WRF Member Basyle Tchividjian Discusses "Christians and the Struggle to Report Child Sexual Abuse"
I recently came across a legal alert from a Christian organization that directs pastors who learn of suspected child abuse to first conduct their own internal investigation “to decide whether the situation requires reporting to the authorities.” Yikes!
As I work with churches and other Christian institutions, I often encounter professing Christians who struggle with whether they should first report suspected child abuse to the civil authorities. As above, they are often directed to report abuse suspicions to leadership who then decide whether or not to involve the authorities. Double yikes!!
A church elder once told me that if he received a disclosure of child sexual abuse, his first response would be to interview the alleged victim. His rationale was that he wanted to “be sure that the allegations are legitimate before reporting to the police and ruining the man’s reputation”. When asked what training he had to conduct a child forensic interview, the man was silent. When asked whether he wanted the responsibility to determine the validity of a very serious felony, he started to shrink back in his chair. I then asked whether he was prepared to violate mandated reporting laws. Fortunately, the elder got my point, changed his opinion, and acknowledged his need to learn more about child sexual abuse. An issue often at the heart of this critical struggle is whether the Church is obligated to subject itself to the laws of man when it believes that it is capable to address the sin “in-house”.
Besides biblical and legal grounds for reporting suspected abuse to authorities, there are also practical reasons to do so. The government has the exclusive authority to unilaterally remove children from guardians who are inflicting physical and/or emotionally harm. However, this can’t happen if the authorities are not notified of the suspected maltreatment. Oftentimes, a child’s very survival is dependent upon whether we take the initiative and report. There should be little debate within the Christian community that the protection and survival of children is a God ordained responsibility that we cannot neglect or excuse.