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SCNC Passes Safe Churches and Healing Communities Resolution

By Jaime J. Romo, Ed. D.

     Congratulations, SCNCUCC Conference delegates, for speaking definitively and courageously to pass the Resolution on Support for Safe Churches and Healing Communities!(i)

     The Jerry Sandusky trial, in bringing a toxic secret to the public light, is triggering many survivors of childhood sexual abuse to come forward, thus stirring in many an awareness of what they did not prevent. The resolution on Safe Churches and Healing Communities means we of UCC will act to be the kind of communities in which survivors of past abuse can find relief from their wounds in members who have ears to hear, minds that understand trauma, skills to respond, and a shared language of comfort and healing.  In other words, it means we will be conscious, competent and committed to preventing future abuse and having healthy congregational boundaries.

     So, what are the implications of this resolution for the local churches?  In short, each congregation needs to talk about abuse prevention and have a shared language and ways of supporting survivors of many kinds of past or current abuse.  Abuse and its harm are perpetuated when abusers have authority and access and can count on the silence of their victims and those around them. Silence perpetuates the shame and damaging impacts of abuse.  By breaking that silence we help remove the shame victims and bystanders carry and promote congregational consciousness, competency and shared commitment to heal as Jesus did. 

     One way to think about it is to picture the Safe Church and Healing Communities Resolution as the body of a car. Whatever mechanisms congregations currently have in place to be safer and healing communities might be the motors. A Response Team helps minister to individuals and the congregation that have experienced various kinds of boundary crossings. A congregation without a competent Response Team, however, is like a car with no wheels; a congregation without an integrated abuse prevention and intervention education program, is a car with no gas or ongoing maintenance.

     These are crude analogies, and my intent is to say that there are implications for the resolution at congregational and association levels.  For any congregation to respond to boundary concerns or violations, whether related to embezzling, intimidation, inappropriate relationships or abuse/violence, it should have a competent Response Team and an effective educational program and assessment component.  If this resolution were a dissertation, the questions we at each congregation, association and Conference must answer would be, ‘So what?’ (i.e., what are the implications) and ‘Now what’ (i.e., what concrete steps do we take next)?

     One response to the ‘what’s next’ question is that I will lead congregations in the Orange County area in a Protecting All God’s Children seminar beginning September 22.  These seminars should involve at least three congregational leadership teams to insure that participants will have others to learn with both in the process and beyond.  I encourage other congregations to coordinate calendars with an eye to scheduling seminars in their Associations.

     Another ‘what’s next’ action would be for any congregation confident of its Safe Church policy to send it to me so that I may share it with others, identifying you as resources as they move forward in their learning and development process.  If you do not have or do not feel confident about your Safe Church policy, please contact me so we can find ways to support the development of the policy and practices you need to prevent and respond to various kinds of abuse and trauma.

     In my presentation at the Annual Gathering, I mentioned that churches should be the kinds of places that can provide trauma informed care.  Trauma occurs when an actual or perceived threat of danger [or loss] overwhelms a person’s usual coping ability.  While many experiences of trauma cannot be prevented, childhood sexual abuse can.

     Child sexual abuse, a major contributor to human trafficking (i.e., commercial sexual exploitation of children or CSEC), is, I believe, 100% preventable..  I envision, as an extension of our goal of being safe and healing communities, the end of sexual abuse and of the pipeline of abuse that leads to and feeds the second largest illegal industry worldwide, CSEC.

     I am proud of the SCNUCC Conference for passing the resolution on Safe Churches and Healing Communities. This is historic and courageous.  I hope we will now put it into action, becoming recognized leaders in the prevention of abuse and development of healing communities.

 (i)  http://scncucc.org/Annual_Gathering/documents/SafeChurchandHealingCommunities.pdf

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