Can safeguarding be integral to Christian mission?

Safeguarding in the church has become a high-profile and contentious issue. On the one hand, all agree that our churches must be experienced as safe places, and that the failures of the past must be addressed. On the other, the experience of many is that safeguarding administration has grown exponentially, and it is in danger of becoming a bureaucratic nightmare that does not deliver what is intended.

So can safeguarding actually been seen as something positive, an integral part to our mission? The latest Grove booklet in the Mission and Evangelism series, Safeguarding as Mission, addresses this head on, and is written by Justin Humphreys of Thirty-One Eight, a highly respected organisation in this area.

Justin begins by addressing the challenge head on:

Safeguarding has become a familiar term within most church-based settings in recent times. Its prominence (indeed existence) within the consciousness of churchgoers, workers and leaders alike may give rise to a range of re- sponses, not all of which will be positive. Safeguarding, for many, represents a government-led, bureaucratic, tick-box process that has little place in the church. For others, it represents a series of hurdles to effective ministry and mission. Yet, for others, safeguarding principles and practice are enablers and a good-sense guide for interacting with others.

It is this last perspective that this booklet seeks to address by encouraging the reader to explore the biblical imperative for creating and maintaining safer places and to reframe safeguarding as an integral element to our missional purpose as Christians. We will do this through exploring several encounters that different individuals had with Jesus throughout the New Testament and drawing learning points from how his posture, attitude and behaviour shaped those interactions and created safe environments throughout his mission. From these, we will draw conclusions regarding how this learning should help us to shape and potentially reframe our own thinking and practice.

It is important to make a clear distinction early in this booklet; it is proposed that a shift might be required that leads us towards considering safeguarding as something we are all called to as we seek to follow the example of Jesus. Therefore, this booklet is about safeguarding as mission rather than safeguarding in mission. That may be a paradigm shift for many…

The challenge may be to us all to begin thinking of this in a new or different way. Maybe the language of safeguarding is not always the most helpful or transferrable into our church contexts. Maybe the way it is sometimes practised does not always achieve the positive ends it is intended to. Despite this, maybe some questions remain about why this is important. Do we practice safeguarding because the government or the law tells us we should? Do we undertake the relevant training because our local church leader tells us we cannot serve on team without it? Do we comply with the requests to have our criminal records checked for fear of upsetting our safeguarding lead? Or do we thoughtfully consider the way we create safer places for all because we truly believe, before all these other reasons, that we have a biblical mandate to do so?

So maybe for a moment we should put aside the legislation, the policies, the practice guidance and even the training and all the other things that go with what we now understand safeguarding to be. For a moment, maybe it is more helpful to explore through the lens of biblical narrative why we really ought to be the exemplars, pioneers and champions of safeguarding. I suggest that this is where we should begin laying our foundations. From here we can then rebuild and see the worldly expectations and mechanisms as vehicles with which to live safely and missionally amongst our neighbours.

Justin then locates our thinking about safeguarding in the biblical vision of a holistic approach to how we treat people:

Going back to basics, we can helpfully understand safeguarding as a positive, life-affirming and justice-focused set of ideas, activities and measures that are ultimately geared towards the protection from harm in many different contexts. In the contexts in which we may be active in missional activity through the life of the church, this could be seen to focus on either children or adults (or both). In recent years, there has been a dawning realization that adults can be at risk of harm just as much as children. Indeed, the questions underpinning our understanding of what constitutes vulnerability in adults are at the heart of how safeguarding is viewed and interpreted in many dif- ferent settings. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence defines safeguarding as follows:

…the protection of a person’s health, well-being, and right to live in safety, free from harm, abuse, and neglect

So, we might ask ourselves—who exactly might be at risk or vulnerable to harm, abuse or neglect and what has that got to do with us? The harder part of that question, which we will come back to, relates to our understanding of vulnerability. The easier part to answer is that it has everything to do with us. Throughout Scripture we are reminded, guided and even commanded to love our neighbours as we love ourselves (Lev 19.18; Matt 22.39; Mark 12.31; Luke 10.27; John 13.34; Gal 5.14), to treat others as we would want to be treated (Matt 7.12; Luke 6.31) and to go out of our way to meet the needs of others above our own (Rom 15.1–2; Phil 2.3–4). These are the fundamental tenets of how we are to behave with each other as Christians. Such passages of Scripture point us towards the need to protect each other from harm, abuse and neglect. These adverse experiences are the very opposite of what the Bible repeatedly calls us to. Not only must we avoid either deliberately or unwittingly causing harm to others, we must do all we can to ensure that others are enabled to behave in a way that also does no harm—that is the very essence of safeguarding.

Justin notes how this concern for the vulnerable is emphasised again and again all through the biblical narrative as something integral to the way God’s people are to live. This then leads into the following chapters, in which Justin explores Jesus’ encounters with a range of individuals in the gospel narratives, and reflects on them from a safeguarding perspective. He explores Jesus’ meeting with the woman at the well in John 4, the rich young ruler in Matt 19, and the Pharisees in Matt 23 to draw out some very different dimensions of concern.

