A church that gets it!

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A former church youth volunteer in Bluefield, West Virginia, was recently arrested on charges of child sexual abuse.  The arrest was a culmination of the actions by an amazing church that actually took the right steps when learning that one of its members was suspected of abusing a child.  As a result, at least 12 individuals have stepped forward to report being sexually abused as a child by this individual.

Westminster Presbyterian Church - photo courtesy of Bluefield Historical Society

Westminster Presbyterian Church – photo courtesy of Bluefield Historical Society

This church understands the importance of responding with excellence to disclosures of child sexual abuse.  This church gets it!  Here are 6 lessons we can learn from them:

  1. Immediately call the police:  Upon being alerted to suspected abuse, the church leadership immediately went to law enforcement and reported what they had learned.   This church gets it – the law mandates that we report the suspected abuse of children to those in authority. [tweetable]Reporting abuse may save the life of a child and is the only way perpetrators will be brought to justice.[/tweetable]
  2. Remove suspected abuser from access to children:  When the church leaders were informed about the alleged abuse, they immediately suspended the suspect from attending worship services.  He was subsequently removed from all church related activities.  This church gets it – Christians have a spiritual and lawful responsibility to remove suspected abusers from having access to little ones. We must always caution on the side of protecting the vulnerable amongst us.
  3. Persistent in the search for truth:  After reporting to the police, the church was told that the defendant’s behavior was “inappropriate”, but not “actionable”. In many ways, it would have been much easier for this church to accept the response from law enforcement.  They could have patted themselves on the back for reporting the matter, and simply claimed that their hands were tied.  However, church leaders were not satisfied that they had “gotten to the bottom of the situation” and decided that they had no choice but to conduct their own investigation.  As a result, “actionable” evidence was uncovered and immediately reported to the police. This church gets it – the search for truth in order to protect little ones and serve abuse survivors is a profound way to live out the Gospel.
  4. Cooperate with law enforcement:  This church cooperated with law enforcement from day one.  This church gets it – [tweetable]police are not the enemy, but in fact are the best equipped to investigate allegations related to the abuse of children.[/tweetable] Even when law enforcement seemed to throw in the towel, the church leaders demonstrated continued cooperation by immediately turning over the additional evidence it had uncovered.  This church gets it – the authorities must have the cooperation of witnesses in order to conduct thorough investigations and bring justice to perpetrators.
  5. Focus on loving and serving survivors: Shortly after the arrest, the church released a very powerful statement relating to the arrest of its former volunteer.  The statement starts out by saying, Westminster wants to thank the courageous survivors who have come forward.  Their voices have carried light into darkness and have empowered others who face abuse.  Quite simply, those who have come forward are heroes.  Wow!  This church gets it – when learning of abuse allegations, the priority of the Christian community must be to love, serve and protect the abuse survivors.   This statement clearly reflects that the culture of this church is one in which victims of all types of abuse are welcomed and safe.  What a beautiful real life demonstration of the words of Jesus, Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
  6. Be teachable:  The public statement released by the church also states, We are also committed to a careful re-examination of all our child and youth safeguarding measures and policies.  This church gets it – even churches that seem to have a solid understanding of this issue must remain teachable and learn from the past.  Though this church responded with excellence to this very difficult situation, it acknowledges that it must become better educated and equipped in protecting children.  Such a statement speaks volumes about its teachable spirit.  [tweetable]Teachable churches are safer churches.[/tweetable]

If all churches learned to “get it” like a church in Bluefield, West Virginia, perhaps the Christian community would become the place where children are safest and weary survivors find true rest.  Don’t you think Jesus would approve?




  • RJ

    Very encouraging response! Larger institutions can learn much from their example.

  • Rachel S

    Excellent! Thank you, Westminster, for showing us it CAN be done!

  • Shary Hauber

    Thank you for showing this church as an example of what all churches should be. Maybe there should be a support network where such churches can connect with one another. I am afraid there are very few of them.

