Protect His Sheep

A call to action for the Christian shepherds of the U.S. and Canada
Online Letter to Elders and Leaders of New Testament Assemblies Concerning the Sexual Abuse of Children

Dear Brothers in Christ,

Greetings in the name of our Holy God. We trust that you are well and pressing on in loving service of our Savior.

We write concerning an urgent matter.

Through the Galilee Program and other ministries in which we are involved, we have had the privilege of meeting many young adults from assemblies across the United States and Canada, as well as other countries. These young adults have told us of God’s blessings in their lives and the churches in which they fellowship. We thank God for the great work that He is doing.

Unfortunately, some of these young adults have also shared disturbing information concerning the sexual abuse of children in various assemblies. Several have even given first-hand accounts of abuse they personally experienced as children.

One young woman, who spoke to us in 2015, told us that she had been sexually abused as a child by a man in her assembly. She also believed that her experience was not an isolated incident, but representative of a problem that is more prevalent within our church circles than we realize. At that point, we advised this young woman (as well as the others who had informed us of being sexually abused) to speak to her parents and elders about the problem.

We now believe that we underestimated the seriousness and urgency of this matter, and that our response was inadequate. In July of 2017, the young woman's sister also participated in the Galilee Program. She too expressed her concerns about the sexual abuse of children, both boys and girls, in Christian families. She shared that her sister had written about her experience as an 11-year-old victim for an online blog and that more than 20 women in the assemblies had responded to her story, some of whom had also been sexually abused as children.

We have since contacted and obtained permission from 14 of the respondents to read their stories. Of the responses we read, 10 or 11 had personally experienced sexual abuse. All respondents appeared to agree that the sexual abuse of children in Christian communities (with whom we fellowship) is not uncommon.

While it is difficult for us to estimate the magnitude of the problem, we believe there is sufficient evidence for us to bring this matter to your attention, as church elders and leaders. To our relative surprise, the abusers are not primarily non-acquaintances, but rather fathers, grandfathers, siblings, and cousins; church leaders, including elders, itinerant preachers, and evangelists; and other members of the church body. In light of this information, we urge you to review your guidelines and practices regarding the pastoral care of children in your assembly.

It is our understanding that: (1) most U.S. states consider elders, missionaries, and full-time workers to be clergy and require them under the law, as mandatory reporters, to notify the authorities of reported child abuse; (2) some U.S. states require any person who suspects child abuse to report it to the authorities; and (3) in Canada, varying by province, doctors, social workers, teachers, and all others who have reasonable grounds to suspect any form of abuse or neglect of a child may be obligated under the policy of their work place or provincial legislation to report the suspicion and the information on which it is based to the appropriate authorities.

We see our particular role in responding to this matter as limited to raising awareness in our communities, providing public resources, and offering Christian support and prayer to anyone who reaches out to us. Nonetheless, we have urged those who have shared their stories, or the stories of others, to immediately report to the authorities all cases in which a minor has been abused or is in imminent danger or harm, and we will continue to do so.

We strongly believe that, as elders and leaders of the church, we all have a moral and ethical responsibility to immediately report to the relevant authorities any disclosure of abuse of a minor. While we are not attorneys and do not intend this to be a legal mandate or to be used to solicit disclosures of abuse, we prayerfully believe this policy is best for all involved.

Even more important than a potential legal obligation to address abuse within our communities, it is clear that failure to protect the children under our care is also an offense against God. Jesus told His disciples:

It is inevitable that stumbling blocks should come, but woe to him through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should cause one of these little ones to stumble. Be on your guard! (Luke 17:1-3)

Paul exhorted the elders of Ephesus:

Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which He bought with His own blood. (Acts 20:28)

Moving forward, we ask that you please consider the following questions:

1) Have you instructed parents on how to speak to their children about sexual matters, as a safeguard against abuse?

2) Are you, and those involved in ministry to children, aware of the signs of child abuse?

3) Do you understand your responsibilities, as possible mandatory reporters, in the state or province in which you reside?

4) Do you have adequate safeguards in place to protect children participating in the ministries of the church, including the vetting of workers (e.g. background checks) and prohibitions against adults being alone with children?

5) Are you on guard against sexual predators visiting your church and knowledgeable of the methods they use to groom a child for sexual abuse?

6) Are you aware of the insidious nature of child abuse and the fact that most children who are abused will not report the abuse to their parents or others in authority?

7) Are you prepared to minister to a victim of sexual abuse?

8) Are you prepared to minister to a person accused of child sexual abuse?

