#SilentCofC: It's (Past) Time to Have This Conversation

Today it was announced that another former minister in our tribe was arrested on charges of child sexual abuse. The victim reported to investigators that the abuse occurred over a period of years as she was living with the family as a foster child. 

The simple truth is this... 

This is not the first time that revelations like this have come out in the Churches of Christ. 

But maybe, this is finally the time that we can have some constructive conversation and tangible action about this problem in our tribe. 

Here is the series that has resulted so far from myself and a number of highly qualified guest contributors...

#SilentCofC: Child Sexual Abuse and Churches of Christ

This is the introductory post of the series covers the following: 

  • The prevalence of child sexual abuse,
  • The particular realities of this problem in communities of faith,
  • Myths about child sexual abuse
  • Notable incidents of CSA in Churches of Christ

#SilentCofC: Our Theological Assumptions About Children are Dangerous

Here I begin to explore the consequences of the way in which children are sidelined in the life and practices of the church. I suggest that our "segregation" of children minimizes the ability to expose children to positive adult interaction and increases the likelihood of predators engaging our children. 

#SilentCofC: Autonomy and the Culture of Silence

Here I explore this fundamental challenge and risk to one of our most celebrated "values": hat congregational autonomy has served to enable sexual predators to move from congregation to congregation with impunity. 

#SilentCofC: Church Practices for Prevention (Guest Post by Dr. David Duncan)

David Duncan, minister at the Memorial Church of Christ in Houston, offers an insight into some of the strategies and expectations that are in place in the congregation he serves to protect children and prevent abuse. 

#SilentCofC: The "Victim" and the Church (Guest Post by Dr. Ron Clark)

Ron Clark, church planter and minister at the Agape Church of Christ in Gresham, Oregon brings an insightful post about how the church should think about and respond to victims of abuse. 

#SilentCofC: The Trust Deception (Guest Post by Jimmy Hinton)

Jimmy Hinton is the minister of the Somerset Church of Christ in Somerset, Pennsylvania. He leads a ministry called Church Protect which is born out of his journey to help churches after his own father's conviction (a former Church of Christ minister) of child sexual abuse. This is his personal narrative and warning about the ways in which trust is too easily earned and kept in our churches when it comes to protecting our children. 

#SilentCofC: Changing Our Response (Guest Post by Gina South)

Gina South is the State Director for the Alabama Network of Children's Advocacy Centers and former professor of Criminal Justice and Legal Studies at Faulkner University. She offers a number of tangible ways that our churches can move from secretive and fearful to proactive and bold in our protection of our children. 

#SilentCofC: The Mission - A Story of Abuse from the Mission Field

A first-hand account from a missionary (identities have been obscured to protect the innocent) about the uncovering of an abusive individual from their supporting congregation abusing a child on the mission field. This is their struggle with the confrontation and the fallout from their supporting church. An important narrative that is not unique to our tribe, but that no longer allows us to think of it as a problem only in other Christian tradition. 

There is more to be said and more to be written, but for now, this is a resource for all churches who are serious about protecting their children. 

We cannot remain silent any more. 

Addressing FAQ's and FRO's about Gender Equality in the Church, Part 1

Arguing for Jesus.jpg

In this ongoing series of posts I want to begin to address some of the FAQ's (Frequently Asked Questions) and FRO's (Frequently Raised Objections) to the full participation of women in the life of the church. I want to accomplish this by creating an initial guide for conversation. It will function something like this:

    (1) The Frequently Asked Question or Frequently Raised Objection
    (2) A brief, initial answer that provides a "trajectory for dialogue" of 150 words or less.
    (3) When helpful, some questions designed to provide pushback or nuance to the FAQ or FRO. 

    This is by no means intended to be an exhaustive, detailed, or academic response to these issues that are commonly raised in these conversations. It is meant primarily as a place for common language and direction to emerge. This conversation is complex and explosive enough that perhaps such a resource will allow for concentrated and mutually enriching conversations to emerge. If you want an extensive list of materials (including articles, books, and multimedia) check out my Gender Equality Resources Page or other resources for this conversation in Churches of Christ like and 1Voice4Change.

    So, in no particular order, we begin some of the FAQ's and FRO's regarding the full participation of our sisters in the life and practice of the church.

    Frequently Raised Objection:

    Why are we even having this discussion? The Churches of Christ have never allowed women to teach or serve in positions of leadership.

    That the Churches of Christ have "always" thought this way is a myth.

    We have forgotten about many of the great women in our tradition who both advocated and modeled great leadership as they sought to be obedient to their calling. Included in these are women like Jane Campbell McKeever (sister of Alexander Campbell) who was the President of Pleasant Hill Seminary for 25 years and was a conductor on the Underground Railroad. Nancy Towle who had a 14 year ministry including addressing the general assembly of The Christian Connexion, one of the largest organizations in the early days of our movement. We would also look to Silena Moore Holman and her engagement on these issues with David Lipscomb in the pages of the Gospel Advocate. Or there is Sarah "Sadie" McCoy Crank who "organized or reorganized 50 Christian churches, led in the building of 18 houses of worship, baptized approximately 7,000 persons, and conducted 1000 funerals." (Christian Standard 84 [Nov 6, 1948], p. 734).