    It is sad when a church can get over 30,000 to support on FaceBook a person arrested for child abuse. Where are the supporters for this church?

  • AJ

    I think one of the biggest fears many of the churches that don’t get it have is the media. They are afraid “if it gets out” they might lose face publicly. What they fail to realize is their actions to hide the abuse do more damage than openness.
    Westminster’s press release reads similar to those a secular organization might publish. It clearly states they discovered a serious problem, contacted authorities, took appropriate measures, and ask that anyone who has information contact the authorities. Just because something is the way a secular organization would do it does not mean it is wrong.

  • This is SO ENCOURAGING, what joy!
    Thank you for your work, dedication!

  • Oscar

    Where also is the honesty in this Facebook page? All comments that support the children or the whistleblower are wiped. A foreign government has been bombarded with the same message to free the detained and now the U.S. Authorities are being bombarded with the same message.
    This helps no one, because it is a blatant attempt to pervert the course of justice by interfering with the judicial process of another sovereign country.
    It would appear the U.S. government has wisely not yielded to the pressure.

    Meanwhile a petition calling on church leaders to take a firm stand against child abuse didn’t even reach 2000 signatures.

    That I would humbly suggest is disgraceful.

  • Jonathan

    I am the pastor of Westminster, and want to add a couple things that Boz humbly left out. First, in our early moments of anxiety and confusion, we turned to Boz and his resources with GRACE. He pointed us in the right direction and helped me at several points along the way. Secondly, God has been very gracious and has seen fit to help us in this situation. It has been a good reminder that He is bigger than even the biggest messes. Please pray for our church as we have a lot of road ahead of us in this situation.

  • Learning to be a survivor

    Jonathan, I want to thank you directly for the decisions your church made in this situation. I haven’t quite known how to respond to the article. Reading it brought so much hope.
    The journey I and so many others have experienced was so different from the journey these children will go through. I can’t even imagine what that would be like to be supported, loved, cared for, to not be completely alone. What you offered those children and families is an immeasurable gift.
    It is as if the offender placed these children on a journey of shame, humiliation, fear, loneliness, despair, hopelessness, etc. Instead of abandoning them to continue on that journey and shoving them deeper into a pit by silencing them, it seems you and others jumped into the pit with them and together you are finding a way to take a different path, towards healing, towards hope, towards love. You didn’t leave them alone! For that, I see you and the other leaders of that church as heroes. Thank you for not abandoning these children and their families.
    Others may disagree, but I also see the decision as a gift to the offender. It is not “kindness” to him to hide his crime. It leaves him to continue to destroy himself and those around them with evil. Stopping him gives him at least an opportunity to honestly face his actions.
    Am hopeful that other churches will follow your lead. Thank you. Even for those who did not experience this type of response in our own lives, this offers a taste of healing and hope. I hope that your church is blessed as you pave the way for others to follow your lead.

  • Learning to be a survivor

    Also, Boz, thank you for being there to walk this church through this terrible time. I am so incredibly thankful for what you and GRACE offer. It is a beautiful thing to see you do and know that it is in God’s name and perhaps because of your love for God.
    At times, it is a bit confusing as so many offenders abused in God’s name. Seeing you show so much compassion and kindness towards those of us who others turn away from is one of the few things I cling to in trying to know and see that God is good, that he cares for those of us who are broken and that he did NOT condone the decisions of those who abuse and those who hide abuse. Thank you!
    I struggle with understanding who God is. I fear connecting to his people, fearing the shame of them somehow learning of the abuse I went through and turning away in disgust.
    Many times, when my fears and doubts are beginning to overwhelm me, I read some of the articles on the GRACE page and they encourage me towards hope, towards a God of healing, towards a God that might really care.

  • Rebecca

    Tears of joy. Thank you, Boz. Thank you, Jonathan. Not only did you do the right thing initially, but you went above and beyond to HEAR the abused when so many have silenced them, to SPEAK for the abused when they thought they were silenced for fear. This is the heart of Jesus.