We thank God for those elders who have already addressed the problem of child abuse in the church and have adequate safeguards in place. If this is true of your assembly, please reach out with support to other assemblies in your region. To assist those elders who have yet to address this matter, to provide additional support for those who already have, and given the urgency of the matter, we have set up this website to provide easily accessible resources. At your discretion, please feel free to share this page with others in your assembly.

We pray for God’s encouragement and discernment as you continue in the faithful service of ministering to His flock. May He bless you in your care of the children in your assembly.

In Christ’s Service,

James McCarthy, Steve Price, Brady Collier
Directors of the Galilee Program

Endorsements in Support of this Call to Action

I heartily endorse the efforts being made through this letter to stir up courage among elders to face head-on the issue of sexual abuse within their own local churches in an open and forthright way, to create environments in which the abused feel safe, empowered and believed when they tell their story, and to be willing to take the necessary action in dealing with perpetrators regardless of the consequences.

Let us not underestimate the positive impact that rescuing victims and disciplining perpetrators will have within the local church and as a testimony to a world that, to our shame, is now becoming more proactive on this issue than the church has been. Let us also consider the high cost of inaction, willful ignorance, and abdication of our spiritual responsibilities.

~ Phil Barnes

Over the past decade of public ministry, I have heard the stories of numerous youth who have dealt with abuse and spoken out. That said, in the light of the many voices that are fearful to speak out, I wholeheartedly support this effort to bring awareness and wisdom to local churches as it pertains to this matter of protecting our children.

~ Nate Bramsen

“He who covers his sin will not prosper, But whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy.”—Proverbs 28:13

“O Lord God of Israel, You are righteous. . . . Here we are before You, in our guilt, though no one can stand before You because of this!”—Ezra 9:15

I am in hearty agreement with the brothers who penned this letter. This problem among us is serious, and we must respond to it in a God-honoring way (humility, brokenness, repentance, confession, and a seeking of the Lord for His forgiveness and healing). There are many ways to be a good example, and one of them is to stand and acknowledge the sin of the people and confess our guilt in the presence of a holy and worthy God. Ezra did this. Nehemiah did this. Moses did this.

It is our due diligence to deal with both the reality of these issues among us and be diligent to put into place standards that will safeguard those under our care.

Lord, help our response to reflect the severity of this issue, the holiness of our God, and our desperate need of His healing and restoration. Work among us to make us a people "useful for the Master" (2 Timothy 2:21).

A Sinner Saved by Grace,

~ Scott DeGroff

I endorse the efforts being made by Jim, Brady, and Steve and join them. As a community of churches across North America and the world, we need to know the right thing to do, then do it—in every case, no exceptions. “Without faith it is impossible to please God.”

Since we are witnesses, what we say and do reflects upon the Lord Jesus Christ and is meant to reveal something of who He is to others. We are to be recommending Him to those who so desperately need Him.

In the kinds of cases of abuse which we are addressing here, what we’re not saying and not doing also reflects upon our Savior. It’s our problem and not His, but He takes the hit. When we consider the wolves in sheep's clothing or the rogue sheep more important and valuable than those who are attacked, it’s reasonable and right for people to make the accusation, “Christians are hypocrites.”

Unfortunately there are many stories known to me. Predictably and heartbreakingly, most involve powerless children and women, both younger and older, as victims. Most perpetrators are men known to those who suffer because they hold positions of trust and perceived power. As we are now involved in WorkerCare overseas, I know we will hear more stories that will tragically be added to this list.

Of all the stories I am aware of, two stand out because they are not typical: They involve men who as teens were preyed upon and abused by older women. The psychological and spiritual impact in both cases was crushing for them and affected their future marriages and families.

Regrettably, having often learned the hard way as an elder and mission worker, I urge everyone: We need to please God by taking steps of faith. We need to stop showing favoritism. We need to trust and obey rather than trying to reason and rationalize ourselves out of necessary and godly action. We need to represent the Good Shepherd of the sheep who always did what was right when it came to the wolves and rogues.

All things can work together for good but only if we love the Lord enough to DO what He says… protect His sheep!

~ Ron Hampton

The issue of sexual abuse among children in assembly circles has often been overlooked, mishandled, and even denied. Many innocent and trusting children, both girls and boys, have suffered deep emotional scars from physical violations experienced during the most vulnerable and impressionable years of their lives—often with devastating, long-term effects.

Seeing the need, the Galilee Program has committed to launching an assembly-wide initiative that, with God’s help, will motivate many in

assembly leadership to take the necessary steps to implement a program in their local fellowship to stem the tide of this far-reaching moral epidemic. Their efforts in the Lord are worthy of your consideration, and we ask that you stand with them in prayerful support and active involvement in this endeavor.

