No More Silence: An interview with Boz Tchividjian of G.R.A.C.E.

by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free

This is the second post of our weeklong series, Into the Light: A Series on Abuse and the Church, which features the stories of abuse survivors, along with insights from professional counselors, legal experts, and church leaders about how to better prepare Christians to prevent and respond to abuse. (Check out this morning’s post from Mary DeMuth.) Through the course of the series, we will be discussing child abuse, spiritual abuse, sexual violence and abuse, and domestic violence. In addition, my friends Hannah, Joy, Shaney, and Elora will be hosting a synchroblog focused specifically on spiritual abuse, which you can learn more about here.

This afternoon, I am pleased to feature an interview with Basyle ‘Boz’ Tchividjian, a founding member and Executive Director of G.R.A.C.E (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment).  Born in Vevey, Switzerland, Boz grew up in south Florida, where he served as Assistant State Attorney, Seventh Judicial Circuit (1994-2001). While in that position, he was chief Prosecutor, Sexual Crimes Division, where he gained much experience in cases involving sexual abuse and harassment. In 2003, Boz helped found G.R.A.C.E. to educate and equip the faith community to correctly respond to sexual abuse disclosures, while also providing practical guidance to churches on how to protect children.  G.R.A.C.E provides confidential consultations to churches, schools, & other organizations which are struggling with issues involving sexual abuse.  Boz and his family live near Lynchburg, Virginia where he serves as a law professor at Liberty University School of Law.  He is blessed to be a grandson of Dr. Billy Graham and recently published his first book entitled, Invitation - Billy Graham and the Lives God Touched. I tried to incorporate some of your questions from the comment section into the interview. I  hope you learn as much from Boz as I did. Please consider passing this  along to the leadership of your church to ensure they are doing everything in their power to prevent and report abuse. 

Trigger Warning: child abuse, sexual abuse in a church setting



Boz Tchividjian: Rachel, I want to thank you for the opportunity to be interviewed and to hopefully highlight some fundamental issues confronting today’s Church.  I want to thank and acknowledge the following dear friends for giving me invaluable guidance in the preparation of these answers:  Diane Langburg, Phil Monroe, Duncan Rankin, Tamara Rice, Andrew Schmutzer, and Victor Vieth.  I don’t have the time or space to thank the untold number of saints who God uses to encourage and inspire me each day along this difficult, but beautiful path. 

RHE: Well, thank you for taking the time to discuss this important issue! To start, tell us a little about what G.R.A.C.E.

BT: In 1994, I became a prosecutor in central Florida, and eventually became the chief of the sexual crimes division. During that time, God opened my eyes to the physical, emotional and spiritual harm resulting from child sexual abuse. After leaving the prosecutor’s office in 2001, I was burdened to apply what I had learned on the front lines as a child sexual abuse prosecutor in helping to train and equip the faith community to address the many issues associated with abuse. In response to this burden, I formed GRACE in 2004.   

Within just a few short years, God brought together a group of internationally respected experts from various disciplines. Our board of directors consists of current and former child abuse prosecutors, investigators, mental health professionals and theologians. Taken together, our board has well over 100 years of experience working with abused and neglected children. Our board members have authored numerous scholarly works on child maltreatment, have served as expert witnesses in courts of law, have testified before congress, and have taught thousands of professionals throughout the United States and many parts of the world.

During the past eight years, GRACE has primarily focused on two issues; prevention and response. We spend much of our time working with churches and other faith organizations on how to minimize opportunities for abuse to occur within their environments. We also provide assistance to the Christian community in understanding the vital importance of responding to abuse disclosures in a manner that demonstrates both knowledge of the issues, and compassion to those involved.

 In recent years, GRACE has had the opportunity to assist major faith based institutions in addressing allegations regarding their alleged mishandling of past abuse disclosures. Oftentimes, the survivors of such abuse do not trust the institution to internally investigate and evaluate such claims. As a result, these institutions have requested GRACE to act as a third party investigator and provide an open and objective analysis of the facts, along with recommendations. (Our current independent investigation involves Bob Jones University.  This work has also been instrumental in facilitating substantive changes in how some of these institutions understand and respond to issues related to child abuse.

Most recently, GRACE is in the process of a breakthrough project that will fundamentally change the way the faith community addresses and responds to the many issues associated with child abuse.  I will discuss this in greater detail below.   

