She was in the youth group in a church I served while in college. I see her often since she works at a business nearby.
She told me she found her childhood 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 how things have changed. Today, ministers are taught never to be alone with anyone, especially children. I asked her to place the diary under tight security!
I suppose it’s true that the church has had several issues thrust upon us in recent years without 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 this, or even discussing it. Maybe we lived in blissful denial. But today we see this issue with new clarity.
I heard about the Jeffrey Epstein series, “Filthy Rich,” on Netflix and viewed it some time ago. Later I found attorney Bradley Edwards’ book, “Relentless Pursuit,” in our local library.
Edwards, a Florida attorney, pursued the prosecution of Epstein for many years. He befriended the Epstein victims and helped many find justice. Edwards also worked with the state of New York to reopen the Florida case. There Epstein was convicted on lesser charges and placed under house arrest with his records sealed. Eventual charges in this New York case brought about Epstein’s arrest in the summer of 2019 preceding his infamous prison suicide one month later.
Edwards told about 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.
More recently I read Rachael Denhollander’s book, “What Is A Girl Worth?” She was the second gymnast to accuse Dr. Larry Nassar, and the first to be believed. Eventually Nassar faced some 200 accusations. Denhollander now coaches evangelical churches about sexual abuse prevention and reporting.
Churches must have policies in place to protect boys and girls. We want to be the happiest and safest place on earth for them.
There are enduring consequences for those who’ve been credibly accused or convicted of harming children, even when they’ve paid their debt to society and repented before God. They cannot be near children and they cannot be unaccompanied in church buildings.
Surely one of the most difficult things churches may be called to do is befriend offenders like these and foster a human connection.
Churches work hard to be welcoming and affirming, but today, churches cannot afford to be complacent.
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.