For people who have taken my workshops, you know that I often use the text from Mark 10 where Jesus welcomes and blesses the little children. Frequently, people will notice that the text says that, “People were bringing little children to him [Jesus] in order that he might touch them;” [emphasis mine] Those people will often then bemoan the fact that it is no longer OK to touch children and other people in the congregation. What they mean by these statements is that they feel their ministry has lost something because of policies and practices related to preventing child abuse, often referred to as “safe church.”
First of all, I don’t think that protecting children means that no one can ever touch a child again. We just need to do it in appropriate ways in public spaces. We need to be aware of how our behavior (including touch) can be perceived even if we don’t intend harm. We have an unflagging responsibility to protect children from people who do intend harm in our midst.
In the text I mentioned earlier, people often don’t realize how radical Jesus’ actions were. Inviting children into his midst (after all, he was a Rabbi, a teacher, someone important) was affirming them as fully human, not just the property of their father (which is what they would have been considered by the wider culture). Jesus clearly took children, and all manner of other outcasts, seriously. He was their protector and advocate as well as nurturer and healer. I think that means that we, too, have a responsibility as people of faith to protect and advocate for young people in our congregations.
I don’t think our ministry loses anything by employing the good boundaries necessary to protect children from sexual and other forms of abuse. In fact, we enhance our ministry by reminding people that we take young people seriously, that we consider them important, even if vulnerable, members of the body of Christ.
So, if you’re in Iowa (or somewhere else nearby) please consider learning more about abuse prevention practices and policies at our upcoming workshop, “Creating Safe Space in your Church” at Mayflower UCC, Sioux City, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. Aug. 13, 2011. Register online no later than Monday, Aug. 8.