~ Mark Kolchin

The issue of sexual abuse among children in assembly circles has often been overlooked, mishandled, and even denied. Many innocent and trusting children, both girls and boys, have suffered deep emotional scars from physical violations experienced during the most vulnerable and impressionable years of their lives—often with devastating, long-term effects.

Seeing the need, the Galilee Program has committed to launching an assembly-wide initiative that, with God’s help,

will motivate many in assembly leadership to take the necessary steps to implement a program in their local fellowship to stem the tide of this far-reaching moral epidemic. Their efforts in the Lord are worthy of your consideration, and we ask that you stand with them in prayerful support and active involvement in this endeavor.

~ Mark Kolchin

The issue of sexual abuse among children in assembly circles has often been overlooked, mishandled, and even denied. Many innocent and trusting children, both girls and boys, have suffered deep emotional scars from physical violations experienced during the most vulnerable and impressionable years of their lives—often with devastating, long-term effects.

Seeing the need, the Galilee Program has committed to launching an assembly-wide

initiative that, with God’s help, will motivate many in assembly leadership to take the necessary steps to implement a program in their local fellowship to stem the tide of this far-reaching moral epidemic. Their efforts in the Lord are worthy of your consideration, and we ask that you stand with them in prayerful support and active involvement in this endeavor.

~ Mark Kolchin

The issue of sexual abuse among children in assembly circles has often been overlooked, mishandled, and even denied. Many innocent and trusting children, both girls and boys, have suffered deep emotional scars from physical violations experienced during the most vulnerable and impressionable years of their lives—often with devastating, long-term effects.

Seeing the need, the Galilee Program has committed to launching an assembly-wide initiative that, with God’s help, will motivate many in assembly leadership to take the necessary steps to implement a program in their local fellowship to stem the tide of this far-reaching moral epidemic. Their efforts in the Lord are worthy of your consideration, and we ask that you stand with them in prayerful support and active involvement in this endeavor.

~ Mark Kolchin

The issue that has been raised in this letter is one of tremendous importance and sadly increasing prevalence in our society, but increasingly also in our churches, because they are often representative of the communities that they are embedded within. I would like to thank the young woman who spoke up for the courage and willingness to publicly cast light on what for many is a dark and never-revealed personal secret, even amongst brothers and sisters in Christ, and even family members. We need to be reminded that sadly there are many more like this young woman amongst our churches, and they need to know that they are safe, especially with those whom they are in fellowship with in Christ.

I would like to thank, as well, the brothers in Christ who have been burdened to boldly cast a light on this dark secret. The reality is that wherever there are vulnerable populations, such as children and youth, there is considerable risk for sexual abuse, and that includes our churches.

Depending on the demographics of your local church, these events may occur within the local church, or may be happening to children and youth in their home or other setting. Regardless of where the incidents occur, these children and youth need to be physically, socially, emotionally, and spiritually supported to understand what has occurred and how to journey through the stormy waters that surround them.

As shepherds, there needs to be a sensitivity to the risks and harms that are awaiting the flock, especially the most vulnerable. There needs to be a willingness to publicly speak about these topics in love and tenderness, while also being true to the Scriptures, so that those affected directly will feel that they are loved and supported through this challenging journey.

~ Jerry Maniate

Churches are to be safe places considering the transforming work of Christ in the lives of those who attend them. Yet, it is this strength that is most susceptible to turn to jello because of at least three reasons. First, the continuing presence of sin where even the most well-intentioned among us should not presume that we will never become the aggressor ourselves. So, the need for us to be held accountable. Second, the false sense of security with those with whom we are familiar--a social comfort that lowers our guard, and caution for familiarity breeds carelessness. So, the need for rules of engagement. Third, the unvetted walk-ins to our meetings. These are those we don't know much about, some of whom are seeking to know Christ. Our automatic response and adrenaline rush, however, is to be extra-protective. This often makes the churches feel unwelcoming and aloof. So, the need to know about the safeguards in place.

The struggle of churches is therefore this balance between soul care and people safety. How do we handle the concern for the salvation, growth and maturity of the souls, with the concern for the safety of all these souls? Awareness! Awareness! Awareness!

Awareness by having well-documented process of care—policies and procedures. Awareness by training those in ministry. Awareness by communicating these to the congregation regularly. That is where comes in.

I see this resource as extremely important and timely. I pray that your church will benefit from this ministry.

~ Viji Roberts

There is hardly any greater privilege then being a shepherd of God’s precious, blood-bought children. The New Testament strongly emphasizes the protecting, guarding, and watching ministry of spiritual shepherds (Acts 20:28-31). Shepherds are to protect God’s sheep with their lives. And for that, they will give an account to the Chief Shepherd (Hebrews 13:17).