According to John, Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman was one of the earliest in his three-year ministry. After clearing the temple and his sub- sequent conversation with Nicodemus, his next interaction of note was this fascinating conversation at Jacob’s well in Sychar. John’s choice of this story and its placement in his gospel was intentional. Jesus never did anything unintentionally. He either planned it himself or knew that it was going to hap- pen as part of the bigger plan to reveal something of his Father to the world. Different and valid interpretations of this story exist which place varying emphases particularly upon the Samaritan woman. Whilst these different views are important to explore, the focus of this chapter is on what we might learn from the posture of Jesus towards the woman…

In communicating with the woman, Jesus demonstrates that inequality is something to be explored, challenged and rectified openly. In a time where this would have been viewed as taboo, his interactions modelled the need for restoration of relationships, in this case between men and women and people of different ethnoreligious groups. Jesus placed the desire to be proximate and show value, one person to another, far higher than the social expectations of the day based in cultural difference, oppression and prejudicial protocol. His caring and conversational style (as opposed to teaching) in this encounter shows us something of who God is…

The picture that we have of Jesus speaking with the woman at the well shows us clearly that he knew the power of spending time with others in order to understand, build trust and connect with them. Yancey paints a beautiful im- age of Jesus (in contrast to the many images we often see depicted in popular art) in which he demonstrates no reliance upon his physical appearance or power, but through his ability to connect and incisively empathise, he paves the way for a level of intimacy that is transformative in the life of the Samaritan…

The choice of the encounter with this woman might seem obvious for the subject. But the other two encounters offer quite different perspectives, including some key perspectives on the use and abuse of power.

One of the first things that might strike us about the nature of this conversation [with the rich young ruler] was that Jesus had been asked a specific question by the young man. It was a question that was to have a challenging answer. This is important as we are often faced with the question of how we communicate challenging messages in the church today without being accused of misusing our power or authority or, even worse, being accused of being abusive. This is one of the hardest questions we might face when considering how to find the line between what is healthy and what is not in our interactions. In fact, this line or transition between exhortation and coercion can be one of the most difficult to pinpoint…

In terms of the dialogue between Jesus and the young man, we do not read any more detail. We certainly do not read that Jesus pursued him, pleading with him or attempting to control or manipulate him to make the decision that Jesus would have preferred. Jesus did not feel that the young man’s response in any way reflected poorly upon him, leading to a need to coerce him into a different way of thinking. The choice about how the young man wanted to respond to the challenge was left with him. He was free to follow Jesus or to walk away. He chose to walk away. This made the young man sad, and it probably made Jesus sad too—after all, it was an informed rejection of Jesus’ invitation. Choice is the antidote to control…

Following on from the ways our dark sides can take over and become the drivers of our behaviours, is the way in which we might call this out across the church. We have heard this described before as ‘speaking truth to power’—this is a calling to account for where power is being misused and abused by those in positions of authority to cause harm, division and manipulation for personal gain or institutional benefit. Jesus’ actions in his encounter with the Pharisees is instructive and provides a powerful picture of the need for such behaviours to be identified and rejected from a healthy church (Matt 23.1–36). He voiced a strong rebuke in the form of seven woes (Matt 23.13–32).

You might wonder what this has to do with safeguarding as mission. If we accept that safeguarding is a range of practices, attitudes and behaviours that seek to prevent harm as well as respond well in situations where harm has occurred, then we must accept that part of this includes how we address anything that threatens a clear sense of safety for others—whether harm has already occurred, or whether we have reason to believe it may occur. If safeguarding is fundamentally part of our missional aim, our approach to situations that threaten to cause harm should be one of our primary concerns as Christ-followers. Jesus was clear, direct and uncompromising in his challenge to the Pharisees when he saw the bondage and harm that was caused to those over whom they lorded their interpretation of the law.

This is, altogether, a fascinating and refreshing approach the issues around safeguarding. It focuses our concerns not on bureaucratic conformity, but on the theological and missional issues at the heart of the question. And it offers insights based on the biblical account of Jesus’ own example. It deserves a wide readership.

You can buy Safeguarding as Mission: Learning from Encounters with Jesus from the Grove website for £4.95 post-free in the UK, or as an electronic text (select format) delivered by email.

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47 thoughts on “Can safeguarding be integral to Christian mission?”

  1. Safeguarding should be more than a tickbox exercise to cover the Elders if something goes wrong. Here’s a stress test for it… suppose a paedophile comes to Christ and repents. (Very few paedophiles admit the horror of what they did, but it can happen.) The Elders keep him away from children’s ministry, just as you would lock the drinks cabinet on a reformed alcoholic, and also for ‘optics’. But is that enough?

    • It is not enough. Advice and help from the wise and experienced must be sought in accordance with proper procedures to draw up an agreed ‘safety plan’ if this person is to be part of the church. The risks are not minimised by just keeping them off the Sunday school rota. What is dangerous is any church leader thinking they can ‘manage things’ themselves.

