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Order More Millstones...

Sep 07, 2017 — Categories: , ,

Brentwood Academy is an elite, non-denominational Christian, college prep school in a Nashville suburb. A civil lawsuit has been filed by a mother on behalf of her teen-aged son who was a sixth grade student at Brentwood in 2014-15. The suit alleges that the sixth grader was bullied and raped repeatedly by an 8th grade student in the locker room while other boys held him down and watched. The suit further alleges that the school knew and did not report to the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services as required by law.

Order More Millstones...

Rev. Dr. Marie Fortune

Brentwood Academy is an elite, non-denominational Christian, college prep school in a Nashville suburb. A civil lawsuit has been filed by a mother on behalf of her teenaged son who was a sixth grade student at Brentwood in 2014-15. The suit alleges that the sixth grader was bullied and raped repeatedly by an 8th grade student in the locker room while other boys held him down and watched.  The suit further alleges that the school knew and did not report to the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services as required by law.

The school acknowledges awareness of “student misbehavior” in January, 2015, but denies any awareness of “accusations of rape” at that time. Otherwise, school officials deny any wrongdoing and assure parents and the public that they take any report of harm to students seriously and follow the legal mandate to report any suspicion of sexual abuse of a child.

Sadly, none of this is unusual in either public or private school settings. What should be of particular significance to faith communities are the further allegations made in the lawsuit.  The Headmaster of Brentwood Academy, Curt Masters, is accused of

"...attempting to downplay reports of bullying, which he considered “boys being boys.” He told the 12-year-old boy, according to the complaint, to “turn the other cheek.” Masters also told the child that “everything in God’s kingdom happens for a reason,” the lawsuit alleges."

“Boys being boys” is a time honored trope used to justify and minimize male misbehavior and abuse. “Turn the other cheek” is a sloppy, biblical injunction to encourage a victim of abuse to just get over it. Finally, “everything in God’s kingdom happens for a reason” avoids ever placing accountability on an abuser for the sin of causing harm to another person. Sadly, these refrains still ring out in our churches and church schools.

The civil suit also alleges that Daystar Counseling Ministries failed to report the alleged rapes to Tennessee authorities as mandated. The mother reports that the Christian counselor at Daystar urged her not to report on behalf of her son because “this isn’t how Christian institutions handle these things.” Again, sadly, more often true than we would like to believe.

Despite many lawsuits, and years of progress and training within faith communities regarding appropriate responses to disclosures of the sexual abuse of children, some faith leaders continue to believe that we are somehow different from others—that we can and should “handle” these “incidents” ourselves without involving secular agencies.

Wrong. The mandate to report suspicion of child abuse applies to everyone. We as faith leaders may not have the skill set or capacity to adequately address the physical or psychological impacts of abuse. But we do have the moral and ethical responsibility to ensure the safety of God’s children and get them to those who can help. We uniquely have the capacity to respond to the spiritual and theological questions that child abuse raises for victims, survivors, offenders, and communities.

The warning found in Luke’s gospel, [ “It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble.”  (17:2)] should be the watchword for pastors, lay leaders, and school administrators. Otherwise, we will need to order more millstones.

Rev. Dr. Marie M. Fortune
www.faithtrustinstitute.org
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P.S. InFaith Community Foundation is sponsoring a FaithTrust Institute training in Austin, TX on September 29-30, for Christian churches to address sexual and domestic violence and child abuse. There are still a few spots available! More information is available on our website: http://www.faithtrustinstitute.org/training/safe-and-healthy-churches-2017


P.P.S
: I wrote an article several years ago on mandated reporting of child abuse. I offer it here again in hope that you’ll share it with others in your community:
http://www.faithtrustinstitute.org/resources/articles/Confidentiality-and-Mandatory-Reporting2014.pdf

 

RELATED RESOURCE: FaithTrust Institute's Multifaith Discussion Guide to the Movie Spotlight

 

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