She was in the youth group in a church I served while in college. I see her often now because she works at a business nearby.
She told me she found her old diary and read an entry about traveling with me to a youth function. She was probably 13, and I was 19 or 20. I thought about how things have changed. Today, ministers are taught never to be alone with anyone, especially children. I asked her to place the diary under seal!
I suppose it’s true that the church has had several issues thrust upon us in recent years without an invitation. The most disturbing is the abuse of children.
Years ago, this issue wasn’t on the “front burner.” We know the problem was there, but I can’t remember churches dealing with it, much less discussing it. Maybe we lived in blissful denial. However, a number of organizations have dealt with issues of abuse in recent years.
I heard about the Jeffrey Epstein series on Netflix and viewed it last summer. More recently, I found attorney Bradley Edwards’ book, “Relentless Pursuit,” in our local library and read it.
Edwards, a Florida attorney, pursued the prosecution of Epstein for many years. He befriended the Epstein victims and helped many get financial settlements.
Edwards also worked with the state of New York to reopen the Florida case in which Epstein was convicted on lesser charges, basically put under house arrest and had his records sealed. Charges in this New York case brought about Epstein’s arrest in the summer of 2019, preceding his prison suicide one month later.
Edwards’ book explained in greater detail how Epstein groomed young, and most often troubled, women. One of the survivors called it “sexual slavery.” It’s hard to imagine why a prominent and successful man would prey on young girls, and why he thought the rules didn’t apply to him.
Edwards wrote how he and Epstein had a number of private meetings, and at the last one, shook hands as friends. Though Edwards didn’t stop working on the prosecution, the reader sees a surprising human dimension in the relationship.
Churches work hard to be welcoming and affirming, but today churches must be vigilant. There are enduring consequences for abusers. Those who have harmed children, paid their debt to society and repented before God can worship, with restrictions. They cannot be near children and they cannot be alone in church buildings.
Surely one of the most difficult things churches must do today is express love to offenders, offer forgiveness, befriend them and foster a human connection.
We have to be constantly watchful so that church is the happiest and safest place on earth for boys and girls.
Reflections is a weekly devotional column written by Michael J. Brooks, pastor of the Siluria Baptist Church in Alabaster. The church's website is siluriabaptist.com.