1. What are our responsibilities as individuals and religious communities?
We all have a duty of care toward others. This basic principle originated in the words of Jesus: “Love your neighbour as yourself” [Mark 12:31]. Church communities should implement policies and procedures that enshrine this principle. They should be alert to warning signs and indicators of abuse, discourage secrets and be willing to report serious incidents to authorities—abuse is a crime!
2. Should Christians be held to a higher standard of behaviour?
The Old Testament Scriptures include instructions to protect and provide for “the fatherless and the widow, and . . . the foreigner residing among you” [Deuteronomy 10:18]. This includes the vulnerable, the disenfranchised and the exploited, who completely rely on the protection and support of others for their survival.
The misuse and exploitation of power of one person over another is not consistent with Christian faith and values. One New Testament writer described religion as looking “after orphans and widows” [James 1:27], meaning people who are vulnerable. Christian communities have a legacy and mandate to express God’s love through justice and compassion.
3. Since bad things obviously happen in church, why should anyone still belong to a church family?
King David of the Bible was overlooked and belittled as the youngest son in a big family. Even as king, he experienced mistrust, betrayal, exploitation and the tragedies of murder, incest and abuse. Yet somehow, in spite of all this dysfunction, his family continued on as the House of David, the family tree for the birth of Jesus.
Church communities that are safe and caring can sustain us as our “other family,” helping nurture the journey toward forgiveness and healing and wholeness—even healing from abuse.
4. What are some practical things we can do for victims?
The truth of the victim’s story should not be questioned or minimised. Victims deserve the freedom to express their confusion, betrayal, disbelief, hurt, guilt, grief and loss. Victims should be treated with dignity, sensitivity and understanding, and be believed, supported and not blamed. Their personal chaos, pain, fears, anger and confusion about God, [and] loss of faith should be acknowledged. Victims need accurate and helpful non-judgemental information, free from prying or confronting “Why?” questions, or minimising of the abuse. They deserve privacy where possible, but should not keep inappropriate secrets.
Victims need to be assured it takes courage to break the silence, that the abuse is not their fault, that abuse should never happen to anyone and that you sorrow for their pain. They deserve assurance their community will not abandon them and that God, who is beyond gender, knows, understands and suffers with them.
5. How do you balance grace and forgiveness, justice and compassion?
Christians have an imperative to respond with compassion and justice. There should be an honest, truthful account of what has occurred that acknowledges the violation. Offenders should be kept accountable with ongoing intervention such as support groups that require absolute accountability or long-term therapy from a professional. Offenders should sit with their remorse, with spiritual support, as they seek genuine healing for their brokenness. They need help to consider how they can best make restitution for the damage they have caused. Only if offenders have accepted full responsibility for their actions and take on board the pain they have caused in the lives of others can forgiveness and healing begin. For this to happen it requires grace, courage and commitment to recognise and implement justice and compassion.