Hidden Baggage

As Christians, it is easy to get a false sense of security about how protected our children and young people are.  It is easy to think that because our children are “in the church,” they are not going to be exposed to things that children “of the world” would be exposed to. 

This is especially true of abuse.  Abuse is something that is rarely talked about within the church; it’s easier to brush it under the rug or handle it without the delicate care it deserves.  But no matter how much we wish abuse wasn’t happening, there’s no denying that it is touching the lives of young people within the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

In a recent study (ICM, 2014) conducted by the Institute for Church Ministry, Adventist young people were asked if they had ever been abused by an adult.  Thankfully, 81% of the youth responded that they had not been abused.  However, 7% indicated that they would rather not answer the question, while 12% indicated that they had been abused by an adult.

The study went further, asking what type of abuse the young people had encountered.  Fifty-nine percent indicated they had been emotionally abused, 22% indicated they had been sexually abused, and 19% indicated that they had been physically abused.

These numbers are upsetting!  And the hardest part is that very few people are talking through these issues with young people, meaning that those who have been abused are carrying the heavy burden of abuse alone.

So what can you do to help?  The Center for the Protection of Children offers “The 5 R’s"[1] that can help protect children and young people:

  • Reach out.  Sometimes all it takes is a listening ear or the right questions being asked for young people to open up about issues they are facing.  By simply “being there” you may be able to help identify abuse or help protect a child or young person.
  • Raise the issue.  Just because abuse isn’t pretty, doesn’t mean that it isn’t there.  Don’t be afraid to face the topic of abuse head on!
  • Remember the risk factors.  If you are not familiar with risk factors of abuse, its time for you to educate yourself!  Also, keep in mind that abuse is typically hidden well – especially within the church.  Keep your eyes open for anything that seems out of the ordinary or like a red flag.
  • Recognize the warning signs.  Similarly to remembering the risk factors, is recognizing warning signs.  It is vital for your to not ignore your concerns – even if it is a gut feeling.  And the hard truth is that while physical abuse is the easiest type of abuse to spot because it leaves outward marks, other types of abuse leave equally deep (if not deeper) emotional scars.
  • Report suspected abuse.  If you see something that raises red flags, you need to report it.  This may be immensely hard – especially if the suspected abuser is someone within your church.  However, abuse cannot be ignored and it is your responsibility to protect the children and young people within your church.

Unfortunately, abuse is an ugly part of this sinful world.  However, its time for us to take ownership of the things that are happening within our church and protect those who need it most.  No one should have to bear the hidden burden and pain of abuse alone!


[1] All Children Deserve to be Safe!  Retrieved on April 16, 2015 from https://lookoutforchildabuse.files.wordpress.com/2014/06/center-for-protection-of-children-card.pdf.