Protecting the sheep not only means protecting them from the false teacher, but from anyone who would hurt and abuse them, particularly the little lambs who are vulnerable to deceivers and predators, even within the family circle.

There is nothing in the guarding ministry that is more difficult than having to confront family members with the abuse of their own children. But they must be confronted, because they are people in authority and trusted positions, abusing their power over vulnerable members of the church family. Those who abuse children are deniers, deceivers, and predators. They will do everything possible to protect themselves: try to intimidate you into silence, accuse you of doing evil, and even blame the victim. Even the congregation may try to silence the accuser.

The best thing we can do as shepherds of God’s flock is expose the sin and deal with it. Covering up such scandals is false protection and an even further disgrace to the gospel message and to our churches than the scandal being hushed up.

It takes great courage, strength, and obedience to the Word of God to expose and deal with abuse. It takes great commitment to protect the little ones. Today that means practical things like requiring background checks and fingerprinting, having policies about appropriate conduct, following up on any rumors of physical or sexual abuse, and giving public warnings against any kind of abuse of children, sexually or physically. Of all places, the local church should be most diligent in protecting children from sexual and physical abusers.

I fully endorse the efforts of those responsible for this public call to awaken us to this grave sin against God’s little ones, and to not be silent or cower before child abusers.

~ Alex Strauch

Recommended Resources for Elders

We recognize this is not only a problem within our circles. Others in the body of Christ are facing such issues. We have previewed the following resource websites and found them to be the most beneficial and insightful. As with all things, prayerfully consider the content.

1. Guidance for parents on how to safeguard their children against sexual abuse

Talking to Your Kids About Sexual Abuse
Jon Holsten, Focus on the Family website

Parents who consider their children "safe" from sexual victimization live in false security and set a dangerous course for their families.

The U.S. Department of Justice reports that 67 percent of all sexual assault victims are children. Another study by the National Center for Victims of Crime (2000) shows that 33 percent of girls (1 out of 3) are sexually abused before the age of 18. Sixteen percent of boys (roughly 1 out of 6) are sexually abused before the age of 18. These alarming figures demonstrate why parents must work diligently to keep their children out of potential risky situations and teach them what to do if someone tries to exploit them sexually.

The person most likely to sexually abuse your child is a person your child knows – and trusts. The sex offender looks for a child who trusts him and can be convinced to stay quiet about inappropriate physical contact. It could be a family member, close relative, neighbor, or trusted youth worker.

Discussing sexuality and/or sexual abuse with your child can be uncomfortable, but in today's world responsible parents cannot afford to skirt the issue. Here are some practical suggestions to incorporate in your home:


2. Signs that a child is being sexually abused

What Is Child Abuse and Neglect? Recognizing the Signs and Symptoms
Child Welfare Information Gateway Website

Recognizing Signs of Abuse and Neglect

Some children may directly disclose that they have experienced abuse or neglect. The factsheet How to Handle Child Abuse Disclosures, produced by the “Childhelp Speak Up Be Safe” child abuse prevention campaign, offers tips. The factsheet defines direct and indirect disclosure, as well as tips for supporting the child: Click Here.

The following signs may signal the presence of child abuse or neglect.

The Child:

  1. Shows sudden changes in behavior or school performance
  2. Has not received help for physical or medical problems brought to the parents’ attention
  3. Has learning problems (or difficulty concentrating) that cannot be attributed to specific physical or psychological causes
  4. Is always watchful, as though preparing for something bad to happen
  5. Lacks adult supervision
  6. Is overly compliant, passive, or withdrawn
  7. Comes to school or other activities early, stays late, and does not want to go home
  8. Is reluctant to be around a particular person
  9. Discloses maltreatment

3. Responsibilities of church leaders as possible mandatory reporters

Mandatory Reporting Laws: Child Abuse and Neglect Website

Incidences of child abuse and neglect have a profound effect on the lives of many children across the United States. Therefore, all states have set in place variations of mandatory reporting laws in order to decrease and prevent these incidents from occurring. These laws help ensure that cases of child abuse are reported to the proper authorities.

What are Mandatory Reporting Laws?

Mandatory reporting laws differ for each state when it comes to child abuse – which includes physical abuse, sexual abuse, and emotional abuse. However, it's important to remember that many of these laws also cover child neglect. In some states, these laws require that people in certain professions report child abuse and neglect to a proper authority, such as a law enforcement agency or child protective services. In other states, the mandatory reporting laws require that any person who suspects child abuse or neglect report any such instance.

What Types of People are Typically Required to Report Abuse?

