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“. . . Better That a Millstone . . .”

Mar 23, 2009 — Categories: ,

There are times when the contradictions of life overtake me. I was flying home from the east coast last week and one of those times intruded. On the plane, I sat next to a mother and father and their two-year-old daughter; in front of them sat their five-year-old son and eight-year-old daughter. I was struck immediately by how thoughtful and respectful the parents were with the children and the siblings were with each other.

There are times when the contradictions of life overtake me. I was flying home from the east coast last week and one of those times intruded. On the plane, I sat next to a mother and father and their two-year-old daughter; in front of them sat their five-year-old son and eight-year-old daughter. I was struck immediately by how thoughtful and respectful the parents were with the children and the siblings were with each other.

I don’t want to romanticize, but here was a loving family with healthy relationships. It was a pleasure to sit with them. Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? But a four-hour plane flight is not a place that such a family can sustain pretense. It is at best, stressful--and especially with a two-year-old who is wide awake the whole way!

During the flight, I was reading depositions for two court cases in which I am serving as an expert witness. Both have to do with situations where youth ministers sexually exploited members of their youth groups. As I am reading about these young people’s experiences and the limitations of their churches’ responses to the disclosures of abuse by the ministers, I could not help but stop and consider:

It is these children, sitting next to me, whom we are trying to protect, trying to find ways to lessen their vulnerability to harm, trying to insure that when they go to Sunday School or youth group, they will be safe.

Sadly the stories are many in Protestant, Roman Catholic and Jewish settings. None of us is immune. Responsibility is heavy for religious leaders at all levels from bishops to rabbis to volunteer Sunday school teachers. We may not be able to stop a faith leader from harming children or youth, but by now we should be able to identify and remove that person quickly and minimize the harm that he or she does.

At the very least, we should be able to insure that an abuser does not move on to another congregation without notice. If the complaint against the faith leader involves sexual contact with children or underage youth, then law enforcement should be involved and we should cooperate fully.

When Jesus spoke out against harm to others, he lifted up the most vulnerable among us: “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” (Luke 17:2). He had no patience for those who would harm a child or youth.

So I pray for all of us who may be in a position to insure the safety of our children and youth. May we not falter, may we not hesitate to advocate for them, may we never stand idly by, but instead use our skills and abilities to make our sanctuaries places of safety and nurture for their bodies and spirits.

Rev. Dr. Marie M. Fortune
FaithTrust Institute

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