Everyone needs to read this.
If you are in a church where people have a “this would never happen here” attitude, then that means one of two things:
(1) It is GOING TO happen to you;
(2) It ALREADY HAS happened to you, and, when the facts get out in the open, the defecation is going to slam into the circulation at a very high velocity.
Predators will target churches for the same reason that armed robbers target banks.
The bank robber will hit the bank because “that’s where the money is.”
The child molester will target the church because “that’s where the children are.”
If you are a regular reader here, you will shake your head because, if I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: the predator often DOES NOT “LOOK” EVIL!
The predator is usually NOT the creepy, Peewee Herman knockoff and is in fact very likely (a) very respected, (b) very friendly and seemingly trustworthy, and (c) SOMEONE THE KIDS WILL OTHERWISE LOVE! He is often married and has children of his own, and his wife is often well-liked. He may be a seminary graduate, he may be a professional, he may be very gifted. He will likely be very popular.
Churches are generally drawn to people who (a) have charisma and (b) are good performers at what they do. If they are preachers, they can preach the lights out. If they are music ministers, they can sing and play instruments like no one’s business. If they are children’s ministers, they are EXCELLENT at object lessons. If they are youth ministers, they are VERY POPULAR with the teens.
You say your church does background checks? Excellent! EVERY CHURCH NEEDS TO DO THEM ON EVERYONE WHO SERVES WITH CHILDREN OR TEENS.
But remember this: the predator will pass the background check. This is because the background check will only tell you if he has any prior scrapes with the law. And Murphy’s Law says he has a “clean record”.
You say your church has a “two person rule”; i.e., no adult is allowed to be with children or teens alone. EXCELLENT! Every church needs to have that policy!
But are you sure that these workers are not having any kids or teens at their houses without other adult chaperones? Do you have adequate chaperones at camping and other outside-the-walls events? (And make no mistake: that is your responsibility!)
And given the recent debacle at Seven Rivers Presbyterian Church in Florida, you might need to ensure that the Internet connectivity in your church has reasonable porn-blocking technology.
Even then, you can do everything right and the predator can still make it past your defenses.
What can you do about that?
(1) Foster a culture of transparency in your church. President Reagan once told his staff, “Never be afraid to see what you see.” That is great advice here: if it looks suspicious, then don’t be afraid to sound off.
(2) As for “sounding off”…that means ensuring that people understand that they should call authorities immediately and report suspicious activity or accusations thereof. Can those accusations be bogus? Of course. But let the authorities sort that out. Are they perfect? No, but their batting average on these matters will be better than yours.
When an accusation surfaces, you aren’t going to want to believe it, because it will involve someone that you will swear is sterling.
Be that as it may, DO NOT “DO YOUR OWN INVESTIGATION”. I am going to give you some reasons why this is a very bad idea:
(1) Unless you are trained in this sort of thing, you aren’t qualified to do any such investigation.
(2) Even if you ARE trained in this sort of thing, you have conflicts of interest that could cloud your judgment as you investigate.
(3) By interrogating witnesses, you may unwittingly intimidate them into recanting, and this could squelch any chance of rooting out other abuses and exposing other victims. And trust me: if you get an accusation and it proves to have merit, Murphy’s Law says you’re seeing the tip of the iceberg.
I personally know two people who are doing 20-year sentences for child rape. One (RW) assaulted his own granddaughters–this was not church-related–and the other (CE) was a children’s worker for many years at various churches.
RW’s case, even though it was not church-related–is important for this reason: I was at RW’s house many times, and worked with his granddaughters in Awana (they were assistants to folks like myself), and saw them at the house many times. There were no obvious indications of abuse.
One of them wrote about the abuses in her diary, and one of her parents read it, and went to authorities. RW was convicted in a jury trial.
Had that parent dismissed this by saying, “I know RW, I can swear that he’s a good guy…he would NEVER do anything like that. There’s no way this is true!”, this would have never gone to trial. Thankfully, he (or she) saw what they saw and acted on it.
CE’s case was a classic disaster. He had been to multiple churches, and had been accused of improprieties with children everywhere he went.
What I was told after the fact: in the early cases, which occured in the early 1990s before myself or the pastor (RC) were at the church: CE’s prior churches didn’t report him but rather made him leave. When I was one of those churches from early 1994 through early 1997, CE had a “clean record”. From early 1994 to 1995, he was at a large church in Louisville. It was a liberal Baptist church. Apparently, he was pushed out of that church due to accusations from others. I wouldn’t find that out, however, until 1997, after I was gone.
None of his accusers at any of his prior churches reported him to authorities, and–rather than report him–the leaders at those churches had quietly told him to move on. (NEVER, EVER DO THAT! This enables predators to continue their dirty work.)
My first dealings with him were in 1996: CE taught in the children’s area. I taught one of the adult Sunday School classes and an occasional evening class. CE would teach the children’s object lesson on Sunday mornings. During this time, I was unaware of any accusations against him. I didn’t like him, but couldn’t put my finger on why. I did not, however, know of his past.
After I left in 1997, two accusers went to authorities, accusing CE of trying to touch them in certain places. CE was arrested and charged.
But other parties–people who knew those kids–interrogated them, and they subsequently recanted. With evidence lacking for convictions, CE was pled down to a misdemeanor which was subsequently expunged from his record.
In 2000, I returned to that church as the Minister of Education. When I got there, CE was a children’s worker and was even on the Personnel Committee. (In other words, he was actually on a committee that had the power to fire me!)
Oh, and CE had a “clean record”. That is because (a) his prior charges were dropped, and (b) the misdemeanor was expunged from his record. That means CE would pass any background check.
Neither the pastor (RC) nor myself liked him, but the powerful folks on the key committees swore by him.
RC and I did the best we could: we kept a close eye on him, and we were dogmatic about the “two person rule”, which pissed off some of the children’s workers.
During my year there, no one accused him of anything. And I did not witness any suspicious activity. (And I was looking for it.)
Not long after I left in 2001, CE also went to another church.
But there was a family–the mom was a childhood friend of CE’s–that continued to have CE babysit their kids.
One of those kids started having some medical issues. Upon examination, a doc became suspicious. Subsequent professionals determined that CE had raped the child.
CE was arrested and charged.
This time around, other accusers came out of the woodwork, most of those pre-dating my time at that church, and some of them involving other churches at which he had served.
According to RC, none of the documented abuses occurred during our terms there. To this day, I have no idea why that was the case. I wish I could say that RC and I scared the Hell out of CE, but I doubt that was the case. Maybe he knew he was being watched. Who knows?
Ultimately, he pled guilty and is serving a 20-year sentence.
Notice that, had those 2 kids–in 1997–not been interrogated by people who knew them, CE would likely have been stopped in his tracks.
That underscores the danger of “doing your own investigation”.
The folks who did that in 1997? They thought they were rooting out liars. They thought they were saving the church from being tainted by false accusation.
In reality, they enabled a predator.