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”.
Let’s make sure we all understand one important truth, child sexual abuse is both a sin AND a serious crime. In order to effectively carry out its responsibility of protecting children and punishing perpetrators, all 50 states have laws that mandate certain citizens to report suspected neglect or abuse of children. Violation of mandated reporting laws not only fails to protect children, but also enables the perpetrator to avoid criminal prosecution. Scripture says, For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good (Romans 13:4). This clearly indicates that a central purpose of civil government is to do good. If that is the case, can there be any greater good carried out by civil government than to punish citizens who violate laws designed to protect society’s most vulnerable members? In order to carry out this good, the authorities must be notified of the alleged offense. Governments are incapable of protecting little ones and punishing offenders if its citizens remain silent in the face of such evil.
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