Leah is a businesswoman in a nearby community, and I see her occasionally. I knew her when she was in what we used to call “junior high.” I was a college student when I got a call to speak at her church one Sunday. I learned their pastor has suffered a major heart attack and wasn’t expected back at the church for a while. My speaking assignment turned into a six-month commitment, and it was a wonderful experience for me. At the time I had about three or four sermons, so speaking to the same group three times each week was a challenge, but also a time of personal growth.
I remember the community Thanksgiving service scheduled that fall when some of our church members lobbied for me to be the preacher. I smiled sweetly, but inwardly groaned at the thought of another sermon that week! Fortunately, they asked the Methodist pastor to speak at the service.
Leah told me lately she found her old diary and one entry was funny. She wrote, “I got to ride with Mike in his car tonight!” Though I couldn’t remember the specifics, we both had a laugh. But afterward I reflected on how much things have changed since those early years. Today most of our churches have specific policies forbidding ministers to be alone with anybody, much less impressionable children. And these days we have cameras in place in schools and churches so there’s a record of interactions between adults and children.
A Texas newspaper lately did a major expose on child sexual abuse in my denomination. I don’t know the precipitating cause, but the report was quite shocking. An Alabama newspaper did a summary of the series and mentioned local pastors and other ministers who had faced accusations. Double-shock.
I cannot fathom why any adult would wish to harm an innocent child in this way. This malady has to be a deeply ingrained sickness. I attended a denominational training event last year and heard a national presenter say he couldn’t explain the psychology of this aberration, though he could explain the predators’ methodology. And he told us plainly the safeguards we needed to have in place.
I’ve lived long enough to see several major changes in church life. Some are good, like how we “dress down” today in order to make newcomers feel more comfortable, and how we don’t rely as much on “the language of Zion” in favor of more identifiable speech.
But some changes don’t make us proud, such as child protection policies. But in obedience to the one who blessed the children, we do all we can to make church a safe and welcoming place for boys and girls.