After reading this book by Deepak Reju about preventing and responding to child abuse at church, I found that it was very informative and a great read for anyone who is on staff at a church. This book tells real-life narratives rather than made-up scenarios. The reason for that is because Reju is a trusted elder in his local church and has many accomplishments as a father. The church has given the responsibility to protect and teach children under its care, just like any other facility/organization that takes care of children. The beginning highlights of this book warn us about the four false assumptions we may make in the church. The assumptions suggest that we believe it will never happen to us, sexual perpetrators are monsters, and they’re not anything like us, we know the people in our church, and our church is safe for our kids.
Most people have heard these excuses in some form or another from people within the church. Christians are naïve, on this subject because they don’t want to believe that abuse of any kind, goes on in the church. Reju describes sexual predators as sinful and wicked people. However, he believes that the power of the gospel will save them from spending eternity in hell. We are all sinful and all sins are equal. The most powerful statement Reju says, “Every good authority reflects God; and every bad authority speaks a lie to children about God and who he is,” this is a reflection on how important our position is with taking care of children, in general. The book gives us a warning about how sex offenders will try their best to take advantage of these false assumptions. In addition, Reju discusses the types and techniques of sexual predators.
These techniques are in place to gain trust with the church members. The second part of the book talks about eight strategies for protecting the church against abuse. The eight strategies are creating a child protection policy and implement it, having a check-in and check-out daily process, membership being the requirement for all volunteers, screening, and verification of all volunteers, consideration to the design of the building, training of evaluating for staff and volunteers, preparing leaders, parents, children, and teens before abuse happens, and getting to know the people in the community. These strategies are common sense but are a great reminder to us all. Reju seems to give insight that many churches need to address this topic more deeply. The church membership requirement in chapter eight is a very critical strategy. Out of all these strategies, the check-in and out process is what child predators rely on. They want to learn the routine and catch a child when they’re most vulnerable.
The last part of this book explains strategies for responding to abuse. This is the toughest part of the book to read. Responding to abuse is a very serious matter. The process explains how to report the abuse, how to assist and help the victim, and how to respond wisely to the perpetrator. Another piece of advice he gives is to have at least one health care professional as a member of the church. Having a health care professional benefits, the parental training. When a person in the church has perpetrators instincts, as a Christian you must treat them with grace and have forgiveness. Another issue that churches have is keeping their positive reputation. Although your reputation shouldn’t be the top priority in the church, but it should be addressed in order to gain as well as keep members. Jesus forgives us for our sins, why shouldn’t we forgive others, even when the sin is very sickening. This book is filled with plenty of suggestions, training materials, and advice on how to talk to children about abuse. Always be invested in your kids and teach them modesty and safety skills.
The last quote that is memorable from the book is when Reju says, “Protecting the children under your care is a way to preserve your gospel witness in your community.” Not only that but, “Our ethical and moral responsibility as Christians are to protect the children whom God has entrusted to us.” This book is very well presented so there are more strengths than there are weaknesses. The strengths are well represented in the first sections of the book. Reju starts out by addressing the false assumptions, which is smart on his part. Addressing what is wrong in our society within the church will illuminate some conflict on this topic. He also gives us a warning of how sexual predators know about these assumptions and takes advantage of them. Another strength is how Reju, explains the techniques that predators use.
This opens the eyes of the church staff and keeps them “on guard.” After reading all the chapter, there are a few pages on eight training scenarios for staff and volunteers. That strengthens the importance of this book. An example that talks about a college student are in the last scenario, it talks about a college student who helps with the youth group and he or she gets caught having sex with one of the high school students in the group. What should we do? Do the church policy help in this situation? Who do you tell? All these questions will help you with knowing how to respond if this were to happen in your church. Another strength is appendix B that covers the subject on child-on-child sexual abuse. According to the 2011 Child Maltreatment report, this made up less than six percent of predators reported to our government. The ages were between fourteen to nineteen. Going over the concern of common sexual behaviors and problematic sexual behaviors gives the readers more information to be aware of. The last strength of this book is how well Reju used the bible to justify using outside help. In genesis 9:5-6 it says that God establishes the power of the sword for the sake of a “reckoning” when harm comes.
