Churches that value being a safe space will establish and implement policies for abuse prevention and response. Policies are imperative to ensuring that our churches are safe places. We may feel that adopting policies or requiring child abuse and criminal records checks insinuates that people cannot be trusted. We want to assume that no Christian would violate and harm another person and that therefore policies are not necessary. The reality, however, is that our churches are made up of imperfect people who are all prone to and will make sinful, non-loving choices.
Why are policies so important?
- When churches face cases of abuse without adequate policies, they quickly learn just how important it is to have thorough policies upon which to rely. Creating an ad-hoc process in the aftermath of an abuse disclosure will cause more harm to victims and all those involved.
- Prior to disclosing or reporting abuse, an individual should know exactly what to expect in terms of the process and their options. Those receiving a disclosure should also know exactly what their responsibilities are in terms of following up and assessing safety.
- Publicly sharing abuse related policies sends a positive signal to past survivors, to newcomers, to professionals, that the church takes abuse prevention seriously.
- Churches that deny the reality that abuse can occur in church are the most vulnerable to its members experiencing violations. Often leaders with predatorial tendencies will seek out churches that do not have adequate safe church practices in place.
- When policies and safety precautions are enforced it signals to pastors who perpetrate that they will not get away with sexualized behavior towards congregants.
- Policies signal to victims that there is a process that will ensue should they choose to report. This offers a level of security knowing that they have a right to safety, confidentiality, and due process.
- Provincial laws in Canada require that organizations who work with children or vulnerable persons must follow standard safety precautions. This includes child abuse and criminal record checks from all staff and volunteers working with vulnerable peoples.
- Policies are an essential aspect of preventing abuse in the church and ensuring disclosures are responded to appropriately and compassionately. However, if nobody is aware of the policies and nobody is holding the church accountable to them, they are essentially useless. Awareness, application, and accountability are key in order for policies to serve their purpose.
*It is crucial for all churches to have a Clergy Sexual Misconduct Policy, and a Child Protection Policy. Church attendees must be informed of and have access to the policies. Churches should also consider a general sexual harassment policy so that when an offence occurs between two congregants there is a procedure to fall back on.
Examples of clergy sexual misconduct policies:
Further resources on developing policies:
- Into Account
- Responding to Abuse: A toolkit for churches
- R.A.V.E. (Religion and Violence E-learning)
- G.R.A.C.E (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment)
- Faith Trust Institute
- Why Safe Church Policies?
- Mennonite Church USA Prevention and Response: Sexual Abuse and Non-Credentialed Individuals