The Strategic Homemaker

learning to follow the Father, care for the clan, and redeem the resources

Church hunting and G.R.A.C.E


(This isn’t a feel-good post. but this is a really important issue, so I hope you’ll read and then check out the resources mentioned below.)

We’ve been checking out different churches since arriving in Rhode Island, and I tell you, finding a church is hard. You’d think, based off some websites, churches expect you to choose them based off their “cutting edge worship,” when the actual reasons we would pick a church can’t be determined from one Sunday morning. I feel like sending out a survey to any potential pastors and seeing what they say to different philosophical issues.

Anyway, one thing I’d like to see at a church is a good child protection policy. I’ve been lately reading about the frequency of child sexual abuse happening in American churches and on the mission field, and it is horrifying. One out of four women and one out of six men are abused as children. That is a huge percentage of the population! I’ve never heard this topic mentioned in church, but it seems like a hippo in the room (hippos being more dangerous than elephants) given the potential numbers of survivors in the congregation. Also, before they are caught, child sexual abusers average 50-150 victims. This was both shocking and sickening to me. Background checks on nursery workers is not sufficient preventative action for this horrible sin against children.

I came across this group, GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment), who helps churches develop policies for effectively preventing and responding to child sexual abuse. (Because, when it does happen, churches and organizations often don’t handle it rightly–check out the news). It is not happy stuff, but if you are either a parent or a church-goer, I exhort you to go to their website, and check out some of their resources.  (We watched the videos “Offenders in the church: who are they and how do they operate” and “Minimizing the opportunities: effective child prevention policies.”) If only more people are aware of suspicious behavior, that can help.  Also, go to your church, and talk to them about doing something about this important issue.

Anyway, I hope you guys take a look and find these helpful in protecting your children and leading your church to better serve Christ.

Have you thought about this issue before?

P.S. The stats above were from the first video I mentioned, but here are some other statistics from different studies showing crazy numbers of victims.


8 thoughts on “Church hunting and G.R.A.C.E

  1. I feel like n the church environment we become too comfortable, feel too safe. Our pastor has mentioned several times his concern to the congregation when he sees children leaving service to go to the bathroom by themselves. We also have a 2 adult policy. And there is a deacon in the hallway during service. I wish that church could be a safe place.

  2. It is hard to find a church isn’t it? It took Greg and I 8 months to find somewhere we felt comfortable after we moved to NC. And thanks for talking about the issues of child abuse in the church. I agree it’s a scary issue that needs more attention than it’s getting. Praying you guys start to get settled soon!

  3. You’re brave to address this topic. I’ve found that most people really don’t want to think about it, and are in denial about the prevalence of its existence.

    I don’t think the policy–of background checks and fingerprinting–is helpful. All it does is make parents and pastors feel falsely that their children are safe.

    If an abuser is generally able to victimize 50-150 children before getting caught, that means only one in 100 children ever report. And if the first 99 abuses go unreported, doing a background check only protects one in 100 children.

    Pedafiles are incredibly skillful manipulators. They know how to gain important adults’ trust (they’re swindlers) and they are equally skillful at psychologically intimidating their victims through fear and guilt. And they have no record until they’re caught.

    I think it’s much more effective to be in constant prayer that God will give us, as parents, the wisdom to protect our children and the confidence to trust the intuition we’re given. We don’t have to justify why we feel uncomfortable about placing our children in certain situations. All we have to do, is NOT place them in the situations that we feel are not good (however strange and unjustifiable that feeling might appear to others, or even to ourselves). We will be accused of being “overly-protective.” But we can’t care about that accusation.

    Also, it’s important to know that it’s natural to feel our children are at greatest risk when they are very young. I’m sure the far greater risk is when they are emerging adolescents, 9-14 years old.

    I had a long career in youth ministry, and I know the stories of many, many young people and their families, first hand. The first thing that happens at that age is parents tend to lessen their supervision, thinking the children know how to protect themselves and because of the peer pressure to send them on retreats and sleepovers and to camps. Also playing a part in our letting go, is the general, natural relief that comes from seeing our children grow up (whew, they made it without disaster!) We realize that our long duty is almost over, we feel freer and so do they, because we think that now they’re safe. Except now they’re surrounded by wily predators who haven’t yet been caught, who are most attracted to pubescent youth.

    And those predators look and act like the nicest people in the world.

    So our pre-teens and early teens become, actually, MORE vulnerable to sexual abuse than they’ve ever been in their lives.

    The second reason parents are tricked into believing that children this age are not in danger is because this is the age group that generally NEVER reports. NEVER. So 99/100 times NO ONE ever knows a crime happened, except the victim and the perpetrator.