RHE: During your tenure as a prosecutor, you prosecuted hundreds of child abuse cases, and then went on to be a founding member of GRACE. What motivates you to do this kind of work? It must be heartbreaking at times. Why is it so important, and how does your faith inform your work? 

BT: It was not until I became a prosecutor that I saw for the very first time the utter devastation that is caused by the horrors of sexual abuse.  I will never forget sitting across my desk from weeping parents who had only recently learned that their 9 year old daughter had been sexually victimized by one of their best friends.  I will also never forget meeting that beautiful 9 year old little girl.  A girl whose life had just begun, but who never had the opportunity to enjoy childhood because of the evils perpetrated upon her.  Though the abuse had forever changed the life of this precious child, I came to realize that the abuse had not destroyed her soul and that  underneath it all she was still a 9 year old who had childhood interests, aspirations for what she wanted to do when she “grew up”, and even dreamed of going to Disney World.   It was during those moments when I realized that God had given me an incredible privilege to be placed in such a position for the purpose of expending myself to those who were struggling through these very dark and painful valleys of life.  

During the past ten years as the executive director of GRACE, I have been so blessed to have many similar precious experiences with abuse survivors.  However, one of the great tragedies I have encountered is how the Church has so often failed in expending itself in love to so many survivors of abuse.   I have too often seen where the Church has sacrificed the individual soul for the “benefit” and “protection” of the institution.   GRACE often encounters these wonderful individuals years later and discovers that so many have lost all hope in life and are unable to have a relationship with God.   And I cannot blame or fault them.  The blame and fault lies squarely with a professing Christian community who has all too often failed to understand and apply the beautiful Gospel – in which God sacrificed Himself for the individual, not the other way around.  Abuse survivors often struggle to believe that those of us from GRACE are Christians simply because we listened to them and valued them as human beings.  One recent survivor expressed, I have never been treated with so much love and compassion. There was no judgment.  There was no shame.  I was accepted for who I was.  They valued me as a person.   Another survivor wrote,  I am realizing more and more that pretty much no one in the Christian community seems to care about any of these things – at least not in the sense of doing anything about it or speaking out against it.  I’m thankful that GRACE does. 

The words of Jesus that most often run through my head (and heart) these days is, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me. [Mark 9:37a]  God has helped me to realize that the love I expend for these incredible people is fueled by the love He expended for me.  It is that powerful and beautiful truth that keeps me going even during the darkest of days.  Knowing that God is using me in some small way to demonstrate Jesus to those whose knowledge and understanding of Him have been distorted or destroyed is an incredible blessing for which I do not deserve. 

RHE: What are some of the most common mistakes churches and Christian organizations make when it comes to preventing child abuse? 

Silence is one of the most common failures of the Christian community in preventing child abuse.  In 2 Samuel 13, upon learning that his sister Tamar had been raped by her brother Amnon, Absalom stated, Keep silent my sister, he is your brother, do not take this matter to heart.   Tragically, not much has changed in over three thousand years.  Too many within the Christian community respond to the prevalence of child abuse with a dangerous and very hurtful silence.  A silence that is too often preferred over acknowledging the existence of such evil within our midst.  A silence that is too often preferred over openly discussing how to protect our little ones from perpetrators.  A silence that is too often preferred over the hard work required to develop and implement effective child protection policies.  A silence that is too often preferred over the cries of hurting children.

Though we are greatly encouraged by the fact that more and more churches are adopting child protection policies, one common mistake is that that many of these policies are being developed by those who have very little knowledge and experience with addressing child abuse.   A PhD, M.D. or even J.D. after a person’s last name does not automatically qualify them to develop effective child protection policies.  As a result, these policies often fall short in effectively protecting little ones.    One common example is the over-dependence upon background checks.  Background checks will only catch perpetrators who have been caught and convicted in court.  In her book, Predators, Dr. Anna Salter references one study that found that men who molest children average between 20 to 150 victims.   What this clearly tells us is that by the time an offender gets caught, they have very likely already victimized dozens of other children.  Thus, background checks provide no protection against perpetrators who have never been caught or who simply never will.  GRACE encourages churches and other Christian organizations to seek out the assistance of trained child protection professionals when drafting their child protection policies. 

