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Creating Safe Sanctuaries

A sanctuary is, by definition, a place of refuge and safety a place set apart for people to rest in God's hands and worship with others they call family. For far too many people, however, our churches have been a place where relationships have been abused and deep hurt has been inflicted. Newspaper headlines have told the dark stories of ministers who have abused their relationships with parishioners and children who have been wronged by the hands of those who were supposed to be nurturing them in their faith.

Congregational Protection

School teachers and childcare workers must pass background checks, complete trainings, and follow guidelines when caring for our children. Many churches, however, do not have the same types of policies in place and often appreciatively allow any church member to volunteer as children's Sunday School class teachers or trip chaperones without similar protections. In doing so, we put our children at risk of abuse or maltreatment. Many denominational offices have recommended policies for the protection of children and youth, suggested steps for developing a church child and youth protection program, and developed lists of resources to help congregations better ensure that are children are safe whenever and wherever they are in the care of the church.

Clergy Sexual Misconduct

When religious leaders make sexual advances toward adults in their congregations, they violate the trust of their congregations. Their behavior abuses the power their congregations give them to be spiritual leaders. Clergy sexual misconduct (CSM) is not a private affair between two consenting adults; it is a breach of fiduciary trust. We expect religious leaders to guide us and hold sacred the trust we place in them. The consequences of clergy sexual misconduct are devastating for victims and their families, for offending religious leaders and their families, and for congregations whose leaders abuse the trust placed in them. Dr. Diana Garland conducted a national study in 2008 to determine the prevalence and nature of CSM with adults, finding that more than 3% of women in congregations have experienced CSM. The study has produced sample policies and resources to help churches prevent CSM and to respond justly to prevent further harm if it does occur.

Power and the Christian

We are all people of power. We teach about servanthood in our churches, but we are often hesitant to talk about power associating it with negative emotions and images rather than claiming our own power for the good and protection of others. Power exists in relationships either through status or earned respect. Power and the Christian is a five-lesson Bible study that looks at how we are to handle power responsibly in our relationships, confront abuses of power, and learn to accept and use the power that we have for God's glory. This resource can be used as sermon background, group Bible study material, or for individual study and reflection.