10 September 2020  |

Dear Aunt Sevvy,

I recently read an official denominational statement about screening church volunteers: “Church should be a safe place to bring our children. Everyone involved in work with children who are minors must meet all church and legal standards and requirements.”

I have been a church member, officer, teacher, and organizer for nearly 77 of my 89 years. Why does the denomination think it has the authority to order background checks on church members? I can understand screening church employees, but not members: that should be the responsibility of the congregation, not the denomination.

Signed, Offended

Dear Offended,

Aunty stands solidly on the side of mandated background checks, and here’s why.

First, because it’s necessary. As difficult as it is to admit that anyone in your congregation might sexually abuse a child, it does happen. People sometimes say, “I’ve never done such a thing, and never heard of it happening in my church.” I hope that’s true. But Aunty consulted a retired pastor, who said, “I’ve talked to people who are great-grandparents now, who were abused by someone in their church back when they were children.” Back then, he said, the children either told no one, or their complaints were pushed aside. Sometimes the abuse went on for years!

Aunty raised small children in the church, and occasionally felt anxiety about her little ones when they were out of her sight. Background checks give a measure of reassurance. If it prevents sexual abuse from happening to even one child, it’s worth the inconvenience to you. 

Second, you ask why it should be mandated. That’s because Seventh-day Adventism isn’t a congregational system. Our organization is tightly tied together from the congregation right up to the General Conference, such that if this crime happens in your congregation, even by a lay volunteer, the denomination is liable. When there’s a lawsuit the denomination—not the congregation—pays out church members’ tithe as settlements. 

As for pastors, they are thoroughly background checked. But because our Sabbath Schools and Pathfinder clubs are led by volunteers, lay people have more exposure to the congregation’s children than the pastor does. It only makes sense that the denomination, with its additional resources, should be as responsible for children’s safety as it is for providing congregations with Sabbath School quarterlies, pastors and insurance. 

It would be nice to think that a gathering of God’s people is immune to such problems. It isn’t. Such abuse isn’t common, but when it does happen it’s devastating. Let’s prevent it, rather than letting a child’s life be destroyed.

Aunt Sevvy

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