    • Yep, complex. I know of one instance where the pædophile concerned then moved on to two other churches repeating the process but confidentiality didn’t allow passing on information because it hadn’t come to court and proven in a court of law. The final church took the approach you suggest and I’m not sure if that was anything like enough.

      Some of the questions raised — can the elders deal with it — then overlap with how the church separate to the legal processes of the nation deal with it.

      • Richard in Cyprus – the key word here is ‘confidentiality’ which means that the churches were not Christian churches and the people holding the secret were not Christians.

        There is something fundamental about this – we know that the apostle Paul was consenting to – and organising activities that involved the murder of believers, , because it is recorded in Scripture. It was recorded in Scripture, and not hidden or airbrushed out, for a very good reason. His testimony was particularly powerful precisely because he acknowledged that he was a sinner, making it clear ‘this is where I was before the road to Damascus’ and giving all the horror and gory details; ‘this is where I am now, after Christ worked a miracle in my heart and mind’.

        Similarly, in the Old Testament, we’re given a lot of detail about the flaws of just about every important figure. The authors of Scripture didn’t seem to think that the sins of these characters, no matter how heinous, should be airbrushed out – far from it – showing forth that they were sinners and the extent to which they received God’s mercy, was very important.

        If someone isn’t prepared to own, openly, where they were before they encountered Christ, what Christ has done in their lives, the problems of besetting sin that remain, then this is a very poor testimony; it is difficult to see how such a person is actually ‘in Him’ at all. More importantly, those who help such a person hide a past identity and live under a new identity are not servants of the Living God. Those who agree to the ‘confidentiality’ and fail to pass on such information are not Christians and are headed for the eternal fire.

    • In brief.. No.

      How do you know he (or she) is a paedophile? As a CofE minister, if he reveals this to me then I’m required to pass this on. It can’t (and shouldn’t) be kept private. In my experience there is also a naivety in some church members about these things, a confusion between forgiveness and properly managing the situation.

      Added to that or, better, underlying it, the ability of paedophiles to device should not be underestimated. They are not always “horrible at first sight”. They can be friendly and engaging….and therein lies a danger.

      • Indeed Ian. When I worked as an an dependant advocate in the mental health services, at the outset I made it clear that everything was in confidence, except where there was a risk of harm to themselves or others, when it would have to be disclosed.

  2. Slightly off-topic: the rich young ruler was told “Go and sell your possessions; come back and follow me.” We’re then told that he obeyed the first part of this command (looking understandably sad.) Am I the only person who wonders why we assume that he didn’t obey the rest, just because he isn’t subsequently mentioned?

      • I know I’m being a bit mischievous here, but he was told a) go; b) sell; c) come back; d) follow. He obeyed a). He couldn’t have obeyed b) until he’d obeyed a). So we don’t know. Also it’s possible that Jesus had moved on, or even been crucified before he’d finished doing b). Maybe he’s one of the nameless new Christians of Acts!

    • I don’t know the answer to that, Penelope. But I’m regularly struck by God’s (and therefore Jesus’) instinct towards freedom of choice – even when he knows it will result in many bad choices being made.

      I would say that we humans, who he made in his image, also have that instinct but that it is sinfulness, aided by atheistic ideologies or false religions, which takes pleasure in denying freedom of choice to others. We see evidence of that in spades all around us now in the Western world! Our own Church of England’s desire to remove the choice of individuals to seek conversion therapy is just one shocking example.

  3. ‘So, we might ask ourselves—who exactly might be at risk or vulnerable to harm, abuse or neglect…?’

    The real question I think is ‘who exactly might NOT be at risk or vulnerable to harm, abuse or neglect?’

    I didn’t think of myself as vulnerable but now twice have suffered. The first time when I was accused incorrectly of a number of things that I didn’t do, resulting in a campaign against me by three families. They believed they were following Matthew 18 principles and that I was failing to admit sin. But I could not admit to something that was demonstrably untrue. It got very heavy with a psychologist involved and everything was proven to be false testimony against me. It was very painful and went on for months (now about 25 years ago). Like a physical scar from an accident, one is always living with the emotional scars even when healing has taken place.

    The second time was more recently — again with false accusations against me — and our UK vicar persuaded me that I had to pursue it so that the safeguarding principles by the organisation here were adhered to otherwise others might actually get damaged than I was.

    So… my take is that everyone is at risk or vulnerable to harm. As such it’s not about identifying types of person at risk but treating everyone as vulnerable and at risk. This should, I believe, radically impact how we see safeguarding.

    The second converse question is ‘How do we protect people from untrue accusations of harm or abuse?’

    Much of what we do for young people is related to protecting adults from accusation as it is to protecting the young people. Again this almost overlaps with the first point of seeing everyone as vulnerable — both young people and adults. The risks are different but everyone is at risk!

    • Indeed,
      Much of safeguarding today is through recognising that one, anyone, maybe a vulnerable adult, vulnerable to false accusations, hence the need not to put oneself in a position where there are no independent witnesses, especially where there are children and to keep records.

