Hi! I’m Jennifer Greenberg. In honor of April being National Child Abuse Prevention Month, I’m teaming up with ECAP – the Evangelical Counsil for Abuse Prevention – to give away free downloads of Not Forsaken: A Shepherd’s Guide.
Not Forsaken: A Shepherd’s Guide is a 135-page info-packed manual for pastors, church leaders, seminary students, and Christian counselors. But really, everyone needs this information. As a child abuse survivor and mom, my goal is to equip you to notice red flags, identify different types of abuse (not just sexual abuse!), understand how abusers think, and minister better to abuse victims and survivors.
In this free resource, you’ll also learn how to report abuse to law enforcement, locate a qualified counselor or therapist, recognize the symptoms of PTSD and suicidal ideation, and find out what to do when a known abuser wants to attend your church. I could go on and on about all the topics I cover in this guide, but it’s free! So, download it now and see for yourself!
EXCERPT: WHEN ABUSERS COME TO CHURCH
Excerpt from Not Forsaken: A Shepherd’s Guide, pages 112-113. Download your FREE copy now to learn how you can better protect children in your congregation.
One of the most common questions I hear from pastors is, “But Jennifer, how do we minister to recovered child predators? What if they’re repentant? Shouldn’t they be allowed to come to church again? Aren’t all believers entitled to attend corporate worship?”
First, let’s clarify that there’s no such thing as a recovered child predator. You’re not a recovered sinner. I’m not a recovered abuse survivor. That’s because recovery is a lifelong process. Until we reach Heaven, our sanctification is incomplete. We are recovering, but we are still sinful, finite, and fallible. While our identity as Christians is bound up in Christ (1 Corinthians 6:9-11), we are still prone to the same patterns of temptation which once defined us. For the sake of others and ourselves we must arrange our lives accordingly. We must humbly accept the earthly consequences of sins eternally forgiven (Psalm 51, 2 Samuel 12).
As to the question at the top of this section, the short answer is no. The long answer is as follows.
Say you have a godly elder in your congregation. We’ll call him, Elder John. Elder John is a great guy; strong Christian, eloquent teacher, father of six, and married for 37 years. He’s the salt of the earth. Everyone looks up to him and wants to learn from him.
Elder John has offered to serve as chaperone for a recovering child predator. This guy served two years in prison for sexually abusing his daughter, but according to prison officials he was a gold star convict. He ate all his vegetables, made his bed every morning, read all the right books, and didn’t shank anyone. In fact, he got out early for good behavior.
His parole officer also sings his praises. He’s never been caught loitering in creepy manner outside schools or near playgrounds. He’s never been late to register as a sex offender. He pays his child support on time. He honors his wife’s restraining order. He hasn’t been caught buying a gun. He doesn’t even have any traffic tickets. As far as sex offenders go, he’s Prince Charming.
Elder John has been meeting this guy for coffee every week for almost three years. He’s certain his repentance is genuine. This guy has read all the books of the Bible, even Leviticus. He can quote Geerhardus Vos. He tithes. He even knows a little Greek. His favorite superhero is Batman, he prefers Coke to Pepsi, he votes Republican, and his favorite sport is baseball. What could be more wholesome and safe?
So, Elder John offers to be responsible for this guy if the session will let him attend church services. The session wants to be careful though. They decide that, despite this man’s repentance, he won’t be allowed near the nursery or Sunday School rooms. He won’t be invited to Sunday school fellowship over coffee and doughnuts. He’ll arrive right as the service starts and leave immediately after. If he needs to use the restroom, Elder John will go with him and make sure no kids are in there. He’ll even walk the guy to his car so he’s not unsupervised in the parking lot.
“We’ve done it!” they think. “We’ve created the ultimate predator-proof safety plan! Our children will be safe, and this prodigal son can return to church.”
But now let’s look at this through the eyes of a child.
Little Abby is eight years old, which is the same age this man’s daughter was when he assaulted her. Abby looks up to Elder John. He and her daddy are good friends. Sometimes, their family goes to Elder John’s house for BBQs, and her parents enjoy Elder John’s Wednesday night Bible study. Abby is certain that all Elder John’s friends are just as godly as he is.
One Sunday, Abby notices Elder John sitting next to a man she’s never seen before. The following Sunday, they’re sitting together again. The Sunday after that, Elder John accompanies the man to the bathroom.
“They must be really good friends,” she thinks. After all, Abby and her friends often visit the bathroom together. That’s what little girls do, so this is perceived as the closest comradery.
This goes on for several weeks, and Abby gets curious. When she asks her parents who he is, they get a strange look on their faces, and tell her to stay away from him. This makes Abby even more curious. A few times, she wanders close to the man, clutching her little pink Bible, hoping to hear snippets of his conversation. They’ve never spoken, but he’s smiled at her. Abby thinks he looks sad, and she wonders why. Everyone should be happy at church.
One day, Abby is out playing in her front yard with some neighbor kids, and she sees Elder John’s friend walking a dog down her street. What are the odds? She goes to say hi. She pets his dog. She introduces herself. He says his real name isn’t important, but his friends call him Ziggy. She thinks that’s funny. It turns out, he loves playing ball and reading Narnia, just like her.
At this moment, Elder John is 20 miles away trimming his rose bushes. He has no idea what’s happening. Abby’s mom is inside with the baby, and her dad is still at work. Abby is alone and unsupervised with a sexual predator who she trusts, because she knows him from your church.
Learn how to better protect children at your church, by downloading Jenn’s free resource, Not Forsaken: A Shepherd’s Guide:
About ECAP: Evangelical Council for Abuse Prevention was created in 2019 to help leaders protect the vulnerable in ministry through standards, accreditation, and resources. While there are a number of providers doing good work in this space, our community must press forward to excel still more in this biblical stewardship. We believe that every person is created in the image of God for the purpose of worship. The people in our care must be protected from abuse so that they can hear the gospel and grow in discipleship for the purpose of the Great Commission.
ECAP seeks to help leaders know what should be done to protect persons and how to respond when an allegation of abuse is reported. Our accreditation program will assist in demonstrating compliance to the standards resulting in peace of mind for leaders and parents and sustainability to ensure that safety programs continue as designed. Read more at www.ECAP.net.
Copyright © 2021 Jennifer Michelle Greenberg