(It has been a while since I posted here, but I intend now to be more regular again.
I’ve had a fairly draining week, centred on an unexpected public attack on my conduct by a senior government official (see here, here, and here for the story). I’m still somewhat annoyed, as I think the comments that person made were without any reasonable foundation. But, on the other hand, I was challenged in church this morning by Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:44
But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;
This particular contretemps has nothing specifically to do with my faith, or that of my attacker, but it is hard to escape the more general applicability of the point Jesus made – uncomfortable as that might be for me. I’m not quite sure what it all means practically for me, but it drew me up short. And, no doubt, rightfully so.
I was less positive in my reaction to an item in the church newsletter.
Police Vetting. As part of our continuing commitment to the safety of our children and also to comply with new laws, people who work with under 18 year olds are now required to undergo a policy check. Forms are available from…..and ….
I would simply refuse. I have absolutely nothing to hide in this area. But then I have also never felt any sense of having particular gifts or talents that would make me effective in working with children and teenagers. In that sense there is no hard choice to make in saying “if that is the sort of church you want to run, I won’t be volunteering for anything involving under 18 year olds”.
As it happens, the congregational leaders appear to have misunderstood the Vulnerable Children Act. Here is an official document providing a guide to the requirements. As that document points out, the requirement applies only to people employed or engaged by “specified organisations”, and it explains as follows:
1. Is an organisation a specified organisation?
- Is it any of the State services (section 2 State Sector Act 1988)?; or
- Is it receiving money from a State service to provide regulated services (unless it’s receiving money via individualised funding arrangements)? and
- Does it employ or engage children’s workers to perform a regulated service?
I can see no basis on which a local church would normally be covered.
My own three children are presumably among those whose “safety” the church wishes to protect. So this isn’t an abstract issue for me. But even if one set aside the practical issue – before they are caught abusing, the people who do these things typically don’t have a criminal past in these areas, and police vetting can do nothing to identify them – there are more profound issues of principle at stake, even if churches semi-voluntarily apply these sorts of state codes.
Sexual abuse is a terrible thing for the abused (but also for the abuser, and the communities in which these things happen). I’ve known a few victims of abuse – fortunately not in a church context. But we have no basis, in Scripture or church tradition, for elevating sexual abuse above other forms of sin. We are fortunate that the seriousness of such abuse is now generally recognized. Other sins somewhat less so – particularly in the wider community, but even inside the church. It is the sins whose significance we are blind to that have perhaps a great potential to trip up us, and our children. There are no police vetting checks for pride, covetousness, adultery, lust, or the sheer indifference that enables us and our children to conform too easily to the world, drifting away from the Kingdom, while barely recognizing what is going on.
Perhaps equally important should be the desire to build Christian communities of trust. What do my kids make of the announcement in the newsletter? Perhaps that adults are (rightly) concerned for their safety? But perhaps too that abusers and people wanting to harm them lurk everywhere – the same sort of fearfulness that has parents driving 10 year olds to school, or being unwilling to let them play in the street, or disappear for hours on their own.
We must not be blind to sin, especially our own. And we do have responsibilities to each other, and to our children. And so I’m not suggesting that church leaders (as leaders in other voluntary groups) don’t have to be discerning. Sometimes that might involve declining to accept someone’s offer to participate. Sometimes it might even require a police check, or reference to official agencies. But what do we say about our community, and our willingness to trust one another, when we fall so readily about on agencies of the state to do mass screening for us? Life has risks – walking to school, climbing trees, falling in love, travel, and so on. We need to build communities, and raise children, to accept (and manage risks) – perhaps most especially in church, the congregation of the redeemed, where we do (or should) acknowledge each week our own sin, and our need for God’s forgiveness.
It is a fearful thing to cause another to stumble, perhaps especially a child, but there are so many ways we (and others can do it) than simply the latest state reaction to one particular (grevious) sin.