      • The fear of false accusations poisons the well and creates a culture of denial obscurantism and victim blaming. Those who talk about or fear false accusations are a clear and present danger to faith communities. Peddling this fur-by is shameful

  4. It would seem that Paul thought so.
    2 Th 3:14 And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed
    Heb 13:17 Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.
    Liberals obviously cavil at the term as it is restrictive of liberal [lawless]behaviour. Gal 3:1 1 Pet 4:17et al.

  5. As with Richards comment above, and speaking as a Pastor, in conducting a SWOT analysis with my team last year I considered Safeguarding as a strength and a threat. Your review of the booklet highlights how the community of faith should behave from a kingdom perspective, in other words, the church itself ought to be competent to create this safe environment in which it exists, and this should be for all. Safeguarding is a secular imposition on the church, it comes from without and in some circumstances circumvents what would have been historically the remit of the pastoral ministry of the church oversight. It may also create tension between the appointed Safeguarding officer and the leadership, (I happen to have a brilliant SG officer). Another question is who protects the pastor/vicar/leadership of the church? In my experience some of the worst forms of coercion and control have come from strong family networks within churches that have resulted for example in a process of “Starving out” the Pastor, or verbal and non verbal forms of abuse. There is also the question of how terms that describe forms of abuse are broad and ill defined. Then there is the more serious question of how SG can be weaponised. I speak from experience, in 2018 a series of allegations were made against me from church leaders in the the town I pastor in. They had embraced some people who had left the church I lead and effectively formed a coalition of discontent in the form of a letter to our denominational leader. Thankfully I had kept written evidential records of my engagement with these people, and there were only three, but the accusers insisted that we conducted a SG audit. In that process as you will be aware, people are invited to come forward confidentially. Many did. Over a 9 month period I endured probably one of the darkest periods of my ministry. At the end of the process I was presented with an outline of the accusations, all of which 9 months previous I had provided copious evidence about. Consequently I was placed under a period of special measures and retraining, something I submitted to. But that was not the end. The ministers of the town refused to accept the outcome and went to the Charity Commission. You will be aware that they are party to SG audits and must sign these off. They made one further recommendation and I complied with that. Today, 2024, those same ministers have not accepted the outcome, have banned me from their buildings or associated charitable works, consider our church and I a Pariah and have effectively blocked our church from community involvement, we are a small community and the established church has seats/members on most of the community/charity boards. By the way, I’m not a mad axe murderer or sexual abuser, and I certainly do not offer massages on the side! I have considered complaining to the denomination whose ministers exert what I consider to be intimidation etc, but my wife just wants us to try to soldier on as much as possible so as not to stir anything up, the pain of the past is too much to go through again. Now, where is the opportunity for grace? In SG training we are told that we should not seek to reconcile or for forgiveness, yet it seems to me in Matt 18 Christ begs to differ, how about Stephen, ought he to have forgiven Paul given the opportunity for his compliance in his death or to have remained in a position of perpetual estrangement? Now of course this has all got to be balanced with the effects of sexual and physical abuse, trauma, rape et al, I get that, but the process of anonymity and confidentiality, of statements taken without investigation of the facts, etc leaves the process open to weaponisation for the means of achieving a goal, in my case, the destruction of a ministry, minister and reputation. By the way, my church has always been a healthy place spiritually as well as in terms of SG, and yes there are always things I could do better and should have said or done better, and yes I have reflected and learned, and yes I have reconciled with those I feel I ought to apologise to and yes I knew who they were because many self identified, but who does protect against the abuse of leaders who too are vulnerable, who in my case have left their culture, employment, family and country behind to serve Jesus? In the midst of my 9 month investigation I considered other work, my conscience was clear and so I did not consider myself to be disqualified from ministry, neither did the vast majority of my church, I am a discipler, and so that would have continued in some form, I became a part time researcher at the mid point of doctoral research, initially I considered SG as a from of secular intrusion into church polity as a theme but settled on Attitude Measurement instead. I am a survivor I believe of abuse and continue to experience abuse. I predicted in 2019 that this would become a mechanism for removing leaders and sadly this has proven to be true, one of my colleagues has been under investigation and is currently suspended for almost a year. So while I do see how SG can be a positive, it merely reflects back to us what we always should have been as is indicated by the scriptures, what the scriptures do offer the SG does not is the opportunity to investigate, provide evidence, even if a mob gathers, and to have grace, forgiveness and where appropriate reconcilliation. In the same way that Contemporary Critical Theory may at some points speak truth yet it is within kingdom truth that the church ought to find its answers to questions of justice, equality, diversity and inclusion and it most assuredly does.

    • I agree that confidentiality for an accuser is not part of the way a church should operate. They very opposite – I think every accusation should be signed and be placed on the church noticebaord as a precondition to any investigation or action.

      Are you aware of the book “When Sheep Attack” by Dennis Maynard?

