Jeffrey Black, former rector of St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Kansas City, Missouri, knows the pain that child sexual abuse can cause a church. In May 1993 a 15-year-old parishioner came forward and indicted the church's music minister for molestation. The minister confessed, and the church terminated him after seventeen years of service.
Although the boy chose not to file legal charges, the incident tore deeply into the congregation's spirit. Nearly fifteen families left the church, and those who remained felt anger, confusion, and mistrust.
"It was damaging to everyone and extraordinarily sad," Black says. "It took a lot of ministry to deal with this. We developed a clear policy about sexual misconduct and put our staff through extensive training on these issues."
No one likes to think about sexual abuse of children. But the potential damage to the child and to the church—not to mention the possibility of wrenching lawsuits—has caused many churches to take steps to protect its children.
Based on interviews with pastors, abuse-prevention experts, attorneys, denominational officials, and insurance companies, here are important practical steps to minimize the risk of sexual misconduct and to keep your church's children safe. The good news, writes attorney Richard Hammar, is that "church leaders can take relatively simple yet effective steps to significantly reduce the likelihood of such an incident occurring."
1. Develop clear policies
A vital first step is to develop clear, specific policies. "Churches need a clear policy that says you can't work here if you are going to act this way," says Elizabeth Stellas-Tippins, program specialist for the Center for the Prevention of Sexual and Domestic Violence. "This ...