Law or no law, there are men and women of the cloth who understand that there are, as Sissela Bok puts it, “reasons sufficient to override the force of all these premises, as when secrecy would allow violence to be done to innocent persons” (qtd. in Fortune). I expect that all clergy members sincerely strive for what is best for everyone involved. When child abuse or neglect occurs it must be stopped; a stern talking to by a priest is not sufficient and may be seen as cheap grace. The pastor should have a “clear purpose: to protect the one who has been victimized and to hold the offender accountable” (Fortune).
Alaska’s lack of legislation regarding this topic could be seen as placing confidence in Alaskan clergy. By giving them less law, and more room to deal with abusive situations, they can accomplish in private what the court system rarely accomplishes publicly – protecting the child and restoring the abuser. It is critical to note, however, that offenders minimize and deny their actions. Treatment is most effective when monitored by the courts, and most clergymen, educated in scripture, simply do not have the resources to deal with these issues alone.
Finally, it should be observed that it is rare for an abuser to come forward and confess to a minister. Most often reports of abuse to clergymen come from the child or a family member seeking help, and in this case the minister is not bound by confidence. Alaska law should no longer remain quiet on this issue; we must bolster our clergy by giving them a mandated legal avenue to pursue justice, healing, and safety.
This is a resource that I only discovered a few days ago. They put out a yearly report called the “Outreach 100” in which lists the top 100 fastest growing churches in America and peers into the practices that these churches have in common. Another issue that looks interesting is, “Small Church America,” where they encourage small churches to write in with ideas that they have been successful with. Overall, this publication looks like it would be a fascinating read.
Outreach is a bi-monthly magazine packed with resources and ideas for churches of any size or budget. A Year’s subscription is $29.99 and currently includes a copy of Change your Church for Good by Brad Powell. For more informtion click here.
Posted in Wish Book
For clergy this issue of confidentiality goes much deeper than just keeping secrets. As a doctrine of some faiths, clergy are obligated to maintain privileged communications. In Christian denominations this is especially true, where the idea of confidence is directly implied in the practice of confession. “For Anglican and Roman Catholic priests, confession has sacramental significance, and whatever information is revealed is held in confidence by the seal of confession, with no exceptions” (Fortune). In such cases, any law that mandates reporting would directly violate the freedom of Religion act. While clergy have the right to evoke privilege, courts typically allow clergy who are mandatory reporters of child abuse excuse from duty if the information came through privileged communication (Hammar 128).
Consequently, there has been much debate over the constitution of privileged communication. “In order for the clergy-penitent privilege to apply there must be a communication that is made to a minister in confidence” (Hammar 107). This would generally mean that there are no other persons around, and that the communication is of a professional capacity between a congregant and spiritual advisor. This key to interpreting the clergy-penitent privilege means that information obtained at a church picnic while people play volley ball is not privileged. Likewise, if after a service a person begins discussing issues with a pastor while people are lingering in the back of the auditorium, it is not legally in confidence, and can be shared without breaking privilege.
Without a law requiring reporting, clergy who break confidence to report could be seen as untrustworthy by their congregation, and since Alaska law doesn’t adjure “any person” to report abuse under the Child-Welfare Act, it leaves ministers holding the ball. Certainly responding to such issues is never easy, but there is a system of child protective services right here in Alaska that can protect the child and help the abuser rehabilitate. It is unwise for a clergyperson to attempt to deal with situations that he or she neither have the skills nor resources for. Giving the minister an out, by creating a law for these situations, is necessary.
Brian Leport brought this facebook post to my attention with a blog posting that he did in response to Anne Rice’s renunciation of Christianity today. Brian’s comments generated a good discussion, you should check them out Here. Although I know little of Anne Rice, I recognize the tone of this posting. “Jesus Protect me from your followers”, “they like Jesus but not the church” and many other slogans are out there right now. I really believe this trend has been a cop-out for many budding Christians. When things don’t go the way you expected just cite, “Jesus is my homeboy” and walk away from church thinking that Christianity is separate from the Church. Sadly, it’s not.
Rice’s comments remind me of the elitist Corinthian assertion, “I am of Christ.” “I am above your petty differences, and am a truly enlightened Christian because I am not Christian… I follow Christ.”
Paul’s response was simple, “Is Christ divided?” Certainly her motive of pure religion is honorable, but making aloof accusations and brushing broad strokes across the very faith she professes is not what Paul encouraged in Corinth. I think he said, “not cool.”
When I was a child one of the best parts of the Christmas Season was the Wish Book catalogue from Sears & Robuck. The endlessly thick book smelled of fresh ink and its color pages were full of the every imaginable toy: Lego, micro machines, bicycles with mag wheels, and Nintendo games. My mom would hand me a yellow highlighter and would tell me to mark the items I really wanted. After washing the heavy book in yellow highlighter I would leave it in on the kitchen table for my parents to discover its countless possibilities.
I’m starting a new blog entry, Wednesday Wish Book, where I’ll post things that I would like to get for Christmas. To my wife, this is a great place to start. 🙂
Recently I came across a church growth calculator that you will find here. Although I think this particular calculator is way to complicated and unrealistic, I believe it is important to set goals and break them into smaller, more reasonable goals. Smaller goals are not nearly as daunting as larger ones can be. Incredible things are accomplished in small increments. In exploring this idea, I belive the Pert formula used in determining exponential growth can be helpful in the context of church.
Pert is commonly used to predict exponential growth rates of things like investment accounts, populations, and anything that might grow in a compounding way. Churches don’t grow statically, rather as membership increases so does outreach potential.
- A is final amount
- P is principle
- r is rate of growth
- and t is time in units(i used quarters)
The prospect of doubling in two years(8 quarters) is daunting for any church; however, using A=Pert we can provide a realistic set of goals. This example is for a church that begins with 40 members.To do this you must have a compounding rate of .08664 over 8 quarters. I know this sounds way to complicated and sterile, but it makes the quarterly goals easy. below would be a(rounded) quarterly goal set for a 40 member church that wanted to reach 80 in two years. Each of these easily attainable goals are over a 3 month period; This is much easier and more realistic than looking at the big picture of doubling.
Saint Michael's Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Sitka, AK
Because Alaska has struggled with the issue of child abuse by clergy for so long, I find it fascinating that we are on the short-list of states which have yet to address the issue of clergy-penitent privilege and the mandated reporting of child abuse. Twenty six states currently charge members of the clergy among other professionals with the duty of reporting known or suspected child abuse or neglect. In 18 states, the law obligates any person suspecting child abuse or neglect to report it. Alaska however, is among 8 states and 4 territories yet to address this issue (United States). Requiring clergy to report child abuse is a complex issue that creates an ethical dilemma for clergymen. Clergy walk a fine line between their moral obligations to protect innocent children from harm while maintaining the ethical call for confidentiality with congregants. This is a difficult dilemma, but it should not remain unaddressed by our state. It is here on the crossroads between two ethical superlatives that we Alaskans must come together and find consensus.
Recently a pastor said to me, “you’d be surprised by some of the things people will tell their pastor. And often I think, ‘I didn’t want to know this,’ but it’s just part of it”. The need for clergy-penitent confidentiality is of supreme importance in religious contexts within our society. By its very nature the communication between a minister and his or her parishioners is about baring one’s soul without fear of reprisal. Our rabbis, priests, and pastors have held privileged confidence with the utmost integrity, and because of this legacy they receive information and deal with issues that people would otherwise tell only God.