You’ll know if you watch the news that some horrendous child abuse took place in the UK church in the eighties. Also in the seventies and nineties… and noughties and teens. There can be no excuse, there should be no more cover-ups. This abuse is an abominable betrayal of trust.
You may also have heard that similar abuse has been taking place in schools, in sports teams, scouting and guiding groups, hospitals and summer camps…. Just about everywhere in the UK where kids are entrusted to the care of adults.
Part of my role as a church leader is to make sure that does not happen in kids and youth work at WBC. No one is ever left alone with a minor here without having been DBS checked and having attended one of the Baptist Union’s brilliant child protection training sessions. More than that, no-one who is not a church member can be involved in leading a kids group. This means that we know more about them and their family life than any employer would. We also have a trained Designated Person for Safeguarding and a trustee who is responsible for overseeing training and DBS checking.
I’m also responsible for leading a community of people who demonstrate the self-giving love of Jesus to the world through generous, kind and honest personal lives and relationships. This is the place in the church where I see the effects of child abuse on an almost daily basis. According to the NSPCC, one fifth of the UK adult population suffered severe mistreatment of one kind or another as a child. Children who are abused are far more likely to grow up to be adults whose habits, relationships and lives are dysfunctional than children who are not abused. By virtue of being generous, honest and loving communities, churches attract a disproportionate number of people whose habits, relationships and lives are broken and dysfunctional – selfish, unkind and dishonest. Which means that many of the deeply painful relational breakdowns, depressions, employability issues and family dysfunctions I walk through with people can be linked to child abuse as a root cause. Most of the effects of abuse I encounter stem from abuse by a family member, some from issues in churches and some from other groups in society. I concur with the news. Child abuse has been and still is an endemic evil in our society.
But what I also see on a daily basis is Christians walking with one another through the effects of abuse and the generosity, kindness and honesty of the church family bringing restoration to broken lives. I see wonderful families supporting one another as they care for adopted kids and kids with special needs and other little monkeys with love and creativity and patience. I see a community where it is OK to be open about a broken past and where the presence and love of Jesus overrides broken pasts as the defining label of life. I see kids from regular churchgoing families and the wider community being valued, cared for and taught about and led in the generous kind and honest way of life God wants for human beings. I see space provided for other like minded charity and statutory groups seeking to provide healing and care to broken lives. I see all of this done by volunteers who work hard both to make sure that this is a safe environment for kids and that this is seen to be a safe environment for kids.
There can be no question that the church has historically gone with the flow of endemic child abuse in UK society. But the church I see from day to day is swimming hard against the tide; alert to the current issue and working hard to restore the historical damage. This won’t make headlines, but it is healing broken lives.