It’s time to talk about predators in the church

By Bobby Ross Jr
Christian Chronicle
October 14, 2019

Steve Black of the Ezekiel 33 Project speaks during a “Christian Chronicle Live” panel discussion on sexual abuse in Churches of Christ.

Christine Fox Parker, center, recommends two books for church leaders: “Child Safeguarding” by Basyle Tchividjian and Shira M. Berkovits and “Predators” by Anna Salter.

[with audio]

'Christian Chronicle Live' panel tackles sexual abuse in Churches of Christ.

The predator repented. Or so he claimed.

He’d done his time and confessed his sins. He was a changed man. Or so he told the elders of a congregation willing to forgive.

He was welcomed into the fold. But to protect children, the leaders determined that they couldn’t be too careful.

They’d require a “buddy system” where the man wouldn’t be alone at church. Someone who knew his background would be by his side at all times.

However, they’d keep the predator’s past a secret. What purpose, after all, would it serve to put a scarlet “P” on his chest? Let him worship in peace.

“He was a model citizen at church,” said Steve Black, founder of the Ezekiel 33 Project, a ministry that raises awareness of the threats posed by predators. “But that didn’t prevent him from seeing children.”

The predator identified a certain little girl who liked softball. He saw her last name on the back of her jersey when she came into the auditorium. Then he combed local ballparks. He found the field where she played. He showed up at a game.

He found that her parents had two other children: an infant and a younger brother who played T-ball.

The predator struck up a conversation with Mom and Dad.

“Well, at the tail end of the game, the parents let their guard down because, ‘Hey, we see you at church every week, right?’” Black said.

So, as the softball game wrapped up, the father left with the son for the T-ball game. The mother headed to the restroom with the baby. And the friendly man from church? The parents asked if he’d mind watching their daughter.

No, he wouldn’t mind. Not at all.

“They just handed their daughter into the hands of a predator,” said Black, who shared that anecdote during the recent Harding University Bible Lectureship. It illustrates both the complexity of dealing with predators and the hypervigilance required to protect children.

Black, the father of a sex abuse victim, was part of a panel that I moderated at the invitation of Harding leaders. Also on the panel were Christine Fox Parker of PorchSwing Ministries Inc., which offers a safe space for abuse survivors, and Chellie Ison of The Christian Chronicle. Besides serving as our digital news editor, Ison — with her husband, Nathan — leads the Celebrate Recovery ministry at the Memorial Road Church of Christ in Oklahoma City.

The discussion — dubbed “Christian Chronicle Live” — grew out of our front-page coverage earlier this year of a former longtime Pennsylvania youth minister accused of preying on generations of boys but allowed to remain in the pews.

“Your article was a sobering reminder to me of how ill-equipped many church leaders are for facing this important and complex issue,” Harding President Bruce McLarty told me.

One session focused on responding to the needs of victims. A second highlighted best practices for preventing sexual crimes from occurring. Both sessions can be heard in their entirety at the links below.

The two hours of expert testimony made this much clear: It’s time that we in Churches of Christ talk about this problem.

It’s time that we stop welcoming and protecting known predators (which only encourages the unknown ones). A truly repentant sexual offender won’t raise a ruckus over an alternative service away from children.

Finally, it’s time that we learn how to identify predators, take steps to educate parents, listen to victims and recognize the danger of keeping secrets about wolves lingering among the sheep.





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