This means we should authorize the governments to protect. All the things Reju talks about preventing church scandals and the prevention of children from being abused. As a childcare volunteer at my own church, this book helps with the fear that I have sometimes on this subject. This book has very few weaknesses, in my opinion. But as I was reading, I learned that a sexual predator’s aim is to exploit these Christian ideals, presented in the first few chapters. Sexual predator’s then turn them into weaknesses. A lot of times, Christians are less observant to be skeptical about people (or too quick to dismiss our skepticism). A degree of healthy observing is necessary to keep sexual predators away. In protecting our kids, we want to negotiate between real hope in God and a realistic outlook on the depravity of human beings. Many predators know that many churches don’t bother checking criminal records or do background checks. They’re too busy. The church may be small, so they feel like they know everyone (like my church.) People don’t think that sexual offenders will come to their church. Why bother with background checks, when the person is a nice, respectable person?
In January, I contacted Set Free Christian Fellowship (my home church) in Powdersville, South Carolina. I have been a member there for many years, and I also got baptized there. This church has been a great impact on my life, for the better. Unfortunately, I already know they do not have any sort of training/policies for people who work with children in the church. Our children ministry is called “Set Free Kids.” I volunteer in the toddler class, one Sunday a month, for my church outreach. When I called, I asked to speak with the director of the children ministries, her name is Stefanie Bowen and she is a loving and Godly young lady. I first started the conversation by saying how much I enjoy volunteering for her ministry. Then I told her about this biblical counseling class, and what my final paper is about. She was very intrigued! I finally asked her if she has considered having any training/policies for volunteers. She replied “yes, but we have known the people working with the children, for years.”
Then I said that is true, that means you trust them, greatly!” We began to talk about each of the people that volunteer, including me. She also mentioned that they have many outings for all the Set Free Kids volunteers to get to know each other. The outings include movie nights, skate night, and dinner. This seemed to be one of her replacements for not having a training course before overseeing the children. Although, I was trying my best not to be critical and I wasn’t. After that conversation, I told her those are all great things within the church to do but for training and policies, I told her to check out www.ministrysafe.com. I explained to her that Ministry Safe is a company that produced sexual abuse awareness videos that each student and faculty/staff member at Bob Jones University had to watch and it was very eye-opening and helpful for me.
I also recommended doing research on other churches in the area that may have proper policies in place for childcare workers in the church. After my recommendations, I feared that she would be discouraged and rude, but she was very pleased to hear that I had suggestions. We began to talk about some situations that she had just thought of that may have been helpful to have policies regarding the pick-up of a child at the door. She told me about a recent situation of a child getting picked up after the service was over by a parent that didn’t have permission to take the child. This situation sounded more like a custody court decision but would have helped if we had a policy in place to make sure we talk with the person dropping off the child if there are any questions or concerns. This alarmed me to mention if she has considered doing background checks on everyone who encounters children in the church.
Then she says, she does background checks on just the staff of each class. I suggested that is she could possibly give background checks to everyone. Just to play it safe, if something were to happen and it goes to court, she can be protected under the law, by having a background check. It only takes that one time, to really mess everything up. She then said, “you know, you’re so right!” After all the things were discussed, she mentioned that she will suggest these things at the next church official meeting. We ended the conversation by saying a prayer about wisdom and guidance on how to implement this subject in the church. It was ironic because that is what this biblical counseling class is all about and from Reju’s book. My recommended plan was to have policies and sexual abuse training for everyone involved with Set Free Kids. Sure enough! In March, Stefani announced the new policies and sexual abuse training for the Set Free Kids volunteers and leaders. The new training was given every other Thursday of each month. In addition, she mailed the new and improved policy book to each volunteer. God is good, all the time! The verse that came to mind when praising God for this great change in my church was Psalm 75:1 “We proclaim how great you are and tell of the wonderful things you have done.”