Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Faith Works 2-26-05
By Jeff Gill

If you look into the breaks left on so many trees from our year end ice storm, the exposed areas tell a variety of stories.
Quite a few show hidden flaws, patches of rot or wear invisible before the stress of added weight revealed the inner weakness. Lightning strikes, insect infestation, tree diseases were at work long before the freezing rain fell.
Some are just a split where the fault was just waiting to collapse. And there are a few that are just a mystery: why this branch broken, and not another more likely to splinter or crack?
Recent revelations of clergy sexual abuse, crossing a variety of denominational boundaries, shake out very like those tree branches. Occasionally, the story that finally comes out is still a mysterious one: why did this preacher or teacher "fall"? More often, the sadness of the tale is intensified by revelations that the cracks were visible long before from the right perspective, and those who could see what was going on turned a blind eye.
Many area churches are going to a "two deep" approach to ministries of all sorts, especially with youth; Scouting has used the idea of "no adult alone with a child out of eyeshot or hearing for any reason whatsoever," or "two deep leadership" since the early 1980’s, and this has reduced both incidents and claims of improper contact with children to almost none.
Background checks usually only reveal convictions, which are rare even against long-term predators, who often are passed from church to church, area to area, state to state, until they do something so heinous as to get all the way into the court system. By then, they may have a wide swath of damage already behind them, known to those immediately involved but nowhere official.
Does your church or religious organization have policies or procedures for contact and interaction with youth? By bringing up the subject, and suggesting a plan, you may be helping your youth leaders or clergy, who aren’t always sure what to say when folks resist taking steps. "Oh, preacher, we trust you!" Trust, where earned, is wonderful, but some kind of reference check, background check, or two-deep absolute standard for youth outings can protect leaders and the entire institution against both false claims, and the occasional invisibility of problems until they explode in your faith community’s midst.
And if you see a problem, don’t be afraid to speak up. Being a voice for the voiceless is at the heart of what most congregations are called to be, anyhow! Keeping silence is what most predators and problem adults count on to cover their tracks, and can be the moral equivalent of helping them commit their crimes.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio, and has directed youth camps for almost 25 years. If you have suspicions of child abuse, call 349-6333 or 6400; if you have news or stories for the upcoming Easter season, e-mail Jeff at disciple@voyager.net.

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