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From a Newly Commissioned Minister for Healing and Healthy Environments

by Dr. Jaime Romo


It is estimated that 39 million people in the United States have experienced sexual abuse in some form, and many others have been indirectly impacted as well. Sadly, most victims live among us with near-invisibility. A conservative estimate is that 20% of the population has experienced some sexual abuse.  Being a safe church prevents future abuse. Being a healing community helps those abused to heal from past wounds.

The average churchgoer must let go of the illusion that religious settings are neutral or automatically safe places for children or vulnerable adults. A recent Baylor study showed that more than 3% of women who had attended a faith community function in the past month reported that they had been the object of clergy sexual misconduct at some time in their adult lives.

Unfortunately, it is more likely than not that a religious organization or community does not have a meaningful Safe Church Policy developed by its membership, or a functional response team in place.  In effect, these organizations are operating with either a lack of awareness or denial of the reality that sexual abuse could occur there. Therefore, as a starting point, every church needs to have a meaningful ‘Protecting All God’s Children’ policy. The process of developing a policy and response team (i.e., a subgroup that receives, investigates, and responds to concerns about inappropriate boundary crossings) helps members understand signs of and the impact of abuse.

All of us can be impacted and we have a covenantal calling to bring healing for all. I hold the perspective that we’re all in this together.  There are no winners and losers.   Survivors and supporters, accused and accusers need to be treated with kindness and love. If that doesn’t happen, we all lose.  Healing is for and about all of us. The Southern California/ Nevada United Church of Christ (SCNUCC) Conference has a Boundary Training for ministers, but no training for congregations to live up to the code of conduct for congregations outlined in the Manual on Ministry.

The new role of Commissioned Minister for Healing and Healthy Environments (CMHEE) being put into place through our Conference is the first of its kind in preventing the hurt and addressing healing from Religious Authority Sexual Abuse (RASA) and other kinds of abuse. In general, the CMHEE is intended to be an integral part of efforts that make the SCNUCC Conference a model for our country, with respect to safe churches and healing environments. Some of the ways that the CMHEE can support ministers and ministry teams are outlined below:

1)      at congregational/ cohort level,  building meaningful ‘Protecting All God’s Children’ church policy and functional response teams*;

2)      at congregational/ cohort level,  training trainers to lead congregational trainings with the Safeguarding God’s Children curriculum*;

3)      at association Church and Ministry Committee  (section B) level, with focused consulting/ training for those congregations in concern/ crisis;

4)      as a coach to some churches where the presenting issue is a declining organization, but where we have indications that some form of unresolved misconduct is at the bottom of the matter.

* indicates programs that constitute ‘boundary training’ for congregations.

Advocates to end RASA have been inundated with the demands of uncovering and presenting the background and current practices that perpetuate abuse, as well as responding to individuals in crisis. The critical work of providing survivors and others who now recognize the abuse, betrayal and devastation, particularly in congregations, with healing resources has yet to be accomplished within most faith communities. Likewise, the work of moving from ‘safe churches’ to ‘healing communities’ lies ahead.  A commitment from local, association, and conference leaders and members is needed for this safety and healing process to take hold.

We are at an historic time in which faith communities are being seen as less safe and less competent in promoting healing and ending abuse. As a result, there is more attention being given to the issue than in the past.  We have opportunities to think and act differently than we have in the past and more opportunity to promote healing and healthy lives for our children than ever before. I look forward to supporting SCNUCC ministers and ministry teams promote healing, trust and vitality among congregations and serve as a model for the UCC at large.  Here is a short video related to this article:

Dr. Romo also recently wrote a book, Healing the Sexually Abused Heart: A Workbook for Survivors, Thrivers, and Supporters.  You can read a review done by The Center for Progressive Christianity at:  http://www.tcpc.org/review/review.cfm?review_id=203

Contact Jaime Romo:
Website: http://www.JaimeRomo.com  
Blog  http://www.jaimeromo.com/blog
Phone (760) 842- 6577


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  1. […] That’s why I so appreciate seeing survivors evolve through the process of bringing their voice and experience forward, regardless of the outcomes with church leaders.  I’m honored to know people who have used their experiences to begin their own advocacy organizations: Barbara Blaine began SNAP; Vicki Polin began The Awareness Center (by the way, vote for her today);  Elaine Kroll started The Innocence Mission; Christa Brown began Stop Baptist Predators; Fr. Robert Hoatson began Road to Recovery; Paul Fericano started SafeNet (related to Franciscans), Ray Higgins began a therapy trust for survivors of clergy abuse; Colm O’Gorman established 1 in 4 in Ireland; Eric Barragan  helped get national legislation related to sexual abuse in Mexico; I even became a Commissioned Minister status for Healing and Healthy Environments. […]

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