10 Ways Your Church Can Prevent Child Abuse

By Carolyn Holderread Heggen

Here are ten ways that churches can prevent child abuse. This content is extracted from a chapter of Sexual Abuse in Christian Homes and Churches by Carolyn Holderread Heggen (1993). Holderread Heggen, PhD, is a psychotherapist specializing in trauma recovery. Although she spent most of her clinical and academic career in Albuquerque, New Mexico, she currently lives in Corvallis, Oregon, and is an active member of Albany Mennonite Church. 

1. Name the sin of abuse:
Unnamed abuse cannot be healed or stopped. Adequately named, we can begin to exert dominion over this evil. 

2. Dispel the notion that what happens in homes is private and no one else's business: Children need opportunities within the congregation to talk about fears or concerns they have.

3. Communicate that the pastoral staff is trained and willing to intervene in abusive families:
Everyone on the pastoral staff should receive training to know how to intervene effectively with abusive families.

4. Examine the church's theology for teachings associated with abuse: Any teaching that is not good news for both women and men, both children and adults, is surely a distortion of the gospel and must be reconsidered. 

5. Expect leaders to model exemplary sexual lives: Because of their high calling, high visibility, and high influence among us, pastor and other church leads should be expected to live godly lives.

6. Get members informed about and involved with issues related to sexual abuse: By investing congregational time and money, members not only become more intensely involved but also realize that the church is serious in its commitment to working against abuse. 

7. Use congregational influence to fight pornography and other media which eroticize violence:
Pornography which depicts children in sexual ways may communicate that children are appropriate, desirable sexual partners and may put children at increased risk of victimization.

8. Become advocates of children: Children can only be as strong and effective in their own defense as the adults who stand beside them.

9. Educate children to recognize and report abuse:
Child need help understanding that while the Bible says that children are to obey their parents, the biblical command for obedience is conditional: "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right" (Eph. 6:1). 

10. Call both males and females of all ages to responsible, healthy sexual attitudes and behaviors: The church must communicate its belief in the importance and goodness of human embodiment and teach that sexuality is an intrinsic dimension of human life.