In my New Testament class a few weeks ago, we reached chapter 9 of Mark’s Gospel, where Jesus gave an indication of the importance and value he placed on children. It was counter-cultural in his day and confronting for us today.
36 He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”
In the same week, a graduate of the college, Paul Tuxworth, came to BST and provided two training sessions in child protection. Paul has extensive experience in child protection issues, particularly on the mission field. It’s not the first training he has provided. It’s not the first time we have walked away deeply disturbed by the reality of how children have been treated in our society and in our churches. Tragically, he has plenty to work with from his own experience. And the Royal Commission has documented our widespread and abject failure to value and protect little ones.
Of course, when cases of historical sexual abuse come to light we focus on the perpetrator. We tend to focus on and be fascinated by their story: their emerging pattern of disturbance and deviancy; previous convictions; grooming behaviour and their victims. To our horror, Paul explained that too often such abuse has been enabled by the complacency and carelessness of churches and their leaders. In a number of cases, there were opportunities for leaders to offer help that may have prevented the worst of the abuse. In some cases, Christian leaders destroyed evidence or hindered investigations.
We left the seminars determined to be people who foster increased awareness and education in churches, more effective prevention strategies and more informed responses to allegations. We also left the seminars with the sobering reminder of the darkness of the human heart and our capacity for exploiting people for our evil desires. Some of our students have begun quizzing their church leadership with “What measures are in place?” and “Who is the designated Child Protection Officer?”
At BST, we long for our graduates to be capable of providing leadership in this area. Anyone who has been involved knows the personal cost and distress involved. But we know that, having failed so badly, the churches now need to provide leadership in this area and reflect the value that Jesus placed little children. Please pray for our students, that they will process the training they have received constructively. Please pray for the faculty as we reflect on the best way to provide further training. Thank God for Paul Tuxworth and his ministry while you are at it.
A little later in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus says: “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” (Mark 10:14) Too often in school and church contexts children have been victims of much worse than being hindered. In cases of abuse, not only the victims, but the family and many in the community have been hindered from coming into God’s kingdom. The way they have been treated simply contradicts the precious value they have in Jesus’ eyes.