The other common failure in preventing child abuse is the notion that having a good child protection policy makes children safe.  A child protection policy is only the first step in minimizing the opportunities for abuse.   In fact, one consequence of an effective child protection policy is that it will help to develop a culture of protection within the church/organization.   This simply means that protecting children becomes a “way of life” for the Christian community, not something to be put back on the shelf once a policy has been adopted.  A culture of protection can be evidenced by a church that always keeps issues related to abuse on the forefront of its agenda.  For example, such a culture may include some or all of the following; ongoing safety classes for parents, children and youth, sermons that teach about the value of children and that openly address issues related to abuse, ongoing child protection training for staff and volunteers, and the hosting of community wide events that address issues related to abuse.   We are encouraged by more and more churches that have expressed a desire to make child protection a priority of their culture.  

We provide a variety of resources on our website for churches and individuals who want to learn how to minimize the opportunities for abuse within their own environment. 

'Church' photo (c) 2007, silent shot - license:

RHE: What are some of the most common mistakes churches and Christian organizations make when it comes to responding to abuse? 

BT: The greatest failure of the church/Christian organizations when it comes to responding to abuse is institutional self-protection.   Too often Christian institutions have been willing to sacrifice the individual human soul in exchange for the protection of their own reputation.   What makes such responses even more heinous is that they are often justified in the name of “protecting the name of Christ”.   Such a justification is nothing but a pious attempt at self-protection.  It may come as a surprise to some but Jesus does not need us to protect His name!  In fact, it was Jesus who sacrificed Himself for the soul of the individual.  Tragically, in all of its attempts at self-protection, the Church too often completely misses this beautiful truth.  As a result, many abuse survivors in the Church are pushed away from the arms of Jesus and prevented from experiencing glorious Gospel love.   This reminds me of the passage in Mark 10 when the disciples rebuked the parents for bringing their children into the arms of Jesus.  This passage is perhaps one of the most powerful biblical illustrations of how often it is those who walk closest to Jesus prevent children from approaching Him.  It is not that the disciples didn’t care about these children, but they just cared more about what they believed was important to Jesus.  Unfortunately, this is still the response of many church leaders when confronted by abuse.  Our Lord could not have been clearer to His disciples that children are His pressing priority and that He takes great joy in their presence.   This beautiful and powerful truth has not changed.  

I often share with church leaders that the Gospel-centered response to abuse by the institution is one that demonstrates transparency, vulnerability, and sacrifice.  This is so powerfully demonstrated by the fact that God did His most powerful work when His son was naked (transparent) and weak (vulnerable) nailed to a cross (sacrifice).   If such was the response of the Church to those who have suffered abuse, many would be discovering authentic love and hope for the very first time.  

I recently asked a group of abuse survivors what they considered to be a  “Godly response to abuse”.  Some of their responses were as follows: 

  • Humility
  • Listen without criticism
  • Being honest that we don’t have all of the answers
  • Love the victim
  • Read over his interactions with people throughout the Gospels. And let Him speak through you.

I find their responses to be an incredibly beautiful picture of what an authentic Jesus centered Church should be to precious souls who have experienced abuse of any kind.  Perhaps St. Teresa put it best when she wrote; Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands or feet but yours. Yours are the eyes with which he sees, yours are the feet with which he walks, yours are the hands with which he blesses all the world. 

May God in His mercy continue to transform the heart and soul of His Church. 

RHE: How do children typically disclose abuse?

BT: Generally speaking, children don’t intentionally disclose their victimization. There are many reasons for this. As adults, we would feel uncomfortable publicly disclosing even positive sexual experiences with our marriage partners. In the same way, children are understandably reluctant to disclose their sexual experiences—particularly when the experiences are negative. Since most abuse is at the hands of a loved one, the child may be worried what will happen to their parent, and to them, if the parent is removed from the home. A boy may be worried that disclosure will cause him to be labeled as weak or as a homosexual. Children who have a biological reaction to sexual abuse may blame themselves for the abuse. Some children have been threatened or had their pets threatened as a means of coercing them to maintain the secret. One Christian survivor of abuse told me how her father tortured her cat as a means of keeping her quiet. Children who have been photographed may be scared that the images of them having sex with a loved one will be shown on television. As a result of these and other dynamics, many victims carry their secrets into adulthood, even to the grave.