      • DARVO is the concept that the accused use continuously to deny and deflect. The post from Alexander is to seasoned forensic investigations teams standard defence mechanism. Also highly concerning in fact almost cult like in its subtext of rejection of safeguarding investigation requirements based around secular norms but then a subtle shift towards grudging acceptance. I would imagine that any independent review of the contested evidence by the respondent may result in similar findings of breach of safeguarding. Intimidation bullying and spiritual abuse often even though definitive and clearly defined require confidentiality similar to Police forensic investigations. Have read many obscurantist emotive special pleadings from defendants and although in investigations we should not act as Witch Finder Generals being able to unpack dissembling distraction minimisation special pleading using cultic or spiritually abusive or twisted theology is vital. My recommendation Dr Ian is to consider removing Alexander’s text. Especially given its public nature and its possibly defamatory of the complainants statements. As to Antons comment anyone with the faintest idea about safeguarding would see how completely crazy and wrongheaded his ramblings are.

        • Thanks for the comment. Alexander has posted pseudonymously (as have you), and I know nothing of the situation he refers to. (If you do, then I would strongly suggest you do not use this space to try and resolve differences. It needs to be done in person and directly.)

          The question ‘Who will protect those who are vexatiously accused?’ is an important one, and I don’t see that asking it is a form of DARVO.

          I should also note that the culture of accusation then counter-accusation has rendered the public space almost impossible now to resolve any of these issues.

          So I intend to leave both your comments to stand, so that readers can see for themselves how vexed is the situation we now found ourselves in.

  6. I don’t know about safeguarding being integral to mission, but I know that every failure is a massive barrier to mission. Probably the most quoted reason for not considering Christ, or objections to Christianity that people give, are the examples of abuse in church or by those purporting to be Christians. We have to have our house in order if we are to be missionary.

  7. Indeed Richard ,exactly.
    Once again this I find quite ironic that this should follow on from the previous post.
    True, abuse has many different manifestations. Throughout my experience of churches, I have encountered many of them short of sexual abuse, but hey, a disciple is not above his Lord. For so they abused the prophets. It is a thing of joy.
    It is incumbent upon us to hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches and to earnestly desire the best gifts of ministry of which one is the discernment of spirits.
    In the case of both woman and young ruler, Jesus, by this, discloses the hidden secrets of the heart of both.
    That abuse is subtle, and often secretive ,and devilish in appearing as an Angel of light, it is thus beyond legislation.
    I think that it is also incumbent on us to understand the requirements of a people who are called to be a royal, holy people not just in name but in practice. The first order from the beginning is Purity, and Utterness; rather than robes or performances the
    NT simplifies it with “putting on Christ”.

  8. Safeguarding as integral to Christian mission? [all its missions]
    Just as there are many facets and manifestations of abuse so are there many facets of
    Safe-guarding against those who would creep in to spoil the church and people.

    For among them are those who worm their way into homes and captivate {silly/venerable/gullible/idle/weak minded/weak willed; Other version interpretations}
    morally weak and spiritually-dwarfed women weighed down by [the burden of their] sins, easily swayed by various impulses, AMP VERSION

    We are exhorted to; Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.
    PAUL knew that when he departs, he says; grievous wolves will enter in among you, not sparing the flock.

    A part of the NT Priests commission is to feed the lambs and the sheep and subsequently guard the flock.
    Guardianship is a significant duty; See the duties of a priest, to guard the doors of the Temple that nothing profane or unholy must not be allowed in, which of course cannot be done before or without prior purification. Slackness in this duty is pointed out by Jesus in Revelation and thus imperative to hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church
    It is incumbent on us also to be discerning about what we are being fed.

  9. I’m somewhat torn about this subject. I tend to wince at the church’s new found enthusiasm for parading the word ‘safeguarding’. Rather like the infamous ‘safe and effective’, there’s a coercive sense about it that you’d better fall in line without raising any questions. History regularly teaches us that policies pursued in that way are likely to set up trouble for the future.

    On the other hand creeps, perverts and sexual predators need to know that their behaviour is as unacceptable in Christian churches as anywhere else and that it will be very firmly handled. I don’t think people can only discover this if it’s the very first item paraded on a church’s website, or the top priority of a church’s ever growing mountain of bureaucracy. What is really needed here is unfussy but effective procedures (which are quietly conveyed around a church’s membership) for handling suspicions or allegations, and competence in handling any such issues when they arise. It hardly needs saying that such procedures need to ensure just treatment to both accuser and accused – something which is very much easier to say than to guarantee if it’s one person’s word against that of another.

    But I would suggest that ‘safeguarding’ is as integral to Christian mission as is the cleanliness of the lavatories in the church hall, the tuning of the organ/piano, or the state of the varnish on the church notice board. Every aspect of church activity contributes positively or negatively in some indirect way to its Christian mission but singling out the unfortunate but essential business of dealing with the church’s own human failures as ‘integral’ to that mission seems to be an unhelpful diversion. It’s as obvious as it is distasteful that it must be done: it cannot be avoided. But I think we should avoid becoming unhelpfully obsessed with it.

