harm and trauma.
So with that said, here are also some resource numbers to keep in mind, too:
- Arkansas Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-482-5964
- Adult Abuse Hotline: 1-800-482-8049
- Reporting elder abuse in long-term care facilities in Pulaski County: 501-682-8425
- Reporting elder abuse in long-term care facilities outside of Pulaski County: 1-800-582-4887
- Arkansas Domestic Violence/Battered Women Hotline: 1-800-332-4443