According to information provided to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), there are 48 states that have mandatory reporting laws that require designated professionals to report child abuse and neglect. These individuals are usually people who have frequent contact with children because of their occupation. The following is a sampling of mandatory reporters according to state:

In California – Teachers, teacher's aides, employees of day camps and youth centers, social workers, physicians, and clergy members.

In New York - Physicians, dentists, licensed therapists, school officials, peace officers, and district attorneys.


Clergy as Mandatory Reporters of Child abuse and neglect

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Child Welfare website

Every State, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have statutes that identify persons who are required to report child maltreatment under specific circumstances.

Approximately 28 States and Guam currently include members of the clergy among those professionals specifically mandated by law to report known or suspected instances of child abuse or neglect. In approximately 18 States and Puerto Rico, any person who suspects child abuse or neglect is required to report it.


Child Abuse Information by Province

Many people are unsure of whether they are legally obligated to report a criminal offense if they suspect or believe that one is taking place, particularly when it comes to children, child abuse or the abuse of an adult.

According to information from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and other sources:

No person has the explicit duty to report a crime, as there is no obligation to do so within the Criminal Code of Canada. This means that although a person may suspect that a crime has taken place, they are under no legal obligation to report it and cannot be convicted of an offense, as no such offense exists.

When speaking of persons in professional positions such as those of doctors or teachers, they may be obligated under the policy of their work place or provincial legislation to report crimes that they believe have been committed. Because of their professional positions, these types of people have an ethical and also legal obligation under the laws of the province in which they work, or are bound by their work contracts; to report any suspicions or beliefs they have about the abuse or neglect of a child to the appropriate authorities.


4. Safeguards for Christian ministers to protect children from abuse

Protecting Children at Church: 6 Suggestions
Chris Hefner, Lifeway website

[Clarification—The following author recommends that all adults working in nursery ministry should be a church member for at least three months. We recommend that all adults working in any ministry to children should be in church fellowship for at least one year.]

The church has an important responsibility to protect the children and youth underneath its care. Jesus said in Matthew 18:5-6 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened to his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” (ESV). I’m aware this text has a variety of implications. But one that is surely in view (particularly in today’s culture) is the responsibility to protect children from abuse underneath the umbrella of the church ministries and program windows.

I’ve counseled and known far too many people who are broken, marred, angered, and scarred by abuse that they experienced. I’m sure you’ve counseled, comforted, and prayed with them as well. The grave sin of abuse (physical, emotional, or sexual) from a caretaker, family member, or leader is a horrible blight on society. And in turn, the abused are the ones who suffer greatly—spiritually, psychologically, and emotionally.

For example, we should be angry at the abuses far too prevalent in the Catholic Church due to a complete misunderstanding of the idea of celibacy in Scripture. We should also be angry when a youth pastor or child molester finds a home in a careless church. Therefore, we should be vigilant to protect children when they are under our watch at the church. Below are some suggestions and practices we employ at Mud Creek Baptist Church:

1. Every worker from nursery through high school ministry has to undergo a background check before serving. This is the least any church should do. Just having to take a background check will discourage many child predators from viewing your church as an easy target. This practice will protect children and also can provide a legal safeguard in lieu of a lawsuit should your church be the location for abuse. [Editor’s note: LifeWay offers a special discounted service to churches needing background checks.]

2. Develop a check in and check out policy in your children/youth areas. At the least you should not allow elementary age children to leave their classroom/ministry area without a parent or guardian. Also, in our nursery rooms, we have cameras as one way to attempt to remain above reproach (I realize this may not be feasible for every church, but we also require each nursery room to have 2 adult leaders as a manner of accountability).

3. Be above reproach in all your leadership choices, especially regarding off campus trips and relationships with children/students. While this appears to be a no brainer, student leaders/pastors should not be alone with students. We pay for adults to go on camp trips particularly for this reason. More adults create more accountability. Again, these adults should be vetted.


Protecting Kids From Pedophiles in Churches
Mark Harper, website

Last week a local Fox News Channel aired a story that hit a little too close to home.

The story is titled “Child Porn Investigation: His Charisma Can Fool You”. It’s about a family who are members of my former church and a 14-year old girl that was stalked by a pedophile. The really scary thing is this man was not some stranger, but a fellow staff member. He was a really nice guy.

Before you start thinking that could never happen at your church, don’t kid yourself. A few months ago there was a children’s pastor arrested at another influential church in Twin Cities for a propositioning kids on the Internet. In my opinion this problem is only going to get worse and most of our churches are not prepared.

I think we create a false sense of security in our churches.

We advertise that we have a safe environment for kids because we have done background checks on volunteers and we have a computerized check in system, but what if the pedophile is on staff and has no criminal history?