    • Agreed. I think for some churches it’s an *alternative to mission!
      It would help as well if the Church of England’s hierarchy wasn’t so incompetent and self-protective (of the hierarchy) about safeguarding itself. Look at the disasters caused by the former Bishop of Winchester, all in the name of safeguarding, while other bishops have fought off responsibility for inaction.
      A sense of perspective is needed as well. Clerical abuse is dreadful and guaranteed to draw out the press, but are clerics actually worse than other professions involving care of the vulnerable; specifically, teachers, medical professionals, police officers? Or volunteers like scoutmasters? People fail in these areas as well, but we rarely hear that scouts or teachers en masse are discredited by the failures of some.
      And no, I am not trying to make light of the problem – we all know how the Catholic Church has been devastated by its disciplinary failures. But sometimes people are just looking for an excuse not to take the claims of Christian faith seriously and clerical abuse fits this one easily.
      I wonder what Muslims think of their imams?

      • To amplify a little further:
        Many years ago I knew the young curate who later became the Chancellor of Lincoln. He was subjected to a ridiculous criminal trial in Wales over an allegation of an unwanted kiss and hug of a student years previously, and he was duly acquitted. Despite this, a CDM was imposed on him by the diocese, he was suspended for years and he and his wife were brought to the brink of contemplating suicide. Finally it was admitted that the CDM was wrong – but only when the life of this man and his wife were ruined. Was this “safeguarding”?
        Another clergy friend got into a domestic spat with his somewhat tearaway adult child, who complained to the police. He accepted a police caution (not realising that this is an admission of guilt) – and the diocese suspended him for months and refused to communicate with him. Leaving people in limbo is how these archdeacons seem to operate.
        Contrast that with the absurd rush to burn the memory of Bishop George Bell at the stake (and to hand over £16k), all because of a highly dubious – in fact, refuted – allegation of events alleged to have happened in the 1940s.

        • The truth is that in ‘safeguarding’ matters (which include actual safeguarding and also other things that are not) it is an incredibly fine line between not condemning the innocent accused and vindicating the innocent victim. We would love both outcomes, and would certainly get them in a shot if it were easier to know the truth of the matter. In reality it is often very hard. Please acknowledge this obvious point, everyone – because it is glossed over.

          People complain that progress is not being made. Because they ignore the all-important fine line. Yet they are happy to stand up both for the (alleged and often actual) victims of (alleged and often actual) abuse and for the victims of false allegations. What they cannot seem to see is that it is not always easy to know the truth, so what do we do then? People’s intentions and perceptions differ, even before we come to the all-important fact that these things are private so it is generally one person’s word against another’s.

          And then on top of all that, they ignore the fact that they are not even pressing for the clear pre-sexual-revolution demarcation lines of single-engaged-married. Everyone seems to think that justice can be done without these demarcation lines. No way. Dream on. Why on earth are you accepting the vague post-sexual-revolution demarcation lines and then somehow thinking that justice and abuse will go anything but backwards?

          This culture had it and then lost it. And because they know what it is, and it has been normative for much longer than the present norm, and within living memory too, it is clearly more than just possible and achievable, it has been achieved. So stop the present charade and just do things a Christian way. If everyone knows who is married and who is not, and that there is an expectation that people will generally marry, and that this limits grey areas and dodgy scenarii, then the culture has massively reduced (or rather returned to the status quo) its self inflicted ‘problem’.

    • Safeguarding could fit into a category of a Hertzberg “hygene factors” dissatisfiers, maintenance factors.
      They are not “motivational factors”.
      What are the Christian churches motivational factors? Who motivates but Father, Son and Holy Spirit in unity.
      Anybody in the CoE care to respond?

    • Don

      Actually I think churches (especially the RCC) sadly have a reputation for not confronting abuse and being places where careful predators can be successful.

  10. I feel sure that I have come across clerics in post who want to avoid work in any form.
    Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep:
    So shall poverty come as one that travels, and want as an armed man.
    Some want others to do their thinking for them and defer to them, passive.
    Some feverishly work to change the world, generally using a secular methodology. Many I know who are not active in the work / fight/endurance/or the overcoming of faith, and have no passion to serve God.
    It is reckoned that within a few years the continent of Africa will be the most Evangelical in the world;
    How and why? I would suggest we learn from them, and their rampant faith. see learning.from.the.african.churchs.extraordinary.success/141638.htm
    It is far from certain that even western evangelicals/orthodoxy will adopt their life style.

    • Alan – I wish I shared your optimism about ‘faith in Africa’, but you should be very careful here. Note that the article you linked to assumes that so-called Christian faith in Africa really is Christian and does not question this. Consider the following:

      the richest pastors in Nigeria. On the face of it this does not look good – and indeed it isn’t; it is utterly obscene. One issue here is that the quality of a pastor seems to be measured by how much money the congregation is prepared to give him – so a pastor with a fortune of 150 million US dollars is (for them) a sign of a spiritually vibrant church.

      I have other evidence that all is not well – and in fact there is a real Spiritual sickness. On another forum, I saw a discussion of sign miracles. The miracle of the loaves and fishes came up and someone who had participated in missionary work in Africa piped up, ‘ah yes – food miracles. There was such a miracle in a village in Africa, where a few loaves and fishes fed the whole village – as a result of which the whole village converted to Christianity’ (not a direct quote).

