As we arrive on the doorstep of another Christmas and 2014 comes to a close, I have spent some time thinking about these past twelve months and what I have witnessed as many faith communities finally begin to understand and address the difficult issues related to child sexual abuse. Each step forward brings a new set of challenges that I believe give us much to look forward to in 2015. Here are just a very few examples:
A conservative Protestant denomination adopted one of the strongest public statements on child protection by any religious denomination or community. Passing the statement was only the beginning. The challenge forward will be whether these words will actually propel faith communities to action in transforming their understanding and approach to child sexual abuse. Much to look forward to in 2015.
A powerful documentary brought to light allegations of systematic abuse and neglect of children inside a large and well-known Christian community. Making this amazing film was only the beginning. The challenge forward will be whether faith communities will embrace these brave voices as agents of change in creating cultures that better protect little ones and have no tolerance for those who hurt them. Much to look forward to in 2015.
A well-known fundamentalist institution requested an independent Christian organization to investigate its responses to sexual abuse disclosures made by students. Not only did this school voluntarily initiate this investigation, but also it agreed for the results to be made public. By voluntarily engaging in this independent and transparent process, this institution has set an historical and Gospel-centered precedent for Christendom and the watching world. Inviting the investigation and publicizing its results is only the beginning. The challenge forward for this institution and every other community that professes to follow Jesus will be to learn how to better love and comfort the afflicted, while implementing changes that value, protect, and serve the vulnerable. Much to look forward to in 2015.
The launch of an remarkable new interactive training program called ‘Chaplains for Children’ sponsored the Gundersen National Child Protection Training Center. Faith leaders and child service professionals from around the country are coming together to learn how to better protect children from offenders and educate their respective communities about child sexual abuse. The development of a successful training program is only the beginning. The challenge forward is for programs like this to grow as more faith communities realize how much they need to learn when it comes to protecting and serving children. Much to look forward to in 2015.
A church that did all the right things when it learned that one of its members was suspected of abusing a child. Because of this church’s unwavering love for children and its incredible persistence to find truth, an offender is behind bars and abuse survivors are receiving much needed assistance. One church’s successful response to abuse is only the beginning. The challenge forward is for churches around the country to follow in the footsteps of a small church in West Virginia when learning that a member is suspected of sexually victimizing a child. Much to look forward to in 2015.
What was most amazing about 2014 were the growing number of heroic voices coming out of a Christian world who no longer accept silence as a response to abuse. These are the voices of victims, advocates, family members, clergy, and those that simply care. These are the beautiful voices of Lydia, Wendy, Kristi, Tam, David, Jamie, Sheri, Robert, Molly Catherine, Victor, Caleb, Laura, Amy(x4), Jonathan, Marshall, Charissa, Mark, Kim, Diane, Duncan, Peter, Adam, Stephanie, Rachel, Jen, Aubrey, Morven, Simon, Justin, Mary, Phil, Justin, Melody, Ed, Christopher, Norris, Mary Ellen, Beth, Diana, Mike (2x), Ken, Rob, Jason, Catherine, Shauna, Ryan, Dan, and the list could go on and on and on. As I wrote in my first post of 2014, “These are the voices that teach us so much about how this grave offense eviscerates the bodies and souls of God’s children. These are the voices that are often the life preservers for survivors who have lost all hope and find themselves alone and drowning. These are the voices that empower those suffering in silence to begin finding their own voice. These are the voices that help to expose the deceitful and dark lives of perpetrators. These are the voices of light. These are the voices of Jesus.” Much to look forward to in 2015.
Despite the progress and the remarkable voices of hope, this past year has seen too much of the same darkness and hurt that has defined the past. Perpetrators were embraced as children were abused, victims were sacrificed as reputations were protected, and too many Christians preferred to remain silent out of fear of alienating those with power and influence. In 2014, it was still often difficult to see Jesus amidst His Church.
But He is there and has never left.
As I look forward to Christmas, I cannot help but be reminded that God’s immeasurable value of little ones was so persuasively demonstrated on Christmas morning when He came to us as a baby. It is the voice from that beautiful child that turns everything upside down as He brings truth, light, and much needed hope to us all. It is that baby who gives each of us much to look forward to in 2015.