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Preventing Child Abuse in Church

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. It offers an opportunity for communities of faith to focus attention on the ongoing legal and moral crime of diminishing and harming children. However, regardless of what month it is, congregations are responsible for putting in place a set of policies and practices that protect children from the predation we sadly know is too prevalent in faith community settings.

The Center for Congregations, a resource for Christian faith communities, provides links to three organizations that offer insight and guidance to help congregations raise awareness, understand their legal obligations, take measures to prevent child abuse, and take immediate action when abuse is suspected or occurs. Faith & Leadership, an online offering of Duke Divinity School, has an interview with Dr. Marie Fortune, founder of FaithTrust Institute, a multi-faith organization that works to end sexual and domestic violence. Her organization offers education and training in clergy ethics, pastoral care of sexual assault victims, prevention of child abuse, promotion of healthy relationships, and strategies for combating global sexual trafficking and exploitation. Religion News Service, a website of Religion Newswriters Association, an organization devoted to promoting and supporting excellence in religion news reporting, has two valuable resources. One features alarming statistics about child sexual abuse in church settings, and provides some disturbing perspective on abuse offered by abusers. The second is a page of resource and perspective articles by  Boz Tchevidjian, a former child abuse chief prosecutor who is the founder of GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment), and a grandchild of Rev. Billy Graham. The Tchevidjian resource page lists articles in which he addresses a wide range of church abuse issues and provides ways for congregations to respond to child abuse in the church.

Also consider our article from ON Scripture, titled "From Suffering to Hope." Although it is a Memorial Day reflection, it addresses suffering as a human condition and universal experience. Author Henry G. Brinton writes that, "Suffering is a part of every human experience," and "Because we live in a violent world, we should never expect anything to be pain-free, as much as we would like it to be." However, he notes, our Lord shares pain with us; suffering is a part of God's own experience, "especially the cruelty that was inflicted on Jesus in his trial and crucifixion." He "endured it and moved from the suffering of death to the hope of resurrection," a journey Paul also experienced. Yet, Paul could declare that he rejoiced in his suffering — not because it is good to suffer, but because he had discovered through painful personal experience that "suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us " (Romans 5:1-5). Brinton writes that Paul "challenges us" to find the presence of God in the midst of our suffering, because Jesus has been in the midst of it, too, and yet triumphed through hope and faith in his Creator/Father.

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