Another learning lesson from another prominent church. This time it is Bethlehem Baptist Church. The elders of the church announced a week ago (July 14) that a child had been abused by a juvenile in their children’s ministry. From all outward appearances, the elders are handling the situation with as much transparency as possible and following prescribed “best practices” when something like this surfaces. (Best practices include turning the incident over to the police immediately and not trying to handle the investigation in-house.)
Church leaders need to learn from how others handle situations like this.
Most important in this case is the realization that the abusers in cases of child sexual abuse do not always have to be adults. According to this article, 23 percent of reported cases of child sexual assault are committed by juveniles.
On average, the average child is exposed to pornography by age 11. (In the most recent study, Josh McDowell states that this age of exposure has now fallen to 9-years of age.) It doesn’t take a great deal of imagination to conjecture what things a 9-10-year-old might attempt on a child if he/she has been exposed to hardcore pornography. (NOTE: most law enforcement considers sexual interaction between children and juveniles where there is an age difference of 5-years or more. In other words, a 13-year old who interacts sexually with an 8-year old would be considered an abuser.)
This is a conundrum for the church. We like to see our students serving, and the children’s ministry is an obvious place for students to serve, especially with their parents serving as the teacher. Unfortunately, this also places young people in tempting situations when they take children to the bathroom unsupervised. This is an ongoing discussion we as church leaders must engage in as our culture continues to become more and more sexualized and pornography has a greater and greater impact on the families of our church.
Below is the statement concerning the incident from the Bethlehem Baptist Church Elders. Here is a link to the complete document they distributed to their church.
The elders of Bethlehem will share the following statement at our Sunday services across all campuses on July 14, 2019:
The elders of Bethlehem want to inform the congregation that last year, an incident occurred in which a juvenile engaged in sexual misconduct against a child in our Early Childhood Ministry at a Bethlehem campus. When a Bethlehem leader learned of the situation through a letter sent by the victim’s parents, he immediately called law enforcement, which began an investigation. Bethlehem cooperated in this investigation, which is now concluded, though certain legal proceedings may continue. Law enforcement’s investigation identified only one isolated incident, but even one incident is too many.
We take this matter very seriously and are heartbroken and grieve for the families that have been affected by this incident. We are grateful for the courage of anyone, especially a young child, who speaks out about abuse. If you have any information about child abuse or suspected child abuse, we encourage you to contact local authorities immediately. We share this statement and information to inform the congregation as we move forward to identify any ways to improve our child protection policies & procedures and to provide additional training for Bethlehem’s leaders, staff, and volunteers. As we attempt to protect the identities of the young people and families involved, we have concluded that it is appropriate to share only limited information.
We have engaged GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) to help us to continue to fulfill our priority of protecting the next generation and to help us find any ways that could better safeguard the children of Bethlehem. GRACE will provide training for our leadership on Saturday, August 3, and for the entire congregation on the weekend of August 10/11 at each campus. We pray that God will heal those affected by this situation, especially the young victim, and help and guide our congregation as we move forward.