What if the pedophile is the guy you eat lunch with every day? The truth is that only 10% of victims are abused by a stranger while someone they trust like a teacher or family friend abuse 60% of victims.

The challenge for us that work in churches is that we want to create a culture of trust and acceptance and pedophiles know this. So what does a pedophile look like and how to I recognize a pedophile? You definitely don’t want to falsely accuse someone, but there are some red flags to look for.

In most instances, a pedophile is not some creepy homeless guy. He typically is male and a very like-able person. The experts say that pedophiles will go through a grooming process to gain the trust of their victim, so look for signs of grooming.

Grooming refers to the process the child molester undertakes to gain a child’s trust, and sometimes the parents’ trust as well.


5. Recognizing the techniques used by predators to groom a child for sexual abuse

Behaviors of Sexual Predators: Grooming
Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault Website

Grooming is the process during which a child sexual offender draws a child in by gaining his or her trust in order to sexually abuse the child and maintain secrecy. The offender may also groom the parents by persuading them of his or her trustworthiness with children. The process of grooming may last months or even years to break through a child’s defenses and increase the child’s acceptance of physical contact. The stages of grooming may include:

Targeting the victim. Child sexual offenders test for vulnerability and look for emotional neediness, isolation, and low self-confidence, as well as less parental attention.

Gaining the child’s trust. Offenders watch and get to know their victims and their needs, as well as how to fulfill them. The predator may introduce secrecy to build trust with the child and distance the child from his or her parents, such as allowing the child to do something the parents would not approve of.

Filling a need. Once the predator learns to fill the child’s needs with gifts, affection, or attention, they take on a more important role in the child’s life.

Isolating the child. The offender may offer to babysit the children for free or do other favors in order to find ways to be alone with the child without adult interruptions. Parents may unknowingly encourage this by appreciating this unique relationship.

Sexualizing the interaction. Grooming begins with nonsexual touching, such as accidental or playful touching to desensitize the child so the child does not resist a more sexualized touch. The offender then exploits the child’s curiosity to advance the sexuality of the interaction.

Maintaining control. The predator may use threats and guilt to enforce secrecy and force the child’s continued participation and silence: “If you tell your mother what happened, she’ll hate you” or “If you tell anyone, I’ll hurt someone in the family.” The abuser may also blame the child for allowing it to happen or normalize it by saying that it is “okay”.


6. Understanding the insidious nature of child abuse

Most people assume that, when a perpetrator fondles or otherwise sexually abuses a child, the child will immediately report the incident to his or her parents or to another trusted adult or Sunday School teacher. Generally speaking, this is not the case. Most children, especially those who have not been prepared to respond to abuse, say nothing, being confused, ashamed, and in a state of shock. Further, should the child report the abuse, it is assumed that parents and church leaders will sound the alarm and contact the police. Generally, this also not the case.

To better understand the insidious nature of child abuse and why church leaders need to instruct parents how to safeguard their children, be vigilant in an age of widespread abuse, and be prepared to act, we suggest that elders view and discuss together the following two films about the the sexual abuse of children. They refer to the sexual abuse of children by Roman Catholic clergy and its coverup by the Catholic Church, but both films have direct application for our churches as well.

The first film is Hand of God. It is a documentary about the life of Paul Cultrera. He grew up in the 1950s in an Italian parish in Salem, Massachusetts. A Catholic priest befriended him and sexually abused him. The consequences for Paul have been lifelong. The film tells his story and failed attempt in the late 1990s to confront the Catholic Church.

The second film is titled Spotlight. It is a docudrama about the Boston Globe’s Pulitzer Prize winning investigation into sexual abuse in the Catholic Church that began in 2001. The series of articles released by the paper resulted in the exposure of child sexual abuse by clergy worldwide and the criminal prosecution of tens of thousands of priests.

Hand of God and Spotlight contain explicit verbal references to sexual acts, vulgar language, and the taking of the Lord’s name in vain. We do not recommend these films for Christian entertainment or viewing by children, but for viewing by mature Christians seeking to better understand how sexual abuse harms children and spreads like a cancer when religious leaders don’t believe victims and turn a blind eye toward the crime.

Hand of God is part of the PBS Frontline documentary series. This film is available for free viewing online at from within the United States. For viewing outside the US, the film can be purchased at the link below.

View online at (Non-U.S.) Purchase on

Spotlight, 2015 Film, winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture, available for purchase at

Purchase on

7. Ministering to Victims

Helping the Sexually Abused
Michael Phillips, Christianity Today Website

My wife and I strolled along hand in hand. It wasn't often we took a break from our four kids to enjoy one another. We walked past the local movie theater, and I waved to some people I knew. This is the beauty of living in a small town: you know at least half the people you run into.