    Frequently Raised Objection:

    If we allow women to lead in the church there won't be a place for the men. If women lead, men will leave.

    This objection relies on a number of unsubstantiated assumptions. (1) That the full participation of women somehow "excludes" men. (2) That the spiritual ability and maturity of men to lead in the life of the church is dependant upon the silence and lack of participation by equally gifted and mature women. (3) That there is no possibility that men and women can serve alongside one another in the church without one gender (either men or women) being excluded.

    Such an objection would not be reasonably made in other aspects of life. "If we have women serving in government or business or medicine or academia it will discourage men from..." This objection collapses under the weight of its own ideas.

    Frequently Raised Objection:

    There are no examples in the New Testament of women serving in capacities of leadership.

    As an initial response to this questions let's use Ephesians 4:11-13 as our guide: "So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fulness of Christ." (NIV)

    In the New Testament women explicitly serve in the following capacities:

         Apostle - Junia (Romans 16:7)

         Prophet - Phillip's Daughters (Acts 21:9), Anna (Luke 2:36-37)

         Evangelist - The Women at the Empty Tomb (Matthew 28:1-10; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-11; John 20:1-18)

         Pastor/Teacher - Priscilla (Acts 18:24-28)

         Deacon - Phoebe (Romans 16:1-2)

    Any of the "restrictive passages" in the New Testament (e.g., 1 Timothy 2:8-15 and 1 Corinthians 14:34-35) must be read in light of the explicit mention of women serving in these capacities in the New Testament, not the other way around.

    #SilentCofC: Church Practices for Prevention (David Duncan)

    David Duncan.jpg

    Today I want to introduce you to a dear friend who is one of my favorite ministers, David DuncanI met David while growing up and came to know him better in my time as an undergrad. I have found him to be thoughtful, courageous, and often willing to say what everyone else knows but is afraid to articulate. David contacted me almost immediately after the first post in this series went live to share information about what his congregation, Memorial Church of Christ in Houston, does to protect their kids from abuse. He has graciously shared his heart and some practical tools for this important conversation.

    Christianity seems to be in a precarious position among many in the United States. Just a few decades ago it seemed that some form of pseudo-Christian culture would dominate schools, neighborhoods and thought in most sections of the country for as long as anyone could imagine. For those of us living in America’s largest cities, it is obvious that a great number of people would like Christian ideals to be moved to the nether regions or even entirely disintegrate.

    In such an environment we should not be surprised when those hurt by church people go to the police or even the media. Although I am embarrassed each time a sexual or physical abuse case makes its way on to the evening news, I know it is a good thing that it is being reported. Christians, of all people, should care for children and all of society’s most vulnerable.  We should also be the first to admit our sins.

    As far as I know, the congregation I work in has never had an incident of any type of abuse of anyone in any type of church setting or relationship. We are also committed to doing all we can to make sure our children and adults will always be safe in our care. Like many congregations, we have instituted several safety procedures to protect our children and adults. We believe that is better to be proactive rather than reactive.

    First, every person that works with our children or youth submit to a background check. Every class teacher, assistant, nursery worker, trip sponsor, bus driver, minister, and even puppeteer is screened before allowed to volunteer for any activity with youth 18 years old or younger.

    Second, every person working with youth or children undergoes a two-hour safety training course before being permitted to volunteer. The training and background checks are also mandatory for every elder and minister, regardless of ministry assignments.

    As may be expected, implementing the program received some resistance. Wonderful volunteers that had been giving their time for years were a little surprised that they would be asked to undergo the same scrutiny as new people to the program. While understandable, there were some reasons that they were asked to participate.

    First, we did not want anyone think favoritism was being shown to any particular person. Second, if there was a current or past problem, we need to be made aware of the situation. Third, background checks and safety training actually protects the volunteers. If they were ever accused of a horrible action, they would be able to show their past willingness to be properly instructed and screened.

    The material we use to train our volunteers is popular among churches. We used the Reducing the Risk curriculum promoted by Church Law and Tax and Christianity Today. The video series costs $69.95. We also use some of our own information for our particular setting.

    A two hour presentation made by workers serving our children and youth was initially made to the majority of our volunteers and offered at four separate times. A test over the videos was completed by each participant. Because we add volunteers on a fairly regular basis, all of the information has been recorded and is required viewing for all future volunteers.

    We cannot make up for mistakes that might have happened in the past. We can, however, do everything we know possible today to ensure the children, youth and adults in our care for the future are dealt with properly. God has given us great responsibility and we plan to use it in a way that honors Him.

    No doubt there are other churches doing things to protect their children. If your church is doing something would you share it with the rest of us? Leave a comment or share it on social media using #SilentCofC. We are better in this when we are together.