      You can instantly see two things wrong with this. Firstly, while we are open to contemporary miracles, we have to use some discernment. The loaves and fishes, in particular, harked back to the manna from heaven in Exodus – and by this Jesus proved that he was the bread from heaven. Clearly, a latter-day loaves-and-fishes miracle does not have such a meaning. Secondly, examining John’s account, the miracle takes place at the beginning of John 6, while at the end of John 6 all those who were eager to hear more have deserted Jesus (save for the disciples). Do we really imagine that somebody (other than Jesus) performing such a miracle today could have greater success than Jesus? (Well, perhaps – the big mistake that Jesus made was explaining to them what it was all about. If you don’t bother explaining what it is all about, then you won’t have the problem of people turning away).

      So latter day miracles – OK – I’m certainly open to the possibility – there is nothing at all in Scripture suggesting that miracles have ceased – but a particular miracle, which was an explicit statement about the person who performed it – this strains credulity.

      The important point is that if signs-and-wonders are not what they claim to be, then they really are of the devil (and the person performing them is a servant of the anti-Christ). There is no middle ground here – and for this reason I am strongly sceptical – and very worried – about what passes for faith in Africa.

      • Everybody *wants* Christianity to be strong in Africa, but I suspect it is like hrere: everybody is familiar with it but the number of committed believers is not large. Here, the nominals make less noise; there, they make more.

        Craig Keener’s 2021 book “Miracles Today” attempts to separate truth from myth in today’s churches worldwide.

  11. Indeed Jock
    Whenever there is a mighty move of God there will be a responding of powerful evil forces,
    even from the time of Moses, this is a fact.
    D.L.Moody recounts a chap telling him that he “did not belive in a personal Devil” ” Ah, he replied, that is because you have never opposed him” Witness J.Bunyan and his battle with Appolyon.
    Or Jesus whose mission was to destroy the works of the Evil one
    being told by a faithful friend and follower. don’t do it.
    As mentioned,we as the common herd are counselled when someone comes with a *revelation* to judge [discern of what spirit it is of] and chose the good and hate the evil of it and to be opened to scrutiny onself, “Judge ye what I say” [Paul] and the Bereans checking the validity and fidelity of preaching.
    The test of a valid prophet is found in Jeremiah “If he speak not according to this word there is no light in him “which I take to be
    a precept in discernment and as such a thorough reading of the
    Scriptures is required and does not require any great acquired skills,only the author’s mind of His Spirit and obedience to the Law of that Spirit.
    On this score I heartily recommend C.S.Lewis’s call to
    “Join the Resistance” @
    Love rejoices to hear truth but the satanic is always to
    cast about doubt.
    May God keep us from doing satans work for him.

  12. Ah yes, a church that sets itself up as the moral conscience of the Nation[s] should check it’s own internal morality of what spirit it is.
    Well might Jesus say “You know not of what spirit you are of”

  13. There was a recent survey in the US about why people are leaving churches. One of the top answers was sexual abuse scandals. You *cannot* teach a couple that they are in sin unless they get married if you are also sexually assaulting their child…or covering up for the youth leader who is…or even if you are just having it off with the organist. It just doesn’t work.

    Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

    Cofe Safeguarding seems to follow this model. Vast amounts of admin, but then don’t do anything to stop actual abuse by priests.

    • But sexual abuse peaked in the 1970s.
      And secondly, that was a secular (sexual revolution) peak which the church caught the coattails of, no more nor less than other organisations.
      What has changed is:
      a – The legality of homosexuality, enabling more and more organised meeting between homosexual men (the prime spreaders of STIs, per head, by far, and also the most promiscuous on average). About 80% of the late 20th century Catholic abuse was same sex, compared with 1-2% same sex congress in the same period in general.
      b- The narrative to incriminate the church in this respect, which people fall for and are duped by. This narrative ignores point a (that the secularists started the whole thing); holds that Christians should be held to higher standards than the people who criticise them, because of the danger of hypocrisy (consequently, it is not surprising when the Christians fail to reach the standards, because their bar is unilaterally set by the critics at a higher level than the critics set the bar for themselves [!]); and is inconsistent. The education sector has a higher rate of sexual abuse, and yet no-one boycotts that. And no-one would dream of employing the dishonest argument ‘Teacher X abused person Y, therefore ALL teachers are bad’, whereas they do that for priests and Christians all the time.

      • What Peter JERMEY fails to note is that sexual abuse by clergy has been primarily a Catholic problem, and the John Jay College reports into this in the US (2011 etc) showed that 80% of the victims were male and 78% of these were post-pubescent. The press sought to obfuscate these facts by referring to ‘paedophilia’, but this was rarely the case.
        For Catholics the problem has overwhelmingly been caused by a homosexual sub-culture within the priesthood and existing in some seminaries. The high profile cases, e.g. McCarrick, included homosexual abuse of seminarians. The number of homosexuals among US Catholic priests is particularly high and seemed to be increasing in the 1980s.