"Hey Mike, can I talk to you a minute?" a voice called from behind me. I recognized Gary's voice. Our local social worker, he attended our church, and we'd collaborated many times.

"What's up, Gary?"

"Has Steve come to talk to you?"

"No. I haven't spoken to him for weeks."

Gary paused. Internal alarm bells began sounding as I watched his tremulous expression. Obviously he wanted to say something serious but didn't know how.

"Is Steve in trouble, Gary?"

"He sure is! I mean, this is really big, Mike." My wife looked back at us a few paces behind her. Gary noticed her and nodded a greeting. Then he drew me close. "He's been charged with sexually abusing his foster daughter — ten separate incidents. He could be put away for five years."

"It can't be true," I said in disbelief. "Has anyone checked out her story? She was abused before, you know, and she could have …"

"He already admitted it, Mike."

Gaining Background

As my wife and I walked away from that deadening disclosure, I thought back to my first association with child sexual abuse. A woman in our church phoned me one night after supper, wanting to talk about sexual abuse. She queried me to find out all I knew on the subject. Within three minutes I had given her all I knew, and most of that was bluffing.

"Would you like to know more, Pastor?" Ah, the golden question! I'd used it in sharing the gospel. Now it worked with me.

"I guess it would be helpful to know more about sexual abuse," I admitted.

“Victims of sexual abuse will disclose their painful story to an average of nine people before anyone believes them.” Michael E. Phillips

Edythe told of a meeting that Friday in the high school gym. She let me know that many members of our congregation were going to be there. The more she talked, the more my curiosity mounted: Is something going on in our town I'm not aware of?

I went with a single objective: find out the facts. The "facts" they covered were not easy to listen to, however. To this point, I'd locked sexual abuse in my personal Pandora's box with other distant evils: homosexuality, drug abuse, shoplifting, MTV. I reasoned that these things wouldn't go away even if I launched a crusade of Crusade proportions. But I came away from that meeting — and others with church members — accepting greater responsibility for children who have been sexually abused.


8. Helping the Sexual Abuser

Going to Jail with Jesus
Thoughts on whether church elders are qualified to counsel child sexual abusers by James McCarthy

Seth silenced his phone on the third set of chimes. Why do I do this? He had started keeping the ringer on at night since becoming an elder four years earlier. The screen displayed the caller as “unknown,” and the time was 3:04 a.m. “Hello.” He brought the phone under the blankets that covered him.

“Don’t hang up. I need your help.”

Seth sat up in bed. “What’s the matter?” He recognized the voice as that of Jay, a close friend and one of the church’s elders.

“I’ve been arrested.” Jay began to weep. “I’m in jail.”

“What happened?”

“I can only talk for three minutes.”

“What did they arrest you for?”

There was a long silence. “You won’t hang up?”


“Seth, you have to believe me. I didn’t do it.”

“Do what?"

“Sexual abuse.”

Seth got out of bed and went into an adjoining room. “That’s serious.”

“I could get 16 years.”

“Who?” Seth asked. His wife joined him in the other room and wrapped her arms around his waist.

“I can’t talk about it here.”

“Jay, who did they say you abused?”

“Emma, but I didn’t do it.”

Seth locked eyes with his wife. His thoughts went to Emma, Jay’s daughter. She was 12, but acted younger and was known for having imaginary animal friends.

Jay sobbed loudly.

“How can I help?”

There was no response.

“Okay, I’ll be right down. Be there in 40 minutes.”

Seth and his wife returned to the bedroom, and he began to dress. “It’s probably nothing,” he told her, “some kind of mixup.”

Seth put on a pullover sweater. The visitor’s center was a cold, miserable place, filled with cold, miserable people. There would be forms to fill out. He would have to wait for visiting hours, get processed, and wait again for Jay to be brought to him. It could take hours. “I’ll try to be back by noon,” he told his wife.

Some day off, he thought as he headed for the door. He put on a heavy coat and wool knit cap. I’ll tell them I’m a minister. He didn’t like being given special treatment, but it would get him through the process faster.

His wife kissed him goodbye, and they held each other for several seconds. As he stepped outside, the wind stung him. Why do I do this? He knew the answer. He did it because it was what Jesus would do. He did it because Jesus had done it for him.

Ice blanketed the car’s windshield. Should’ve brought my gloves. He took a scraper from the trunk. As he worked on the glass, his thoughts went to the section of John 10 on which he had preached the previous Sunday. Jesus said:

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it.[i]

Seth had explained to the congregation that the hired worker fled because he didn’t really care about the sheep. They weren’t his sheep, so fleeing was a career decision for him, a matter of cost-benefit analysis. The snarling fangs of the wolf were the cost. His paycheck was the benefit. Since the cost outweighed the benefit, he ran. Jesus, on the other hand, truly cared for His sheep, and so laid down His life for them. “He expects us to do the same,” Seth had told the congregation. “We are to lay down our lives for others.”

