Archives For child safety

Exterior of Modern Church with Large Cross

A bill in the Illinois Senate that would have required pastors to take state-regulated classes in child protection raises important questions: Shouldn’t pastors do all they can to protect children, one colleague asked. Yes, obviously, but at what risk to religious communities’ First Amendment rights?

And, as important is this question: Why aren’t clergy engaging in stronger self-policing using a mechanism most already have in place, the ministerial code of ethics?

Sen. Melinda Bush of Lake County withdrew the bill last week, after objections from pastors on First Amendment grounds: If the state requires pastors to receive certification in this well-intended and altruistic concern, then what’s next? There aren’t many steps from this bill to government licensure of clergy and churches. “Won’t somebody please think of the children!” isn’t a sufficient argument to allow government regulation of pastoral work.

And, there’s a better way.

As a seminary student, I was required to write for myself a ministerial code of ethics. I studied a dozen examples and came up with a list of biblical and ethical ways for dealing with people, issues, and sticky situations.

A year or two later, I was the grader for that class, and I read scores of codes of ethics submitted by students. Most of these aspiring pastors took the assignment seriously, considering how they should handle counseling and confidentiality, reporting of abuse or neglect, the pastor’s relationship to the law and enforcement agencies. Some addressed euthanasia, and a few spoke to sexual identity and relationship issues just entering public discourse at the time.

Some of these students laid a good foundation for engaging and regulating their future work, so when hard questions arose, they already had biblical ways of processing the issues not based on emotion and reaction.

A good ministerial code of ethics guides pastors in their ministry to children and families in jeopardy. It requires that pastors stay up-to-date on the issues and the law. Through such personally adopted codes, pastors police themselves. They may join in voluntary association with other clergy in their enforcement.

Our Baptist polity—respecting the autonomy of the local church—doesn’t allow the denomination to enforce rules on pastors. Neither does the U. S. Constitution. That’s why we must take responsibility to govern ourselves.

For the sake of the children.

– Eric Reed


Illinois Senate Chambers

An Illinois Senate bill that would have mandated training for clergy has been pulled by its sponsor. The bill had raised concerns regarding First Amendment rights and religious liberty.

Senate Bill 912, the Abused and Neglect Child Training Bill, mandated clergy be required to complete at least four hours of training each year to recognize signs of domestic violence against children and adults. According to Ralph Rivera, a lobbyist for the Illinois Family Institute (IFI), the bill’s sponsor, Senator Melinda Bush (Grayslake), is instead working on a resolution that would urge the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) to reach out to clergy and churches through an educational campaign about how to recognize child abuse and domestic violence.

In an e-mail, Rivera credited the bill’s defeat to “quite a number of pastors and citizens who contacted their senators urging them to oppose this government intrusion into the affairs of churches and religious liberties.” This included the Catholic Conference and over 500 people through IFI.

Read the next issue of the Illinois Baptist for additional coverage breaking news.

COMMENTARY | Darlene Leatherwood

No parent wants to consider that their young child’s safety might have been compromised. Yet, that’s just where I found myself in the early 1990’s. Thankfully, after carefully discerning all the facts, it became clear that my own child was safe – perfectly free from harm. But the experience prodded me to consider safety standards at our church, First Baptist O’Fallon, where I served as a part-time staff member responsible for preschoolers and children. I talked with our senior pastor, and he and I began to gather information and research ways we could make our church safe for children.

We presented a plan to our church council, which included members of our deacon body, key ministry leaders, and Sunday school teachers. As you might imagine, the meeting was long with lots of opinion sharing. (Remember, screening workers was a fairly new concept in the early 1990’s.) After several meetings and a few Q&A sessions, our leadership core adopted a clearly defined Child Protection Policy:

  • Anyone volunteering in any ministry within the church would be required to complete a volunteer screening application providing personal history and references.
  • A church staff member would contact the volunteer, gather reference information, and then interview him or her before placing the person in ministry.
  • Volunteer screening forms would be kept in a locked file with minimal access for confidentiality.
  • At least two volunteers would be present at all times, as well as a walk-around supervisor.

Many of our volunteers readily understood the need for such a policy and were quick to comply. However, some long-time volunteers struggled with the need to screen everyone. After all, they had a proven track record! Providing all this information and references seemed invasive.

Our staff agreed that anyone struggling with the policy would receive a home visit and personal explanation. First Baptist O’Fallon has a burning goal – to reach new people for Christ. By reminding these long-term volunteers that we were preparing for new families, new workers, and new ministry opportunities, they became more open to the policy. We asked these volunteers to pave the way for the future volunteers. And, reassuring new parents that First Baptist cared deeply about safety by addressing cultural needs helped FBC be more effective at ministry.

Over the years, we’ve continued to refine our Child Protection Policies. Volunteers now agree to a criminal background check. All references are checked, the criminal check is completed, and training is provided before volunteers are placed with a seasoned volunteer in ministry. Walk-around supervision is firmly in place for all ministries. The building contains windows that provide a clear classroom view, and rooms are equipped with interior deadbolt locks to provide extra protection for children.

Today’s children are subject to greater physical, emotional, and sexual threats than ever before, and most children express some insecurity in these areas. Parents are certainly aware of increased threats.  Make your church a safe haven for families and children! Develop Child Protection Policies that fits your unique setting.

Dr. Darlene Leatherwood directs KidsLife at First Baptist Church, O’Fallon, Ill.