INFORMATION FOR LEADING OTHERS
INFORMATION FOR LEADING OTHERS
As a leader in your church, please use the resources on this website to create a safe environment that protects children, prevents abuse, and provides spiritual support for survivors. Take the Standing Up for Children: A Christian Response to Child Abuse and Neglect training to recognize abuse and keep children safe.
We are willing to assist you in finding resources to help you develop policies and a ministry to survivors of abuse. If you have any questions, please contact us.
Although every state requires certain professionals and institutions to report suspected child abuse, the legal requirements vary, especially for pastors. Christian leaders should be aware of what the law requires of them. Since states also change their requirements, information regarding the law in their state needs to be up-to-date.
Pastors, teachers, and congregational leaders should check with district or national leaders to learn about their legal and moral requirements. Even aside from the legal requirement, Christians should consider the need to protect a child who is being abused. For more on that subject, see the article on this page, Pastoral Theology Brief: Matthew 18.
Find a state by state description of laws regarding mandatory reporting.
According to 34 major studies involving more than 19,000 abused children, a significant number of children suffer “spiritual injuries.” This can happen when the abuser uses religion in the abuse of a child. For example, a parent may beat a child while telling his son or daughter that the beating was ordained by God. Spiritual injuries can also result because a child is confused by God’s response to the abuse.
For example, a child may have asked God to stop the abuse and is saddened or angry that God did not answer the prayer in the way the victim desired. Research has found that left unaddressed, spiritual injuries can also impair our physical and mental health.
There is research suggesting boys may delay disclosing sexual abuse longer than girls—perhaps as long as 20 years. Studies indicate boys have myriad fears that keep them quiet including fears of being labeled weak or gay as a result of sexual abuse. In our society, we often make jokes about boys who are sexually abused by older girls or women. As a result, a boy sexually abused by a woman feels guilty for not “enjoying” the victimization. In designing church policies and in implementing personal safety programming, it is critical to keep in mind these differences and to specifically address fears that may be unique to boys.
If your neighbor stole your car, you would report him to the police. Your abuser stole something from you much more valuable than a car. He stole a part of your very life and self from you. In doing so that person committed a crime and needs to suffer the consequences of his or her actions. It is not unforgiving or unchristian to report such a person. In fact, it is wise to do so. It forces the person to deal with the reality of what he or she did. It also reduces the likelihood that the person will abuse others in the future.
God established the church to help us forgive. He established the government to provide temporal justice and curb lawlessness in society. As Christians we enjoy the benefit of both realms.
There are two kinds of forgiveness. Vertical forgiveness is God forgiving us. It is a proclamation. It is a done deal. On the cross Jesus announced, “It is finished.” Because Jesus lived and died in our place, we have forgiveness and life. It is always perfect and complete in this life because it comes from God. When we approach God with humble and penitent hearts, he assures us, “Your sins are forgiven.” He can say that because Christ paid the price of our sins.
Horizontal forgiveness is different. It goes from person to person. It flows out of our love for Christ and our appreciation for what he has done for us. Unlike God forgiving us which is instantaneous and complete, our forgiveness of others is a process that is never perfect in this life.
When we offer someone horizontal forgiveness, we are not saying that what the person did to us was okay. It was not. Nor does it mean that we will forget that it ever happened. We can’t. Horizontal forgiveness means that we give up our self-perceived right to get even. We leave justice in God’s hands and utilize the resources God has given us to respond to abuse—including using civil and criminal authorities.
Remember that this type of forgiveness is a process. It takes time.
Many survivors worry that God will condemn them if they cannot forgive the person that abused them. For example, one man said that he couldn’t forgive his father for torturing him repeatedly and was worried his soul was in jeopardy. If you are a Christian struggling with forgiveness, it is important to remember that you are not God. Accordingly, you will never be able to forgive or perform other works in the way God can. The scriptures make clear that only unbelief sets us apart from God (John 3:16).
In commenting on the obligation in the Lord’s Prayer to forgive others, Martin Luther said the devil lies to us when he says “You must forgive or you will not be forgiven; you have not forgiven; therefore despair.” Luther simply retorted that through faith we will want to forgive but may not forgive fully this side of heaven.