In many cases, the child makes an accidental disclosure. In one Christian school, for example, the children were asked to keep a journal as a means of encouraging them to write. One of the children wrote in her journal about her father sexually abusing her, unaware that the teacher would be collecting the journals. In another case, a Christian girl was staying over at a friend’s house and the mother of her friend overheard her bedtime prayer: “Dear Jesus, please don’t let dad have sex with me on my birthday.” Sometimes, older children disclose abuse as part of an angry outburst. In one case, a father denied his teenage daughter the keys to the car and, at a family reunion, the daughter angrily denounced her dad and called him a child molester. Sometimes, a child will tell a best friend who discloses the abuse to an authority figure. In one case, a 14 year old rape victim detailed the abuse in a letter to her best friend in northern Minnesota. The letter was discovered by the mother of the victim’s friend.   There are times when children will share their abuse with a close friend who promises not to tell anyone else.  Unfortunately, these friend disclosures are often accompanied by a promise not to tell anyone else.  All too often these disclosures are never reported.   

Environments where abuse issues are openly addressed and discussed are the environments that children will be most empowered to come forward and disclose. 

RHE: Are false allegations of abuse common among children? 

BT: In the nearly two decades I’ve worked as or with prosecutors, I never get asked about false allegations of burglary, robbery, arson or a host of other offenses. However, nearly every time I speak to lay persons about child abuse the question of false allegations is among the first things lay persons ask. 

In the wake of some high profile daycare abuse cases in the mid-1980s, there was a rash of studies which found that, with enough effort, it might be possible to convince a small percentage of typically very young children that something happened to them which in fact did not happen.[1] In one study, for example, researchers got some very young children to believe they got their finger caught in a mousetrap when, in fact, they had never had this experience.

Of course, there is no study in which researchers try to convince young children that they have been sexually abused by someone but existing research does make clear that children should be interviewed by well trained professionals skilled in child development, cognitive development, and a whole host of factors that may contribute to a child’s suggestiveness.

Since the 1980’s, federal and state governments have poured significant resources into improving the quality of interviews with children suspected of being abused. Many states have developed intensive, five day interviewing courses for front line investigators.[2] Although these reforms do not eliminate the possibility of a false allegation, they greatly reduce the possibility.

It is also helpful to remember that, even before the investigative reforms, several studies confirm what common sense teaches—that it is extremely unusual for a child, particularly a young child, to make a false allegation of abuse.[3]  For example, a study conducted in 2000 found that only 1.5% of sexual abuse disclosures by children were false.[4]   There are at least three reasons for this.

First, young children have limited knowledge of sexual activity. A four year old child who describes performing an act of fellatio on her father did not acquire that knowledge from watching Sesame Street. Even if the child was exposed to explicit pornography, it is unlikely that she could describe the sights, smells or sounds of sexual abuse unless she actually experienced the event.

Second, in most cases, tremendous familial and societal pressure is placed on the child not to make an allegation of abuse. A child disclosing abuse may be removed from the home, forced to live with strangers, may have to endure an uncomfortable medical examination, may have to speak with adults about uncomfortable sexual matters, and will often be ostracized by their families, and in their homes, schools and churches. These pressures are so great that many abused children will decide that living with the lie is easier than telling the truth and will recant a truthful allegation.[5]

'boy and shadow' photo (c) 2009, blykst - license:

Third, children are not the sophisticated liars that adults are. Although all human beings can and do lie, young children are not very good at it. A young child may deny taking the last cookie from the cookie jar—but the crumbs on their face give them away. When a friend of mine was a little boy he was eating a pork chop dinner with his mother. When his mom left the dining room table for a moment, my friend seized the pork chop, ran into the living room and stuffed it down a couch.  When his mother returned and asked him where the pork chop was he lied and told her that he ate it. When my friend’s mother asked what happened to the bone, he told her that he had thrown it outside. When his mother asked him to show her where the bone was, my friend finally caved in and confessed it was in the couch.

Given the unsophisticated nature of children’s lies, it is doubtful that many, if any, young children could concoct a detailed, believable story of sexual abuse and keep it intact over several recitations and under the scrutiny of cross-examination at the hands of a skilled defense attorney.

