Friday, April 25, 2014

Church abuse checklist.

I've been reading stories about long term sexual, emotional and spiritual abuse in Christian organisations.  It feels like every month Christianity Today (or the like) is reporting the fall from grace of a high profile church leader. I read the article and follow a couple of links and I'm confronted with dozens of authentic sounding stories of people who were abused by this trusted leader. The articles are always followed by many commenters saying how they were blessed by such-and-such's ministry and how they are praying for the leader as he spends time with his family in this 'reflection period' and how we must assume him innocent until the charges are proven and how great King David fell and how we mustn't take things to the secular courts and blah blah blah.


We need sack cloth and ashes and mass repentance for our idolatry and wilful naivety that makes it so easy for this kind of thing to happen and keep on happening for so long.

Here is a little checklist of features common to organisations that seem to get caught up in abuse scandals. I'd be asking questions if a church or organisation ticked more than one of the boxes.

Does your church or ministry....

1. have a single leader at the top who is not able to be sacked without the organisation being significantly impacted?

2. strongly emphasise authority and remaining under particular authorities?

3. have a culture where those further down the food chain are asked to confess their sins to those further up the food chain?

4. experience an unusual or inadequately explained turnover of staff or lay leaders.

5. have a lead teaching pastor who has not been trained at a theological college but is self taught?

6. feature prescriptive teaching about details of family life (contraception, school choices, family roles, child discipline, women's dress etc.)?

7. demand that its workers work very long hours and not take holidays?

What do you think?


  1. Yes. Also, I think if your church encourages ignorance ('innocence') and shame in relation to sexuality you are a disaster waiting to happen.

    1. Yes. That was evident in the stories I read. Girls (and women) didn't have the language to talk about what had happened to them.

    2. I read an article about the (apparently common) crime of date rape at Christian colleges in the US which pointed to this problem - girls being so ignorant about their own bodies and all the teaching on sex focussing on 'don't do or you're a bad person' - while at the same time being socialized to be really quiescent and obliging. So if they do get assaulted they think it's their fault.

  2. Not to say innocence is a bad thing, just that it can be an excuse for dangerous ignorance.

  3. I've been reading a lot of these stories too. Feeling quite angry about it all and praying for justice...and also growth.

    1. The more you read the worse it gets.

  4. Great list - I have an unhealthy interest in cults and I'm fascinated about the point that tips fairly reasonable church groups into crazy land. This is a good list. Part of my interest is that we have to keep asking ourselves these kinds of questions because a lot of church contexts have some culty elements to them.