Wow! Unless you’ve been entirely off the grid for the last few weeks you know there are new sex-related scandals in the headlines. No! I am not speaking of some new accusations coming out of Washington, D.C. Those things have lives of their own, and anyone who believes sexual misconduct is not a regular occurrence throughout all levels of government is not in touch with reality. Unfortunately, it appears the same can be said for organized religions.
The latest scandal in the religious arena came from a splinter group within the Baptist faith or tradition. Of course, sexual misconduct related to religion is nothing new. From David and Bathsheba to this latest investigation and scandal, Judaism and Christianity have suffered from the sinful acts committed within the church community. In some cases, the problem is sexual misconduct. In others, it is the conspiracy to conceal the misconduct.
That is the bad news. There are sex crimes in churches, and like other organizations churches may attempt to conceal those crimes. The good news is many churches have taken steps to reduce the risks of misconduct. The sad news is churches and those advising them are leaving a gaping hole in the fence erected to protect their flocks.
Many churches and church organizations nationwide instituted or are instituting programs to protect children in their ministries. Organizations such as Ministry Safe provide training and screening services designed to help churches protect the most vulnerable within their congregations.
Are those programs completely effective? Probably not. Still, they are good faith efforts to keep children, youth and counseling ministries as safe as possible. These efforts include procedures to restrict access, rules to reduce the chances of one on one contact, and background checks. Still, there is a hole in their protective net.
Churches have made great strides in securing their facilities against one class of sexual predators. In spite of their efforts, according to publicly available information, sex crimes in churches appear to be on the rise. The reported numbers are still relatively low in some ways, but given the fact most sex crimes are under-reported, the trend should be concerning. What should be the most concerning, but is the least discussed, even within church security circles, is the overlooked vulnerability alluded to above.
This particular vulnerability came to my attention many years ago when a member of my family became a victim of a predator hunting within a church. This predator did not volunteer in the children’s ministry. He was not on staff. He was not a volunteer in any capacity. He was not counseling anyone or leading a group of any sort. He was just a smooth-talking pedophile hunting within the singles ministry.
Singles ministries can be a fertile hunting ground for predators. Whether the predator is interested in sex, money, or control a singles ministry is a target rich environment. And, just for the record, this piece focuses on male predators. Female predators exist, especially when one speaks of financial predation.
At this point, I have a choice to make. I could turn this into a long-winded, or even longer-winded some might say, piece on why this is or should be a concern. Instead, I choose to go against my academic nature and cut to the chase. After all, this piece is not about anything more than sharing my concerns. If it rings true to you, I would suggest you take steps to deal with the possibility in your own church before some investigative reporter comes snooping around.
Predators who target children must deal with the adults responsible for the children. Experts in this field label the adults as gatekeepers. Gatekeepers are parents, older relatives, teachers, day care workers, or child ministry staff. Predators become experts at “grooming” gatekeepers. Their goal in this process is to build trust to the point they have unfettered and unsupervised access to their prey.
If you take, or took, the time to refer to some the links concerning grooming, you will see the primary focus is on schools, children’s ministries, and the like. While that is logical, it also supports one point of this piece, groups such as singles ministries are not considered an issue. To be fair, there are reasons for that oversight.
One reason singles ministries and similar group activities are overlooked is distraction or misdirection. A pickpocket is not successful because he or she has excellent skill and quickness. A pickpocket is successful because he is a master of distraction and misdirection. Such a thief makes sure something else has your attention while your wallet is slipped out of your pocket.
In the case of predators, they are not creating a distraction. Some of them are the distraction. Everyone is so focused on children’s ministries, they forget that a single mom is a gatekeeper. Everyone focuses on a pastor becoming too close to someone needing prayer and emotional support, overlooking the fact other congregants have shoulders upon which a person in distress can lean.
It is not possible to know how many children or adults have been victimized by predators working through a singles ministry. It is not possible because no one is looking carefully, victims will be afraid to report the situation, and it may be years before the truth comes to light. That does not mean it is not a problem
*This post was originally a standalone piece written after the Fundamentalist Baptist report broke. Due to the timing of the reporting on the scandal, it was ready for publication at Christmas. I postponed posting it until after the first of the year. In the meantime, another matter came to my attention which will be discussed in part 2 next week.
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