Thus, both empirical research and experience clearly conclude that false allegations of child sexual abuse highly uncommon amongst children. 

Some churches seem to think that reports of abuse are best handled "in house" without contacting authorities. Why is this a mistake? 

As GRACE works with churches and other Christian institutions, we often encounter professing Christians who struggle with whether suspected abuse within the Christian community should be reported to the civil authorities.   This struggle extends beyond the borders of the United States and is unfortunately sometimes the mindset of missionary organizations.    The issue often professed to be at the heart of this critical struggle is whether the Church is obligated to subject itself to the laws of man when it believes that it is capable to address the sin in-house.

A fundamental question that Christians must confront when processing this issue is whether the Church is subject to the laws of civil government.   This is an issue that has generated years and volumes of debate within the Christian community ever since Christ was confronted by the Pharisees concerning what belonged to Caesar. [i]  Regardless of how one sides on this issue, a plain reading of Romans 13, clearly indicates that the civil government plays a role in God’s design for society and His people.[ii]   Many Christians seem to differ on the extent to which Christians are morally obligated to obey civil laws that do not require disobedience to God’s law (in which cases, he must not obey). [iii]  There is nothing more that I can contribute to that debate, which has not already been argued and re-argued for centuries.    However, there seems to be a general consensus among Christians that the civil government has a general duty and obligation to establish order within society for the purpose of protecting its citizenry from physical harm intentionally inflicted by others.[iv]   A central purpose of criminal laws is to punish those in society who intentionally commit inherently wrong actions that result in some form of harm to another.[v]   Such punishments are a necessary and central ingredient to an orderly and safe society.  If that is the case, can there be any greater responsibility of the civil government than to punish citizens who violate laws designed to protect society’s most vulnerable members…..children?  In order to determine whether such a law has been violated, the civil government must be notified of the alleged offense.   Governments are incapable of carrying out this Biblical mandate if the citizens fail to report the alleged criminal actions.   Therefore, Christians impede this biblical mandate when we fail to report suspected crimes against children to the civil government for investigation and possible prosecution of the offenders.   Hindering another from carrying out a biblical mandate is disobedience to God, otherwise known as sin.[vi]

In order to effectively carry out its responsibility of protecting children, most states have laws that mandate certain citizens to report suspected neglect or abuse of children.[vii]   Violation of these mandated reporting laws subjects the violator to criminal penalties, including but not limited to, jail.   Thus, Christians in the United States have both a biblical and legal mandate to report suspected abuse of children. When the fail to fulfill this mandate, Christians can and should be prosecuted.  For example, in recent months two pastors of Victory Christian Center, a church in Tulsa, Oklahoma, were criminally charged for failing to report child sexual abuse disclosures. 

Besides the biblical and legal grounds for reporting suspected abuse to the civil authorities, there are also practical reasons to do so.  The Church lacks the understanding, experience and the abilities to address abuse issues “in house ”. The civil government has the exclusive authority to unilaterally remove children from guardians who are inflicting physical and/or emotionally harm.   Therefore, if a child is suspected of being maltreated by their guardian, the child will generally not be removed from such an environment unless such has been brought to the attention of the proper authorities.[viii]  Oftentimes, the child’s very survival is based upon whether we take the initiative and report suspected abuse.   There can be little debate within the Christian community that the protection and survival of children is a God ordained responsibility that we cannot neglect or excuse.

I have yet to encounter an abuse situation that was handled “in house” where the consequences were not extremely harmful to the abuse survivor.  All too often these issues are handled “in house” in a church-centered attempt to avoid public scrutiny and to bring the matter to a close as quickly as possible so that the church can return to more “productive Gospel work”.  The sooner a church can manipulate some form of “reconciliation” between the victim and the perpetrator, the sooner it can forget about this messy situation.  Tragically, this rush to reconciliation will often guilt the victim into thinking that the harmful effects of the abuse are a result of his/her own spiritual weaknesses or failures and that a “godly response to abuse” requires the embrace of the offender while minimizing the effects of the abuse.  Not surprisingly, this church-centered response leads to devastating consequences in the life of the abuse survivor.  Such responses to abuse have nothing to do with the Gospel, and everything to do with placing the institution over the individual.  