      • Christopher

        I’d argue that opposition to sexual abuse is not just a secular standard, but a Christian standard too and I am convinced that most churches do not behave as well as the secular world on this issue *because* the secular world takes it seriously and the churches cover it up.

        MP would not have been even investigated if the secular press had not intervened. I’m no fan of the media,but even they can see his behavior was wrong. Why can’t the church?

        Gay men are *not* pedophiles

        I’d be astonished if it were true that there is proportionally more sexual abuse in schools than in churches. There’s certainly never any news stories about it.

        It’s certainly not true that educational leaders are covering up child abuse or protecting star teachers in the way senior church leaders do clergy

        • (1) That is not an argument but an assertion. But it is something we agree on as obvious, so why are you making the point?

          (2) Because there are many crime-level things that the media does not get round to reporting. Even of actual crimes, they report only a tiny percentage. This one however ranks (so far) as a non-crime.
          However, it is juicy because it involves the church. So they report it. That is their agenda. The church is all hypocritical because some leaders fail. They have long lives so of course within the course of those long lives they fail sometimes. That is then extrapolated to their entire life and to all other Christians’ entire lives. And people fall for that.

          (3) This is a non sequitur. Whoever said the two groups were one and the same? You know very well that that was never said, which makes this comment *another dishonest one.
          We have already explained that the proportional overlap between these two groups is way over what would be expected by chance alone. You have ignored that point, and failed to respond to it. The question is why you first ignored and failed to respond, and then came up instead with this stereotype which no-one had said. The statistics are found in many places, e.g. What Are They Teaching The Children? chapter 11.

          (4) Explain why you would be astonished. It is a topic you know nothing about! The Christian sexual code is stricter than the secular, so of course secular standards will be lower. That is exactly what we would expect. Moreover (secondly) one reason why people are secular not Christian is so that they can indulge lower sexual standards.
          The only person who is in a position to be astonished or otherwise is someone who has studied the topic and therefore knows what conclusions are and are not likely.
          Never any news stories about it? There are lots. But the media since the 1960s has been keen on downgrading the church, since it knows that is the main enemy of the secular norms they are pushing, and it hates the church for making it feel guilty (not doing so directly but by implication).

          (5) You could be right, but the education sector is so vast, that you do not speak from knowledge here.

          • Here’s a report from 2004 making the astonishing claim that 9.6% (!) of American school pupils report some kind of ‘sexual abuse’ by teaching staff over a ten year period. If this is even vaguely correct, it is massively more than what is claimed of the American Catholic Church over fifty years.
            https: // www. edweek. org / leadership / sexual-abuse-by-educators-is-scrutinized /2004/ 03
            I am sure there is much more abuse going on in schools but the information is almost never collected and presented as one. It is largely one of public perception and what journalists choose to highlight. I’ve never known a clerical abuser but I have known or come across, in
            my lifetime, perhaps four teachers who were abusers.

  14. That misappropriates scripture out of context and equates faithful preaching and teaching and holy orthopraxy with with a facile allusion to pharisaism.
    And it removes God from and discussion of the Christian church and the centrality of its purposes, mission, how and why she, as the Bride of Christ, the Redeemed- blood-bought people, (brothers and sisters in Christ) of God, exists.
    To use safeguarding terminology: salvation is all about ultimate safeguarding by God in Christ from sin, self and satan.
    And what do we do with the woes of scripture – God’s judgement to which we are all subject! No one is exempt! Even universalists.
    Do we really know the horror of sin?

  15. Doesn’t the most sexual abuse of children take place within the family and family friends orbit?
    If so, it would be centre-weighted on secular society rather than Christianity.
    And isn’t it recognised that those who have been sexually abused as children, may, in turn abuse? Certainly, I know of such instances in criminal law practice, where it has been put forward as reasons to take into account in mitigation. And no, they weren’t Christians.
    Are we now going to extrapolate that to apply to the church?

    • You can say it takes place in the family orbit, but when you say the word family the mind sprnigs to fathers, and rates among fathers are vanishingly low.

      ‘Family’ cannot be spliced together as though all types of family relationship were similar.

      Most is the responsibility of those fruits of the sexual revolution increased numbers of stepfathers and of live-in boyfriends. And also of uncles.

      Robert Whelan, Broken Homes and Battered Children.

      • Christopher,
        To be clear, I said family ‘friends’ orbit.
        Neither, did I say that family, was married husband and wife living together. There may be step -mother -fathers. There may be uncles and aunts who are not blood relations.
        The point is that it mostly takes place within a circle of known relationships, broken, unstable, disfunctional, or otherwise. And to repeat, it is centrally secular.
        And those who have been abused as children are more likely to abuse, than those who haven’t. (No, I don’t have any studies to support that statement and there will be those who have been abused who found it so abhorrent, grievous, that they will do all in their ability to ensure they provide a loving, stable life for children or support for those looking to do so.
        The same flame that melts the butter hardens the egg.


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