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Expert: Church waking up to abuse

Boz Tchividjian says “Aslan is on the move” with Christians waking up to the problem of sexual abuse in evangelical and Protestant churches.

By Bob Allen

ASSOCIATED BAPTIST PRESS — An expert who recently told a group of journalists that evangelicals are worse than Catholics when it comes to reporting sexual abuse by clergy added in a radio interview that he believes that is starting to change.

“There are many positive developments going on, even in the evangelical world,” Boz Tchividjian, a Liberty University law professor and grandson of Billy Graham, said on The Janet Mefferd Show Oct. 7. “The fact that this is being discussed is a huge step forward compared to five years ago.”

abuseBoz TchividjianTchividjian, executive director of Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE), told the Religion Newswriters Association Sept. 26 that while many view clergy abuse as a Catholic problem, Protestants and evangelicals are also prone to discourage the reporting of sexual abuse by labeling it as “gossip” and silencing victims in order to protect the reputation of the church.

Tchividjian said he has gotten pushback to his comments, but that is often the case for individuals who attempt to raise issues that most people would rather not have to address.

“Any time someone shines a light on the dark pockets of the church throughout history, oftentimes those folks get attacked,” he said. “Either the messengers or the message get attacked. You have ‘the message isn’t true’ or ‘I don’t like the tone of the messenger’ or ‘the messenger is slandering the church.’”

Tchividjian said he was recently accused of “slandering innocent Christians because I referred to Protestants as a group and thus implicated innocent Christians.”

“I had a friend of mine write back and tell me, ‘Well does this mean when I pray “Lord because we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves” that I’m slandering those who do actually love their neighbors as themselves?’” he said.

Tchividjian, who in July launched an online petition calling for greater transparency about sexual abuse occurring in evangelical churches, said he sees signs that the message is starting to take hold.

“I was on a phone conference last week with 12 pastors of large churches from around the country who simply wanted to understand issues related to abuse that they could serve their congregations better and protect the children within those congregations,” he said. “I praise God for that progress.”

“As I often tell many people, Aslan is on the move,” Tchividjian said in a reference to a Christ figure characterized in the C.S. Lewis children’s classic The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Earlier this year GRACE was asked by Bob Jones University to investigate complaints that the school may have failed to adequately respond to sexual abuse disclosures or conveyed inappropriate information regarding sexual abuse. The university agreed to cooperate fully with the independent investigation.

“I give Bob Jones an immense amount of credit for taking that positive step,” Tchividjian said.

In 2010, GRACE found “widespread and routine” abuse of children at a New Tribes missionary school in Senegal in the 1980s and 1990s. Tchividjian told  religion writers the Christian mission field is a “magnet” for sexual predators, because agencies won’t report abuse because they fear being thrown out of foreign countries.

Abusers get reassigned or fired for euphemistic reasons like “moral failure” and often find other positions affording them access to children. Of known data from abuse cases, 25 percent are repeat cases, he said.

Tchividjian said of all Christians, evangelicals ought to be the most transparent about abuse reporting because of their teaching that people are not justified by their works or reputations but by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

“I’m just getting weary of meeting adults, precious adults, who were abused as children within the church, or abused outside of the church and brought the situation to the attention of the church, and because of how church leaders responded to it they want nothing to do with the incredible, precious Jesus that I know,” he said.

“That is so tragic to me, and I don’t want to see that anymore. I’m tired of those days, and I think it’s time that we say no, the church is the place that should be the safest place for children and the safest place for those who have been abused.

“I think it will be one day, and I am very hopeful for that.”

Bob Allen is managing editor of Associated Baptist Press.

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