The greatest fear I held when we transitioned our family out of the local church: WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN? But sifting my own history revealed a history of abuse and sexual violence perpetrated against children. These are non-negotiable for me. I began to ask a number of important questions as we considered staying out, finding new, or returning to our faith origins. The most important question I asked: “Can an unhealthy church raise healthy children? (Can an unhealthy church HELP PARENTS raise healthy, wholehearted kids?)
A History of Abuse
We knew nothing. There was a deep history of sexual abuse in the churches we had attended, but most of the adults did not know or hid the truth.
The children were not safe. There is no way to soften this statement – WHERE PREDATORS EXIST CHILDREN ARE NOT SAFE.
And Child Sex Offenders LOVE church.
He taught the middle school boys’ Sunday School class. This leader also took young boys on camp outs and invited them to go swimming at his house. He walked them through the James Dobson study for middle schoolers, “Preparing For Adolescence.” Later those young men recalled, “He did spend an awkward amount of time talking about masturbation.”
And he was a child sexual predator.
He lived uncharged, hiding his abusive tendencies, and never caught. He gained access to prepubescent boys – his favorite type of victim – through his willingness to volunteer and minister to the youth. And none of those wise grownups possessed the ability to see his truth. They had no idea how to identify what they were seeing. And they were not being proactive in protecting children. They did church: Sunday to Sunday, event to event, missions conference to missions conference. While he had unbridled access to their kids. Actually of all those wise grownups – only ONE PERSON in their midst was able to identify what and who he was. She wasn’t fooled by him.
Predators hide their true intentions and actions.
A healthy church community is aware of where, how, and why it is vulnerable. They never assume there is not a perpetrator in their midst. They live with an understanding that where there are children – predators follow. And with this understanding they lean into the experts outside their gatherings to gain insight into practices beyond security clearances.
They seek policies and procedures which will best protect the most innocent in their midst. Also churches inform their members while providing training for heir volunteers and helpers. Most faith gatherings have no clue where to begin.
But Our Church Volunteers Have Clearances
“In all the interviews I have done, I cannot remember one offender who did not admit privately to more victims than those for whom he had been caught. On the contrary, most offenders had been charged with and/or convicted of from one to three victims. In the interviews I have done, they have admitted to roughly 10 to 1,250 victims. What was truly frightening was that all the offenders had been reported before by children, and the reports had been ignored.”
― Anna C. Salter, “
It doesn’t matter how many clearances your church has for its volunteer staff. Many of the perpetrators of violence against children ARE NOT IN THE SYSTEM. THEY HAVE NEVER BEEN CAUGHT. Those clearances meant to help parents feel more comfortable about placing their children in the care of Sunday School teachers, youth and nursery workers are really just a way for the church to meet their insurance companies’ regulations, denomination’s policies and states’ requirements.
These clearances do not stop sexual perpetrators from grooming you and your children.
Abusers love church and they love churched families.
Anne C. Salter talks about this in her book (AFFILIATE LINK) and in interviews…the extent to which pedophiles, predators, and sex offenders utilize church and church people to gain access to victims.
“I have had offenders tell me that they love churches because people are more gullible in churches, that they look for the best in everyone. You know the real, oh gosh I don’t know the word, but the truth is that offenders, predators don’t just prey on our weaknesses, they prey on our strengths as well. They prey on the fact that many people are trusting, that they do look for the best in people, that they don’t consider the worst in people. And those are natural victims for them. Most of them are not actually looking for a challenge, they’re looking for the easiest victim.”(Anna C. Saltar, Predators Among US Radio Interview)
What makes our communities strong is also what makes us incredibly gullible. What makes our communities unhealthy is also what makes us the perfect hunting grounds for sexual violence against women and children.
Add an ounce of pride, a dose a hiding, and a pinch of “peacemaking training” and you have all the makings of an Abuser’s Paradise.
But We Are Called to Forgive and Be Reconciled
Security clearances add another layer to the gullibility. We assume our kids are safe. They are not. And this inability to hold perpetrators of violence accountable by: recognizing their agendas and then punishing them when they attack the most innocent in our midst is exactly why so many church gatherings are a risk for families.
Your family is NOT safe where violence against women and children has gone:
- Unnoticed or Ignored or Hidden
- Unreported to authorities and handled INHOUSE instead
- NOT navigated in a manner which PROVIDES 100% SUPPORT TO THE VICTIM AND 100% ACCOUNTABILITY AND BLAME TO THE ABUSER.
It has often been reported by church abuse survivors when coming forward to church leadership seeking help they have instead been retraumatized. Victims have been forced to face their abuser, receive their abuser’s apology, extend forgiveness, apologize for their “part” in the abuse, and seek reconciliation. All a part of the “Biblical Peacemaking” tools.
These blind peacemaking practices ARE ONE OF THE MANY POLICIES that make our church gatherings an unsafe place for families with children and a great place for abusers to receive safe harbor and cheap grace.
Can an unhealthy church raise healthy kids?
Places where perpetrators have found refuge – are not a safe place for families. And when this history of abuse is in a church or church denomination’s history – how they handled it, what happened to the abuser and the victims, how the leadership navigated or hid what happened, did the good ole boys protect the abuser or defend the abused? This tells me a ton about the health of a church gathering… and
I am not willing to offer up my children to churches who have proven they are so unhealthy the young are not safe.
The words our children are exposed to inside these gatherings and among these people also matter. I leave that discussion for tomorrow with “The Words We Allow.”
Consider adding a few of these recommended books to your reading pile: AFFILIATE LINKS FOLLOW
Finally this is part 17 from a series on Shifting Faith – Confronting My Church Wounds.
You can find the rest of the series below:
- Coming Undone
- Pit of Despair
- Healing Takes Time
- The Act of Seeing
- Mean Church Girls
- You are NOT Good Enough
- A Year of Silence
- Evangelicals and the “Gay Agenda”
- I Felt Duped
- Critical, Sexist Church Men
- Anniversary of Tears
- Conservative Christian Women Support Trump
- Generational Consequences of Violence Against Women
- and 16. Four Ways Faith Shifts Affect Children