Such an “in house” institution-centered response can also reap devastation by exposing unsuspecting children and their families to perpetrators.  GRACE recently conducted an independent investigation involving a missionary organization where a missionary physician confessed to sexually victimizing a child on the mission field.   This perpetrator was sent home with a letter sent to supporting and host churches explaining that his premature return home was based upon a “moral indiscretion”. As a result, this self-confessed child molester was able to return home and operate a family medical practice for over 20 years.  From everything we could gather, this physician’s patients or anyone else for that matter, had any knowledge of his prior sexual abuse.  To date, no one knows how many other children may have been sexually victimized by this offender at his medical practice or within his community.  Sadly, this type of situation is all too common within the Christian community that decides to handle abuse claims “in house”. 

Why do some churches and other Christian institutions struggle with reporting suspected abuse to the civil authorities?   Regardless of the stated reasons, the common thread running through this struggle is a “fear” that is rooted in self-centeredness.   It is a “fear” of losing the “good reputation” of a ministry, it is the “fear” of losing ministry donors, it is the “fear” of losing congregation members, it is the “fear” of losing a ministry altogether, and all such “fears” are usually wrapped in a fundamental falsehood that reporting such abuse within the Christian community will “damage the cause of Christ”.[ix]  Do you see the great tragedy of this self-centered fear?   Ultimately, it is an attempt to rob God of his sovereignty and glory by attempting to “protect” identities and possessions.  This is in direct contravention of the Gospel.  The Gospel tells us that our identity is in Christ alone and that our reputation and all that we possess belongs to God.  Another way of putting it is that apart from Christ’s accomplishment, we have no reputation and we possess nothing.    This Gospel-centered perspective gives Christians (including churches) great freedom to confess, confront and expose sin without fear of the earthly consequences.   By doing so, we acknowledge God’s holiness, His sovereignty, and our dependence upon the power of the Gospel.   This Gospel centered perspective must drive the Church to obey the God ordained civil authorities who are charged with protecting our little ones and punishing those who harm them.  

The next time someone tells you that reporting suspected abuse within the Christian community will “hurt the cause of Christ”, tell them that we are attempting to rob God of worship when we leave criminal behavior to fester and grow in the darkness of silence. 

RHE: How does Matthew 18 apply (or not apply) to abuse situations? 

BT: I am always encountering professing Christians who quote Matthew 18 as the biblical process by which child sexual abuse must be addressed within the Christian community.  As a consequence, this passage is used as a justification for 1) not reporting abuse disclosures to the civil authorities and 2) convincing sexual abuse victims to privately confront their perpetrators.  Needless to say, this misinterpretation of Matthew 18 is hugely destructive on a number of fronts.  More importantly, this misinterpretation is simply not biblical.  

In Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus prescribes three progressive steps for handling personal offenses within the local church: 1) a private confrontation, 2) a witnessed confrontation, and 3) a wider confrontation before the church.  At each step, the goal is repentance by the offender as a basis for reconciliation with the offender, so that fellowship may be restored with the victim.  If all three approaches are rebuffed, then the offender is no longer part of the fellowship on earth (Matthew 18:17b), becoming instead an object of evangelism.

A fundamental point that must be understood early on in this discussion is that the crime of child sexual abuse is not merely a personal offense, but rather it is an urgent public concern.  Child sexual abuse does not even fit into the paradigm of which Jesus was speaking in Matthew 18.  Jesus never intended his statements in Matthew 18 to be twisted into the required method for handling murder, rape, torture, kidnapping, or genocide.  Child sexual abuse is not a private matter but rather a public and civic one, rightly under the sword of the civil authority.  All are endangered by this crime against a little one.

Matthew 18 is important for local church life, because Jesus commands us there how to deal with sin.  But it is not the only passage in which Jesus tells us how to deal with sin.  It must be properly synthesized with others that address the same subject directly and/or indirectly.  It is critical to remember that all passages are regulated and interpreted by the balance of Scripture.

There is another teaching of Jesus that regulates how child sexual abuse is to be handled procedurally.  In Romans 13, Jesus tells us through the Apostle Paul that believers are to be subject to the civil authorities.  They swing the sword as God’s ministers, bringing wrath upon evil- doers (Romans 13:1-4).  Child sexual abuse has been deemed to be criminal by the civil authorities deserving of just punishment.