  • Cristina Agramonte

    All churches should follow this church’s example of love and compassion for the children. The Jehovah Witnesses religion requires two witnesses to child molestation. If the child cannot present two witnesses, he is silenced with threat of being disfellowshipped. Parents are not warned so as to protect their children from child predators. There are thousands of serial pedophiles in that religion. They claim they protect children and detest this crime but in reality they protect pedophiles. They even appoint them to positions of leadership in the religion if they are not “known” to be pedophiles which most of them are not known as such because the children have been silenced.

  • Jonathan – Thanks for your kind words. We were grateful to be able to serve you all during such a difficult season. That is another way your church got it – you stepped forward and asked for help! Thanks for your example – you have inspired and encouraged so many.

  • Thank you. However, you and so many like you are the real heroes in this journey. Thank you for the encouragement and inspiration you are to me and those who advocate for precious survivors. Your voices are what matters and are what is making a difference.

  • Cristina Agramonte: You forgot to add this: Even if a pedophile is “known” in the general community, the congregation itself may still consider him or her to be innocent if there were no second witnesses to any accusations, even if the creep is doing time in prison. It’s absolutely horrifying. When a Jehovah’s Witness comes to your door, you do not know if he or she is a practicing child molester. It’s very scary.

  • Cristina Agramonte

    You’re right, Tami. And members of the congregation will go to Court and support the molester while shunning his victim. Pure evil and hypocritical because they condemn the Catholic Church for protecting pedophile priests. Even one member of the Governing Body was removed because of allegations of pedophilia (two boys) but was never disfellowshipped, just moved to another state.

  • Pat

    This is the right response from the church; calling the people who stood up for the truth, heroes. And it is the right response for the offender’s sake; any judgment on this side is actually mercy.

    Most assemblies get it all wrong, especially when the issue is spousal abuse. When the woman speaks out about his sin of abuse, in an effort to get help, the standard response is to tell her that she’s got problems too, and that she shouldn’t slander her husband. The sin on the husband’s part isn’t rebuked as Scripture says should happen. It takes a lot less backbone to blame the wife than to correct that man. Somehow he polishes his front, deceives the easily deceived church goers and becomes the victim when she decides to not enable him in his sin so divorces him. Now she’s to blame cuz she ends the marriage when he is the one who treated her treacherously and is unrepentant. Living it.

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  • Carolyn

    Jonathan, grateful that you and other leaders sought the leading of the Holy Spirit in dealing with this situation, as well as guidance from places such as Boz’s.

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  • I just have to say “thank you” from a survivor that experienced and observed abuse in every church I attended growing up (they were all Independent Fundamentalist Baptist churches). I cried reading this story. When I read stories like this I am encouraged for the future of the church.

    I am SO GLAD you knew about GRACE to call them. I’ve attended a conference with Boz and he is a personal hero of mine. I wish there had been someone like him in my childhood churches.

    All that said, I am so very sorry for the road your church is traveling. I can well imagine the pain. Faithful is He who calls you Who also will do it. His grace will strengthen you and enable you as you serve and love those in your church.

  • I couldn’t resist the opportunity to blog about this. http://isupporttinaanderson.blogspot.com/2014/05/grace-is-wonderful-resource-for-churches.html
    Thank you for your work, Boz!

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  • Thoughts

    Yes the church handled the situation well; and its a great outline of how to handle such a crisis.

    How can churches prevent this? And I implying not searching for background checks with youth workers (although definitely a good idea). I am implying reaching out to those struggling with the temptation of child abuse.

    Child molestation is a disgusting urge, but sometimes people spend a life time dealing with the urges by themselves. Can or should churches reach out and try to help people struggling with this?

    The moment one acts on the urge it is not only a legal offense, but a dangerous situation. But maybe churches can prevent people from taking such steps within the congregation.

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