Pastor J.D. shares four important things to keep in mind when responding to instances of sexual abuse.

Note: If you heard Pastor J.D. answer this question last week, please go back to make sure you also listen to “What is the greatest need in the American church?”

A glimpse into this episode:

This is an extremely important question, so much so that after becoming SBC president, the first thing I did was appoint a Sexual Abuse Advisory Group to lead our denomination. They have been leading in dozens of ways—one of the biggest is they’re developing a curriculum to help churches answer this very question. Churches should be a safe haven for the vulnerable, so we need to do everything we can to make our churches safe for survivors and safe from abuse.

A few preliminary thoughts:

  • Don’t be shocked it’s happening.
  • Prioritize the protection of victims, not the guarding of your reputations.
  • Your goal is not to meet the minimal requirements–but as a shepherd to protect your flock.

This is just the start of an answer, but here are four important things to keep in mind:

  1. Disclosing sexual abuse takes an enormous amount of courage, so we should honor that.

This may be the least understood aspect of sexual abuse—it results in a huge loss of voice for the victim. Abuse is usually followed by threats not to say anything, and that’s usually what happens.

What you need to know is that the first time you hear about an instance of abuse, chances are the person talking to you has been carrying this for years. They’ve been terrified about what people will think. They’ve assumed they wouldn’t be believed. To speak up takes bravery.

Now, there are important responses and action steps after you hear of abuse. But don’t be so quick to rush to the action step that you forget your first response—listening to a person, made in God’s image, reveal one of the most hurtful experiences of their lives. Listen, listen, listen.

  1. If you know of a report of sexual abuse against a minor, you are legally obligated to alert the authorities.

This is not a “Matthew 18” situation. This is a “Romans 13” situation. Because certain sins are not only immoral; they are also illegal. This is never clearer than in the case of sexual abuse against minors.

If you know of sexual abuse against a minor, no matter who you are, no matter who they are, your first response is to alert the authorities. Call CPS or call the police. You may not know all of the best next steps. But they do, and you need to bring them in. The safety of more children than you know may be on the line.

  1. If an abuser has access to minors at your church, remove the access immediately—and, again, call the authorities.

Statistics here are horrifying. Those who abuse minors don’t just do it once or twice. They do it repeatedly, even after they’ve been caught (if given the opportunity). So if you know about one case, you need to see that as dozens of more potential cases. This isn’t a gray area: Bring in the authorities.

We need to reject any understanding of grace that puts the vulnerable in harm’s way by giving abusers a chance to do it again

  1. Help connect the survivor to other resources.

If someone has disclosed to you, that’s an honor. And you will have a key role in their healing process. But you need to know you shouldn’t be shouldering this alone.

Questions are going to come up—pretty early—that are best processed through a counseling relationship. So one of the best things you can do for a victim is to get them connected to a counselor. This isn’t a handoff—you need to remind the victim that you are still there and want to process everything with them—but it allows other people more trained in abuse care to do what they do best.

Conclusion: It’s a gospel issue

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