Gary Morgan, Pastor of Cowboy Church of Ellis County, brought a strong challenge on the large
problem of sexual abuse at the 2013 EBA Annual Celebration. He answers:
"What does the church have to say to the
abuser, victim and by-stander?”
In terms of the church, sexual abuse really constitutes a two prong challenge. One of the challenges
is ministerial and the other is administrative. In my view both are important, but the administrative
is rapidly becoming essential.
In terms of ministry, sexual abuse victims require:
Simply to hear it addressed from the pulpit is huge for victims. Many of them have felt ignored by
the church, and indeed the church has often been complicit in the conspiracy of silence surrounding
the issue. Just to hear it spoken is a validation that they have been wronged and that God really
cares. This is a type of incarnational ministry. Since pastors are perceived to speak for God, their
voice says "God cares," while their silence implies the opposite.
They need to hear what the word of God says to them about the abuse, and they need the hope
that the gospel holds out. In this sense, their needs are not that much different from others who
may be slow to understand or embrace the grace of God held out in the gospel. As I said Sunday
night, they cannot hear that God loves them too much, and hearing it from God's word is
Of course, many victims will require more than this. They may have deep seated psychological
issues that will require a trained therapist. Our church employs a church counselor and will also
provide referrals to outside counselors along with subsidies when necessary. We want them to get
the care they need.
A Place to Heal
Even with biblical and/or psychological counseling, most victims of sexual abuse will need a safe
place to work through their issues and bond with others who have shared their experience.
Celebrate Recovery is a good tool for this. There are at least two solid CR groups in our area. We
host one and the Avenue hosts one.
The other side of the sexual abuse issue involves church administration.
Unfortunately, churches often fail to address this issue until it happens on their watch. As you
know, it is not uncommon for sexual abuse to occur either at church or on a church sponsored
function. While there is nothing that can guarantee this won't happen, there are some easy steps
the church can take to minimize their risks.
We require ALL church staff and ALL volunteers that deal with children to undergo sexual
abuse training. There are a number of online resources for this. We use www.ministrysafe.com.
They are a DFW based legal/ministry organization that provides online video training as well as a
database that tracks compliance. (And the cost is very reasonable.) Requiring volunteers to go
through this training accomplishes several things:
• It opens their eyes to the warning signs of sexual abuse. Predators typically follow a very
predictable pattern that can be recognized if people are taught what to look for. This is
huge in terms of prevention.
• It makes the church a much harder target. If potential predators see that the church is
serious about reporting sexual abuse and trained in how to spot it, most of them will seek
out a softer target.
• It enables volunteers to know exactly how to respond when a child reports abuse.
• It keeps the issue current among key church leaders. If they have to face the issue as a
policy matter, and even undergo training, it is much less shocking and taboo when dealt
with as a ministry issue.
Recently a metroplex area church had a case of abuse occur on their campus, despite having all the
right safeguards. That is unusual. Nevertheless, when the press interviewed the pastor, it sure
sounded good when he was able to provide documentation that EVERY volunteer and staff member
had undergone sexual abuse training and that his church had a written policy concerning the
reporting of sexual abuse. That pretty well ended the media feeding frenzy. I think a church that
doesn't have something like this in place is courting disaster. If these tools are available and
the church is not using them, they could be viewed as negligent by a jury.
With regard to bystanders and abusers, the situation is somewhat more complicated. Obviously,
all cases of child sexual abuse MUST be reported to the authorities. That is the law. However, that
opens up the possibility that it will take on a life of its own in the legal system. While we can
counsel and love the abuser and/or bystander with the message that God will go with them through
that process and that he is able to redeem the sinful lives of sinful people--including both us and
them, we must nevertheless insist on concrete boundaries where the abuser is concerned. If
someone is on the sexual offenders list (especially for predatory behavior) and the church wishes to
accommodate and minister to them, a good rule of thumb is to restrict them to worship services
and assign them to a pastor, deacon, or other leader who will essentially shadow them. Frequently
law enforcement will have its own boundaries that must be observed. For example, some probation
will stipulate that a sexual offender cannot come within X number of feet of a public facility where
children are present. Thus, in the case of convicted sex offenders, it is always wise to touch base
with local authorities.
I hope some of this will be helpful to you as you pray about how to move your church forward on
Cowboy Church of Ellis County