Protecting our Children from Pedophiles: Practical Steps for Parents, Churches and Organizations to Identify and Address This Problem

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Note from the editor: I appreciate Jimmy and Les tackling this extremely difficult subject and sharing with us what they have learned about the dangers of pedophilia so that we can all take steps to protect those who are most precious to us and be more aware of what is going on around us. This is not an easy subject to discuss and there are some things said in the accompanying video that are very, very difficult to listen to. But this information needs to be shared, even if it just protects a single child from going through the nightmare of being abused by a pedophile. Please share this with your elders, your family minister, or anyone you think needs to get this information (use the Facebook share button at the top of the post if that is helpful). We can’t let kids suffer for our lack of boldness and courage to say and hear what needs to be said and heard. – Matt

I conducted a 3 hour workshop and webinar on child abuse in the church on February 22, 2014 with Les Ferguson, Jr. as my guest.  It is a subject that is very personal to us—Les because his disabled son Cole fell into the hands of a sexual molester from church who not only sexually abused Cole, but also murdered him and Les’ wife Karen.  And it’s personal to me because at about the same time in 2011 our family was devastated to find out that my father had sexually abused 23 children over the course of his life.  Les and I, both ministers in the churches of Christ and unknown to each other at that time, were faced with the very strong reality that sexual abuse of children in the church is very real and, sadly, way too common.  For 27 years my dad preached at the same congregation where I currently preach.  Many of the members I had to inform (before the newspapers informed them) about my dad’s allegations of abuse were the very people he converted to Christianity years before.

Dad is now serving a life sentence in a PA state prison for his crimes, but the Ferguson and Hinton families are all serving our life sentences of grief.  Here’s the catch—we were meted out our sentences of grief simply by being ignorant and uninformed.  This is why Les and I do what we do—to educate and inform other people of this dark evil, and to give them tools for keeping their children safe.  If you don’t think it could happen to your child, you better reconsider.  Church is one of the most appealing places for predators, precisely because we are not expecting it to happen.

Here are just a few points to highlight what we discussed in this seminar.  Please take time and watch the entire video.  It’s free.  And it’s too important not to arm yourself with the knowledge needed to protect your kids and the children that are in the church’s care.

#1 We Christians Are Over-Trusting

We want to believe that the assembly is a safe place for our kids—free from the threat of any innocence being stripped from them.  Unfortunately, churches that have not taken drastic measures to protect their kids are one of the most unsafe places we can put our kids.  Dad once wrote me from prison, “Churches are the easiest place for pedophiles to offend.  And there are a lot of us in the church.”  We trust adults to watch our kids.  We allow access to our children.  Yet 93% of pedophiles describe themselves as religious.  That’s important, because religious people go to church.  And, as the famed Dr. Anna Salter personally told me, “Churches are such inviting targets.”  Yes they are.  I’ve lost count of the number of discussions I’ve had with people, just in the churches of Christ, over the last 2 years who tell me stories of pedophiles abusing children in their congregations.  Keep in mind, these stories are only stories about those getting caught.  Why is this not front page news in our religious papers?  Why do we feel obligated to keep silent about it?  Why are our colleges, seminaries, and churches not conducting background checks on ministers or teaching them how to protect children?  Which leads me to the next point:

#2 We Are In Denial or We Don’t Want to Believe It

Perhaps most people are where I was prior to 2011.  I’d never noticed the daily barrage of news stories.  Who wants to hear about a 2 year old child who’s been raped by a 60 year old church member?  Or an 8 year old boy who was forced to perform oral sex on a deacon?  Yet this is the reality our children are facing in the church.  There are an estimated 42 million survivors of child sex abuse in the US alone.  Most of them will never disclose to anyone, including their spouse, that they were abused as children.  The scars victims of abuse carry is overwhelming.  Over 90% of perpetrators are known by their victims, adding insult to injury.

Adults are groomed by perpetrators just as their children are.  We parents are groomed to believe that the man from church who offered to baby sit our kids just enjoys helping overworked parents out.  We don’t want to believe that he really offered in order to isolate our child and gain access to their bodies.  We’ve got to stop denying that this is a problem in the church.  My heart breaks every time I’m contacted by someone in the church seeking advice because their kids have been sexually abused.

#3 Churches Need to Be a Place of Protection, Healing, and Justice

I long to see the day when children and survivors of abuse feel safe in our churches.  One young child, after disclosing abuse to her mother by her minister, was not believed by the mom.  The mom spoke with the minister—the alleged perpetrator—and was convinced that her little girl was mistaken.  The minister recommended that the mom visit another church just to get a second opinion.  When the mother and girl showed up to the other church, the girl was forced to go into a room alone with 4 men, including the preacher who had molested her!  I grow weary of the stories I hear when pedophiles have groups of church supporters in the courtroom while the victim takes the stand alone.  What message is this sending?  And the stories of children being forced to face their abuser and forgive him. . . it’s unbearable.

We have to stop giving a free ticket to the plethora of abusers sitting in our pews.  We have to very vocally let our children know that, when they are in our care, they—not the abusers—are safe.  We’ve got to develop protection policies that change the landscape of our church buildings.  We’ve got to develop crystal clear reporting methods, know mandated reporting laws, and have shepherds who boldly announce that protecting the flock will take precedence over budgets.  God couldn’t have said it any better when He said, “I will set shepherds over them who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be missing, declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 23:4 ESV).

I have repeatedly said from the pulpit, “If there is anyone here who is thinking about abusing children, we will find you, we will report you, and we will call for the full extent of the law to be carried out against you.”  We let people know that our congregation is not a safe place for would-be abusers.  Some will think that this is too drastic an approach.  I disagree.  We’ve got to expose the deeds done in darkness and protect the innocent.

Please take time to watch this video.  Listen to the voices of wounded people who have been devastated by the effects of child molestation.  Join us in our journey to expose this evil in the church and to protect our children.

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