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However, the lawsuit—which claims the association of Reformed church plants discouraged victims' parents from reporting abuse to authorities and had victims forgive their abusers in person—has also prompted the denomination to cite its First Amendment right to religious freedom.
Specifically, SGM has defended its freedom to provide confidential pastoral counseling free of government infringement.
"SGM believes that allowing courts to second-guess pastoral guidance would represent a blow to the First Amendment that would hinder, not help, families seeking spiritual direction among other resources in dealing with the trauma related to any sin including child sexual abuse," Tommy Hill, SGM's director of administration, said in a November 14 statement.
Such a stance strikes some legal observers as more of a smokescreen than a legitimate defense.
Boz Tchividjian, founder and executive director of Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE), which has investigated sex abuse allegations previously for New Tribes Mission and currently for Bob Jones University, readily acknowledges that he does not know all the facts. But the former Florida child abuse prosecutor takes issue with the SGM statement.
"Quite frankly, any time an institution—a Christian institution—responds or defends its behavior as it relates to sexual abuse allegations with quoting laws and hiding behind constitutions, it causes me concern," said Tchividjian, a law professor and grandson of Billy Graham. "I think an authentic, gospel-centered response to sexual abuse disclosures within an institution is to be transparent and to be vulnerable.
"God did his most powerful work when his son was transparent and vulnerable," Tchividjian ...