Wolves Among Sheep

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What are you doing to keep sex
offenders out of your ministry? If you’re not taking reasonable
precautions, you’re putting every child at
risk.

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Like any new father who’s full of apprehension about the birth of
a child in today’s world, comedian Christopher Titus poignantly
illustrated his concerns about the birth of his second child in his
televised stand-up comedy routine. As he closed his act, he
explained how he’d found hope in the courage of a soldier in Iraq
and decided that perhaps his child could find meaning in life.
Maybe I’ll take my child to church, he mused but then
stopped. Wait, he thought, he could get abused
there.

It’s a sad commentary on how people outside the church perceive
how safe their children will be at our churches. Is it any wonder?
The child-sex-abuse scandal has rocked the church in recent years.
Titus is correct that his child could get abused at church — but
at every church?

From 1950 to 2002, about 4 percent of U.S. priests were accused of
sex abuse with a minor, according to a Catholic-church-commissioned
study conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New
York. That seems like a smaller percentage than one might expect
with all the coverage in the press, but take a closer look.

The abuse during this time affected more than 95 percent of the
Catholic dioceses and 60 percent of religious communities. And the
number of victims? The study reported that 4,392 clergymen — the
majority of these were priests — allegedly abused 10,667 people.
Sex-abuse related costs totaled $573 million, while $219 million of
that was covered by insurance companies.

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And the Catholic Church isn’t the only one with those alarming
statistics. Check out these recent headlines emanating from the
Protestant church: “Deacon on Trial for Sexually Assaulting Teen,”
“Church Pastor Indicted on Eight Child-Sexual-Abuse Charges,” “Mom
of Abused Boy Sues Ex-Pastor.” The number of child-sex-abuse cases
in the Protestant church rivals the Catholic Church with around 260
cases each year, according to an Associated Press report cited in
the Insurance Journal. That’s abuse by clergy, church staff,
volunteers, or church members. In fact, one in 100 churches will
face a sexual abuse incident each year, according to GuideOne
Insurance, which is one of the leading church insurers for
liability against child sex abuse and other sexual
misconduct.

Open Prey

Churches are prime targets of sexual predators. “Pedophiles look
specifically for opportunities to interact closely with children.
Obviously, a church provides just that, especially when it comes to
children’s ministry,” says Jon Holsten, author of The Swimsuit
Lesson
, a book that helps parents keep their children safe
from predators. Take a look at common traits of sex offenders as
listed on oprah.com:

• Adults who seem preoccupied with children

• Single adults who work or volunteer with children’s
clubs/activities and frequently spend their free time doing
“special” things with kids

• Adults who spend time volunteering with youth groups who do not
have children in those groups

• Adults who engage in frequent contact with children, i.e.,
casual touching, caressing, wrestling, tickling, combing hair, or
having children sit on their lap

• Adults who act like children when with kids or allow kids to do
questionable or inappropriate things

• Adults who want to take your children on special outings too
frequently or plan activities that would include being alone with
your child

• Adults who don’t have children and know “too much” about current
fads or music popular with kids

• Adults that your children seem to like for reasons you don’t
understand

• Adults who infiltrate family and social functions or are “always
available” to watch your kids

“Sexual predators work diligently to build relationships with
kids, and then take advantage of the trust they build,” continues
Holsten. “Churches — not unlike schools and various youth support
groups — provide the chance to work with kids in a setting where
sinister rapport-building for the ultimate purpose of sexual abuse
may go undetected.”

Call to Action

When a child is sexually abused by someone in the church, the
child’s faith is severely impacted. Thaeda Franz of Liberty
University writes, “The entire world on which they based their
lives gets turned on its head. If they can no longer believe in the
church — in God and his goodness — then what is left to believe
in?…This spiritual devastation is a second, compounded violation
of the victim. Not only has his body been violated, but his sense
of spiritual order, and his sense of his place in that order has
been destroyed.”

Children’s ministries must apply ample diligence to protect the
children in our churches — physically and spiritually. And
background and reference checks conducted for all staff — whether
paid or volunteer — are our first line of defense to protect
children.

“We’re in the business of protecting children; we’re not in the
business of protecting people’s egos,” says Mark Myles, director of
children’s ministries at Campbell River Baptist Church in Campbell
River, British Columbia. “While being sensitive to the people we
work with as pastors and directors of ministries, we still need to
heed the calling from God that is on our lives to protect the
innocent, and sometimes that means pushing hard on something until
it gives. In this case, it’s requiring people to have a current and
clean criminal records check on file before they can serve in our
children’s ministry.”

Myles conducts criminal record checks on every volunteer
(conducted by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Canada as a free
service to volunteers of nonprofits). This check includes previous
charges with convictions or without convictions, and even if their
name is on file with the local police department.

Such vigilance is admirable, but Myles represents less than
two-thirds of children’s ministers who feel strongly that they need
to conduct background checks. Of the almost 1,400 children’s
ministers surveyed at childrensministry.com, 57 percent said their
churches conduct background checks on children’s ministry
volunteers. A whopping 43 percent admit their church does
not.

Another study reveals the same startling discovery. Eric Spacek,
Senior Church Risk Manager at GuideOne Insurance, cites a Barna
study that GuideOne sponsored showing that “about 57 percent of the
pastors who were polled said their church conducts background and
reference checks on all those who work with children and youth.”
Why not 100 percent?
     

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