    The younger children generally give MORE clues, and report way more often. They’re not as vulnerable to psychological manipulation through guilt. Which is why children tell their teachers things that parents wish they wouldn’t repeat.

    Children who have a good relationship with their parents will report the first sign of strangeness. Foster a good relationship, an open conversation with your child, and she’ll tell you whenever she feels the least bit uncomfortable with a person. And you’ll listen to her.

    When children reach an older age, the abusers trick their victims into feeling they haven’t been abused. If they felt “molested” they would scream and cry. But it’s much more insidious than that. Thy abusers insinuate to the children that the child was the seducer–the guilty party–in the sexual encounter, (now look what you made me do!) so the victim feels ashamed and complicit, and doesn’t believe there is anything to “report.” Rather, the child feels a need to cover up his/her own shame. And usually does, forever.

    Neither is it a good idea to assume that the risk is greatest for girls, nor that only men are abusers. There is a whole lot of homosexual abuse happening, man to boy and woman to girl.

    That having been said–don’t be pressured into putting your baby, toddler or preschooler in a church nursery if you feel the least bit weird or uncomfortable. If you ever get a buzzy feeling about an adult who wants to engage with or care for your child, or a strange sense of unreality, politely hang on to your child and don’t leave her. If trust your intuition and your husband’s intuition, under God’s guidance, your child will be protected. Because ultimately it’s not the church’s job to protect her. It’s yours.

    I hope I haven’t said too much. But I sensed that because you brought it up, you need this information and will make wise use of it. I hope it makes you feel less afraid for your child. Because you CAN protect her. YOU and YOUR HUSBAND can, and I know you are committed to doing so. So trust that God will help you do so. and enjoy your child’s childhood without holding on to unnecessary fear. You’re aware. You’ll do a fine job.

    • I actually am not afraid for my own daughter, at least at this point in time. She’s definitely in the least risk group right now. It more just hurts me to see this happen in places that are supposed to be representing Christ, and I don’t think we should only be worrying about our own kids, but doing our best to protect ALL the children we interact with.

      The kids that have the highest risk are the ones that people are less likely to believe if they do say something–troublemakers, from troubled homes etc, and those are also the kids who people might not be watching out for as much. But I don’t want to be part of a church who looks the other way–rather one who values kids as Jesus did. Thanks for your insight, and I hope that clears some things up as to my perspective.

      • I so agree with you about what churches ought to be doing to protect ALL the children.

        I guess I’m discouraged–I’ve been sounding this horn for decades, but find that the majority of people really don’t want to hear it. That churches are not doing more to ensure their children’s safety really upsets me. But, I comfort myself with the knowledge that parents can do a lot for their own children. And a few people feel called to act as guardians to a few of the kids who appear most vulnerable. But I’m still sad that more isn’t being done. I mean, this is not a new problem. Goodness, we were talking about it back in the 1980’s. And very little has been acted on except for the growing implementation of background checks, which I really don’t believe does much at all to eliminate the problem.

        I applaud you for choosing not to support a church which is not actively concerned about this very concerning issue. You’re absolutely right about the kids who are at highest risk. But there are also kids from very “good” families who are at considerable risk, just because of their particular personalities. Something as simple as being slightly more mature than one’s age group causes some kids to feel more “adult” and then they want to hang out with adults, which makes them very vulnerable to predators. And some kids are just normally going through a tricky developmental phase and experiencing a totally normal, temporary strain in their relationship with their parents which makes them temporarily vulnerable. It’s a very difficult and pervasive problem.

        Thank you for calling attention to it in your blog, and for standing up against churches who look the other way or minimize the enormity of their complicity in putting children at risk. You’re brave. I admire you.

        I also refuse to join a congregation which won’t address this issue boldly, with the compassion and wisdom which Christians are supposed to be striving to live by. I’ll be interested to hear about which congregation makes you feel most at home.

  4. I’m not sure we’re going to rule out a church that isn’t doing much at the beginning, mostly because not very many have extensively done things–yet (although we definitely are looking for signs they value children). if they aren’t doing anything, we’ll bring it up as something they need to think about it, and definitely expect them to take it seriously. Did you check out the GRACE website? That was encouraging to me–that someone is doing something to help, specifically in Christian organizations–and in one of the presentations, he does give a couple examples of churches with right approaches. God is working!

    • Yes–I did check it out. And it is encouraging that someone is doing something on a higher-profile level. I watched part of the video with the lawyer presenting and was impressed. I expect his work will be fruitful.

      And Yes, God is working–always. I never forget that. It’s just I’m not as patient as God is. But I’ve learned to live a lot more patiently than I used. Which is an encouragement to keep learning…

      Discouraged, for me, never means I’m despondent or fatalistic. Faith doesn’t allow that response. It means, I’m in need of encouragement. And you’ve helped provide some. 🙂

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