When you recall the sad litany of churches that have failed the children Jesus said make up the kingdom of heaven, it’s refreshing to discover a church that knows exactly where its duty lies. Instead of circling the wagons and protecting the staff, the Westminster Presbyterian Church of Bluefield, W.Va., put the children first when allegations of sexual abuse were leveled at a volunteer youth staff member.
Boz Tchividjian covered the story and lists six steps the church followed to make sure the children were protected and the abuse stopped.
The first action church leaders took was calling the police. They didn’t hush the matter up or encourage the staff member to move elsewhere. They faced it squarely and the accusations were immediately reported. As Tchividjian writes, “Reporting abuse may save the life of a child and is the only way perpetrators will be brought to justice.”
It would have been all too easy for the church to have emulated Pilate and wash its hands of the matter, once the authorities were involved. But they did not.
Instead, the alleged abuser was removed from the church until the matter was settled. We are all sinners and if every sinner were banned from church the buildings would be empty. But in this case the church had a responsibility to make sure the potential for additional abuse was eliminated immediately.
When police investigators found behavior that was “inappropriate,” but not severe enough to file charges, the leadership resisted the temptation to drop the matter and let the congregation recover from this potentially divisive matter. Tchividjian writes that church leaders “decided that they had no choice but to conduct their own investigation.”
Christ says he came to bring us the truth, which means Christians continue have a responsibility to seek the truth on their own. The church’s additional digging uncovered evidence that resulted in charges and an arrest.
The lesson here is churches have a responsibility to Caesar and to God and cooperation with the police in these matters is vital. Hoping the problem will go away is un-Christian and immoral. But even that is only half of the equation.
The other half is the victim, and here Westminster Presbyterian went the extra mile. After the arrest the church issued a very public statement that lifted up the victims and made sure they knew they were still part of the body of Christ. “Westminster wants to thank the courageous survivors who have come forward. Their voices have carried light into darkness and have empowered others who face abuse. Quite simply, those who have come forward are heroes.”
Finally, the church didn’t rush to put the painful incident behind it. The public statement also contained a pledge to re–evaluate all the church’s adult–youth interaction guidelines and policies to prevent a reoccurrence in the future.
If you’re wondering what your church can do to prevent or respond to an incident like this, you can’t do better than to follow the footsteps of Westminster Presbyterian.
Michael Reagan is the son of President Ronald Reagan. He is president of The Reagan Legacy Foundation and chairman of the League of American Voters. Mike is an in-demand speaker with Premiere. Read more reports from Michael Reagan — Go Here Now.