Christian Ministries Internship I
Azusa Pacific University
Dr. Dick Pritchard & Dr. Steve Gerali

"CASE STUDY: Abuse Inside the Church"

Case Study: "Abuse inside the Church"
(Group 2 – Borgmann, Buys, Comfort, Cronin, Kappen, Krill, Nation, Werner, and Williams)

You and your volunteer staff have been formulating policy about appropriate boundaries for student ministry. The law requires that anyone who suspects that a minor is being sexually or physically abused is mandated to report. There is no negotiating with the law. Your church hires a legal consultant who helps to interpret how the law effects the wording of your policy. As the result your policy reads:
"If a student 18 years or under discloses to a volunteer, professional staff member of representative of the church that he/she is or has been physically or sexually abused then it must be reported to the Pastor who oversees that ministry and to the Elder Board who will then arrange to contact the Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS). If a volunteer, professional staff member of representative of the church suspects that a minor (18 years or younger) is being physically or sexually abused then the pastor who oversees that area of ministry and Elder board should be made aware the situation and the church will seek consultation from authorities on how to proceed with the situation."

Shortly after the policy is in place one of your lay leaders asks to meet with you. Lisa, a 21-year-old college student, is active in your youth ministry as a small group leader with 8th grade girls. She has served in the ministry for the past year and is in her second year working with junior highers. Her family has been active in the church since Lisa was a child, and they remained active. Lisa is the youngest of three children. Both of her brothers are older and are married. They are also active members of the church and one brother works with your senior high ministry. Lisa's mother heads the women's ministries as a part time paid staff person and her father is on the Elder board. Lisa is coming to express her concerns and states that she has a problem with the policy. In the course of your conversation she informs you that from the time she was 13 until she was 18 her father had been sexually abusing her. There is no legal recourse that your church is required to take.

There are few situations that are more difficult to deal with as a youth pastor than a student who was molested by a person in a position of leadership within the church. In addition to that, the molestation occurred four years previous, and it is unclear what brought the molestation to an end. I am faced with the difficulty of having no legal or church mandate to take any action at all, but nevertheless feel convicted to protect, to offer grace, and to provide restoration in a manner that protects the confidentiality of the church, family, father and young woman. I am also concerned with my own reputation in dealing with this issue because if it is found out later that I had knowledge of the situation and failed to take any action, it will likely hurt my own standing within the church body. It is unclear to me at this time whether this situation has been fully restored or if it has been repressed and unknown to other parties indirectly involved that would be necessary for restoration. What is known is that the young woman has a concern regarding the policy the church has put in place, but at this time, changing it is out of my control, nor is my primary concern. At this point what is unknown is if the accusations themselves are true, why the molestation stopped 4 years ago, and if there are more victims than the young woman.

Theological Reflection
How much grace and restoration would take place if no action were taken? How much grace and judgment is required to restore right relationships within the family? There are three main theological themes that must be dealt with in this situation: grace, restoration, and judgment. On one extreme we are given the example of God's grace in all situations, where God forgives all sins (John 8:3-11), and expects us to do the same. On the other extreme, the bible clearly seeks justice in situations where those that have had wrong done to them are restored by the just punishment of those that have done the wrong (Acts 5:1-11). In the middle of this is the key to finding balance, which is the ultimate goal of restoration that is modeled in the narrative of David, Bathsheba and the Prophet Nathan in 2Samuel 11-13. All three are essential to a situation involving molestation, but the question at this point is to what degree do each of these play. The main frustration I have is not knowing if the pursuit of truth is worth sacrificing the confidentiality of those involved, which most certainly would occur. It is my desire to approach this situation with patience, grace, and wisdom that will bring restoration to all of the parties involved with sacrificing the least amount of confidentiality and reputations.