The scourge of child sexual abuse is not just a sin violating the 7th Commandment in Exodus 20:14 and Matthew 5:27-30, but it is also a criminal offense in all 50 States.  It is not a matter which can be handled quietly between two persons or between two families, as was misguidedly done in Genesis 34 and in many churches today.  It is a matter of public alarm, because of its pervasive, extensive, and expansive nature, causing a cascade of misery in countless lives.  Additionally, the God-ordained civil authorities in virtually every jurisdiction mandate in some fashion that suspected child abuse be immediately reported to law enforcement. 

Thus, any claim that we must follow the Matthew 18 progressive confrontation process before reporting disclosures of child sexual abuse to the civil authorities is simply wrongheaded: God’s minister’s—the civil authorities—must be informed first!

In this, child sexual abuse is like murder.  Anyone who would demand that the family of a murder victim must first follow the Matthew 18 process before calling the police could be criminally charged themselves for being an accessory after the fact.  What kind of twisted mind would reason that kidnapping or rape ought to be concealed from the civil authorities while a process of church discipline is pursued first?

'Open Bible' photo (c) 2011, Ryk Neethling - license:

Furthermore, proper respect for the civil authorities as commanded in Romans 13 also demands that we not disturb their investigation.  Paul says they are due taxes, custom, fear, and honor (Romans 13:5-7): a broad enough set of categories to call us all to not impede their process of inquiry.  The believer must stand back while the freight train of the state runs its investigation through the station of life.  The church must pause until the civil process is finished, before commencing its own.  Nothing in Matthew 18 demands that pursuit of personal offenses within the local church must trump reporting criminal activity or the proper civil investigation thereof!

Let’s remember that the common thread running through Matthew 18, 1 Peter 4, and Romans 13 in the life of the believer and church is something most fundamental of all: love from God, for God, and for His image in humankind (Deuteronomy 5:1-21; Matthew 5-7; 1 Corinthians 13; and Colossians 2:6-19).  The distorted interpretation of Matthew 18 commonly lacks this Christ-like virtue.  Through the Apostle Paul, Jesus instructs us to have the proper attitude towards one another: “With humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself” (Philippians 2:3). Thus, any action taken by Christians on the basis of Matthew 18 that involves arrogance, pride, or malice—so common in how some carry out Matthew 18 process—is downright heretical.  Using Scripture and the words of Jesus as an occasion to further sin against a victim of our own sin is morally and spiritually frightening!

It is imperative that we not misinterpret and misapply Matthew 18:15-20 to the sin of child sexual abuse.  “Let the disclosing little child come forward privately and accuse me!” the powerful one protests.  That monstrous interpretation has not one leg to stand on before Jesus.

RHE: What's your take on Sovereign Grace Ministries' appeal to First Amendment protection in response to the lawsuit alleging leaders in the denomination covered up child abuse?

BT: I don’t have enough information to comment on this specific case. However,  it should be noted that a common response of child abusers and those who aid and abet child abusers is to deflect the focus away from themselves or to assert some loftier principle—such as claiming a first amendment issue is at stake. Regardless of how a court rules regarding legal defenses, a church will have to ultimately justify its conduct before Christ.

RHE: What is GRACE doing to train and equip the Christian community in addressing abuse for future generations?

BT: During the past few years, the GRACE team has come to the realization that if the Christian community is truly going to work towards ridding our world of abuse, it is going to require a more comprehensive approach and one that will last for generations into the future.   During the past year, GRACE has worked with a handful of Christian academic institutions in developing a proposal for the creation of the National GRACE Center. 

The National GRACE Center will fundamentally change the way the faith community addresses and responds to the many issues associated with child abuse. This Center will be located on the campuses of Christian educational institutions located strategically throughout North America. This historic center will research issues related to abuse and spirituality, as well as train and equip the faith community and front line professionals to better understand, confront, and respond to the many issues related to child abuse.  Included in this landmark plan is the development of child protection curriculum that will prepare the leaders of tomorrow on how to correctly address this issue within their spheres of influence.  To date, four Christian academic institutions have expressed interest in partnering with GRACE to make The National GRACE Center a reality (Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, Florida; Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia; Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois; and Biblical Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania). 