He cleared the ice with his hand. “Tend My lambs,[ii]Seth said aloud, repeating Jesus’ words to Peter after he told Jesus that he loved Him. “Shepherd My sheep. [iii]

He got into the car and backed down the driveway. Studying his eyes in the rearview mirror, he saw confusion and fear. I’m in over my head on this one.

He had never counseled someone accused of sexual abuse before and didn’t know what he would say to Jay. He needs a professional counselor, not an insurance broker.

Seth put the car in drive and headed down the street. As he traveled, Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians flooded his mind:

Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.[iv]

He had linked this verse, with a note in the margin of his Bible, to Romans 15:14:

Concerning you, my brethren, I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able also to admonish one another.[v]

He reminded himself that the Bible didn’t say anything about an elder, also referred to in the Bible as an overseer, being required to have a degree in counseling. The biblical emphasis was on character and integrity, as Paul explained:

An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, uncontentious, free from the love of money. He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?); and not a new convert, lest he become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he may not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.[vi]

Seth knew the requirement that an elder be “able to teach” implied that he should have a broad knowledge of the Bible and its practical use in pastoral work. It had taken him seven years to get to that point. He continued to study the Bible two to three hours a week. To be an effective elder, Seth believed a man had to be a lifelong learner and make use of every opportunity God brought his way for spiritual growth, whether through the meetings of the church, personal discipleship, seminars, conferences, online courses, or Bible school classes. He had made use of all of these. Ongoing personal development, he was convinced, was a necessary part of fulfilling his call “to shepherd the church of God, which He purchased with His own blood.”[vii]

Can such homegrown methods, Seth wondered, qualify a person to do crisis counseling? He drove several minutes, deep in thought, and slowed for a red light. My training isn’t homegrown; it’s heaven-grown. God organized my training. God called me to be an elder. God indwells me. God inspired the Bible. I serve in His church. The car rolled the final 20 feet before stopping just short of the cross-traffic. Doesn’t get any better than that.

The light turned green. As he headed on his way, his thoughts went to his favorite section in the Bible on Christ’s strategy for preparing Christians for ministry:

And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.[viii]

As Seth merged onto the expressway, a light snow began to fall. He watched the moth-like flakes fluttering in the headlights as he drove and unbuttoned his coat. What Jay needs now is a friend, someone he can talk to, someone who’ll show him the love of Christ. He needs encouragement. I can do that.

What if he’s guilty? Seth gripped the steering wheel. He banged the dashboard with the side of his fist. For all I know, the guy could be a real jerk, and I just never realized it. He checked the speedometer and saw that he was driving too fast. He took his foot off the accelerator until the car slowed to a safer speed. Help me, Lord, to hear him out and love him whether he is guilty or not.

He drove several miles. What if there’s something wrong with him? I’m not a doctor. A car sped by him. If he needs a doctor, he can call a doctor. It’s not like they can cure everybody, anyway.

Seth’s thoughts went to a report he had read about therapies used to treat convicted pedophiles. According to the report, most were men. And researchers found that recidivism rates were the same, whether these men received therapy or not. What does that tell you? Seth thought to himself. They said it themselves, “There is no cure, so the focus is on protecting children.”[ix]

“That’s not true,” Seth said aloud. “There is a cure. ‘For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.[x] If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.[xi] If any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.’”[xii] They don’t teach that in medical school.

Seth’s mind went to the passage in 1 Corinthians, where Paul writes:

Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God.[xiii]

Christ did the same for me, Seth thought. He now commands me to tell others. He promises, “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”[xiv] Seth glanced at the seat beside him. “Thanks, Lord.” He checked his eyes again in the mirror, and a smile formed. “We can do this.”


[i]John 10:11-12 NASB

[ii]John 21:15 NASB

[iii]John 21:16 NASB

[iv]2 Corinthians 3:5-6 NASB

[v]Romans 15:14 NASB

[vi]1 Timothy 3:2-7 NASB

[vii]Acts 20:28 NASB

[viii]Ephesians 4:11-13 NASB

[ix]“Pessimism about pedophilia,” Harvard Mental Health Letter, Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School, July, 2010, available at:

[x]Romans 1:16 NASB

[xi]John 8:36 NIV

[xii]2 Corinthians 5:17 NASB

[xiii]1 Corinthians 6:9-11 NASB

[xiv]Matthew 28:20 NIV

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