In sum, The National GRACE Center will improve undergraduate and graduate training of Christians entering child protection careers; improve the ability of the Christian community to respond in a godly manner to the needs of child abuse victims, and provide training and technical assistance to churches struggling to address the sin of child abuse. To date, we know of nothing similar to such an historical center.  

At this point in time, GRACE is still looking for additional Christian academic institutions that may be interested in hosting a regional GRACE Center.  Please let us know if you aware of any institutions who may want to be a part of this historical endeavor. Additionally, though GRACE has recently received some generous gifts to help launch the National GRACE Center, we are still in need of additional funding.  If you or someone you know may have an interest in supporting this Center, please let us know so we can provide you with additional information. 

RHE: What makes you proud...of your work, of abuse survivors, of the Church?

BT: He who would search for pearls must dive below.   – John Dryden. I often tell people that the GRACE team spends a large part of our lives swimming in Christian cesspools that are created when the Christian community sacrifices individual souls for institutional protection and reputation.  This is a dark underbelly that the Church would rather ignore because acknowledging it would require being confronted with its own dark and destructive sins.  It’s much easier and much more glamorous for the Church to invest time and energy into building programs, evangelism techniques, and theological debates.  All the while these cesspools are filling with precious human souls who are drowning because they’ve lost hope—lost hope in life, lost hope in the Church, and lost hope in God.  They have lost all hope because the professing Christian community has either abused them or responded with nothing but silence to their cries for help. 

It is these pearls that I encounter each time I dive below, into the dark and lonely cesspools of Christendom.  They’ve been left for dead by much of the Church, yet they are the first to expend of themselves in pursuing and loving other hurting souls.  Their own cries have been ignored, but they’re the first to listen to the cries of those around them.  Though the commitment of the Church to abuse survivors is often self-centered and short-lived, the commitment these survivors demonstrate to each other is usually selfless and lifelong. 

What strikes me is that the Gospel is often demonstrated more clearly and more powerfully in those who believe they have lost all hope than in the Church itself.  In fact, I’m more and more convinced that those we think are drowning in the Christian cesspools without hope are actually acting as the hands and feet of Jesus, offering the very hope they themselves lack to the many others who’ve been forgotten or ignored by the Church.     

In real life, the true heroes are the widows who drop two coins into the plate with nobody noticing except Jesus—the God of the universe! In almost 20 years of addressing this issue, I have found that my heroes are the hundreds of abuse survivors God has privileged me to meet and serve in some small way on their journey. What many don't realize is that these survivors demonstrate a more authentic Jesus than I could ever offer myself.  These saints are the pearls down below, the widows who are giving all they have … and Jesus notices.


Again, please consider sharing this with your church's leadership. For additional resources, be sure to check out the G.R.A.C.E. Web site. It is packed with helpful information. The resources page in particular is invaluable. 

And don't forget about the spiritual abuse awareness week synchroblog



[1] Stephen Ceci & Maggie Bruck, Jeopardy in the Courtroom: A Scientific Analysis of Children’s Testimony (1995).

[2] Lori S. Holmes & Victor I. Vieth, Finding Words/Half a Nation: The Forensic Interview Training Program of CornerHouse and APRI’s National Center for Prosecution of Child Abuse, 15(1) Apsac Advisor 4-8 (Winter 2003).

[3] See e.g., R. Kim Oates, et al, Erroneous Concerns About Child Sexual Abuse, 24 Child Abuse & Neglect 149-157 (2000).

[4] Id.

[5] Sorenson and Snow, note 11. 

[i] Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they marveled at him. Mark 12:17 (English Standard Version)

[ii] 1Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. 5Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. Romans 13: 1-6  (English Standard Version)

[iii] Thomas Manton on Duty to Civil Magistrate, Commentary on James, pp. 384-385

[iv] Id.

[v] Malum in se describes acts that have been traditionally considered crimes.  (

[vi] God’s Word and Obedience, Arthur Pink  (

[vii] See National Center for Prosecution of Child Abuse, Mandatory Reporting of Child Abuse and Neglect:  State Statutes and Professional Ethics (2010 Update)  (

[viii] In most states, reporting child maltreatment to the authorities can be done anonymously.

[ix] An international ministry leader recently told me that allegations of child sexual abuse are not reported to the local authorities out of fear that such could result in the ministry being “kicked out of the country” which would “thwart the spread of the Gospel.”

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