How Should The Church Handle Allegations Of Sex Abuse?

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Sexual abuse and coverup is not just an issue in the Catholic Church, as recent news of rampant sex abuse in Southern Baptist churches has shown. But how should churches and Christian organizations respond to allegations of abuse? And what should victims do if they want to report abuse, but are afraid? This week on The Roys Report, Boz Tchividjian joins Julie Roys to discuss this critical issue. Boz is the executive director of Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (G.R.A.C.E.) and has more than a decade of experience investigating abuse and working toward redemptive solutions. 

This Weeks Guests

Boz Tchivdjian

An experienced litigator who has handled hundreds of civil and criminal cases, Boz Tchividjian has dedicated his career to empowering survivors of sexual abuse, sexual assault and sexual harassment to seek justice against perpetrators, as well as employers and other institutions who fail to protect people from abuse.  Boz is the Founder of GRACE, an internationally recognized nonprofit organization that is equipping Christian communities to recognize, prevent, and respond to abuse.  Boz is Of Counsel with the Florida law firm of Landis Graham French and represents abuse victims from around the country.

Show Transcript

Note: This transcript has been edited slightly for continuity.

Segment 1: 

ANNOUNCER:  In the midst of all of today’s noise and confusion, we need a voice that cuts through the chaos to bring wisdom and clarity. Welcome to The Roys Report with Julie Roys—an hour-long show exploring critical issues related to faith and culture from a uniquely Christian perspective. Now, here’s your host, Julie Roys.

JULIE ROYS:  It once was thought to be only a Catholic problem. But not anymore. Sexual abuse and cover up is ravaging the Protestant church, too. But what’s the solution? And how should the church handle allegations of abuse? Welcome to The Roys Report brought to you in part by Judson University. I’m Julie Roys. And today I’m going to be discussing this important yet difficult issue. And joining me to do that is Boz Tchividjian, and founder of G.R.A.C.E., an internationally recognized organization that equips religious organizations to deal with sexual abuse. Boz also is an experienced litigator and a former Assistant State Attorney at the Seventh Judicial Circuit Court of Florida. While there, Boz created the first sex-crimes division at the Office of the State Attorney. And he personally prosecuted hundreds of sexual victimization cases. So, I’m extremely excited to have Boz on my program. And I’m really looking forward to drawing on his wealth of experience in this area. But before I bring him on, let’s just take a minute to talk about the scope of the problem of sex abuse in the church. According to the Houston Chronicle and The San Antonio Express News, nearly 400 Southern Baptist leaders have pleaded guilty or been convicted of sex crimes against more than 700 victims since 1998. In the past couple of years, mega-church pastors, like Bill Hybels and Andy Savage, have had to resign over allegations of sexual misconduct. And in the Catholic Church, the revelations have been absolutely staggering. Last year, news media revealed a systemic cover up of sex abuse by more than 300 priests in Pennsylvania. And this year in Illinois, nearly 400 Catholic clergy members were accused of sexual misconduct spanning decades. It’s disheartening. And it’s shocking. Pastors, priests, lay leaders should be the first to defend children. And the thought that clergy and other Christian leaders would use their positions to actually prey on their sheep is so incredibly evil. But it is happening. And we have to be prepared to respond correctly if, God forbid, the unthinkable happens in our church. And it’s my hope that by the end of this program, you’ll have a decent idea of what to do if someone comes to you with an allegation of abuse in your church. Or, if you’ve been a victim of abuse, it’s my prayer that this program will equip you to report your abuse and also to hold your abuser accountable, yet at the same time, seek healing and protection for yourself. I can’t think of anyone who’s more qualified to help us do that then Boz Tchividjian. So Boz, welcome. It is a pleasure to have you on my program.

BOZ TCHIVIDJIAN:  Julie, thank you. Good to be here.

JULIE ROYS:  Boz, let me just start by asking the question I think a ton of us are wondering, “Why, why is this happening in our church?” Why this what seems to be an epidemic of sexual abuse in our churches? And also the cover up?

BOZ TCHIVIDJIAN:  Well, I think first and foremost, we have to remember that this has been going on for a very long time. It’s been going on, I would guess, since the very beginning. I think that just because, in the past few years, a lot of light has been turned on to this issue, especially within the Protestant world, doesn’t mean that it’s suddenly an issue. It’s now suddenly an issue that the church can no longer ignore. The church should have never been ignoring it. But because of the world we live in, and the various things that have come forward—“Me, too”,  Church, too”—I think God, obviously, is behind this and in bringing darkness to light. And so that is first and foremost. Because, I think, in some conversations I had with people like, “Why is this going on now?” I’m like, “Man, this has been going on for a long time.” Because I’ve talked to survivors for 25 plus years who have been facing this and have encountered mostly silence from churches that they have come forward to disclose. And so, for the very first time, we’re seeing some reaction. For the very first time, we’re seeing the Christian community, and many aspects of the Christian community, realizing this can no longer be ignored. And that this is literally destroying lives of individuals and it’s destroying the church. But I think, “Why?”  You know, that’s a great question. If we knew why sexual offenders offend, we would probably wouldn’t be having this problem. I will say this, that there is no boundary that offenders will not cross. And within faith communities, those boundaries are, in most situations, easier to cross. We live in a world of faith communities that people are trusting—more trusting in a faith community than outside of faith community. I tell people all the time. I said if a person walks into your church and, let’s say, he’s your new pastor. You know, you’re going to have a trust of that person simply because of his position—compared to if the person walked in and he’s your new custodian. You probably are not going to have as much trust. So, would you leave your high school or middle school kids with a new pastor, the new youth pastor who’s just arrived? Yeah, probably. Would you leave them alone with the custodian who’s just arrived? Well, maybe not. And so I think that it’s really important to understand that the Christian community is, just by its nature—by its nature of being more trusting than others, by its nature of always being in need of help, and need of assistance, need of volunteers—creates an environment for offenders that is very attractive. And I don’t just mean offenders coming from the outside, inside to the church, which happens quite a bit. But, you know, the most dangerous, in my opinion, the most dangerous offender in the church is the one who’s been born and raised in the church. And there’s lots of them. And they know the weaknesses and the vulnerabilities of the Christian community. And they know the language to use and the words to use it and the theology to distort. That is so, so dangerous. And most the time, the people who’ve grown up in the church also are the most well-loved and most trusted individuals in that church. And that’s a dangerous combination.

JULIE ROYS:  It’s tough. It really is tough. And I think you nailed it when you said we just tend to trust people that are in these positions; a pastoral position, especially if that pastor has ministered to you. The Holy Spirit has used him in your life. And it’s unthinkable, absolutely unthinkable, that he could betray the trust and actually sexually abuse someone in your congregation. Or even if it happens to you, it rocks your world. I’ve talked to so many people who have been abused just in the past couple of years. And what it does to them, it’s so devastating and grievous. But it is happening. And I think, because of what you’ve talked about, our inclination, often, is to believe the person, not the person who brings the allegation, but the pastor—at least that’s what’s been shown with a lot of the cover ups that now have become quite public. So, let’s go to that question. What do we do [when] you’re in a position of leadership or maybe you’re not even in a position of leadership—maybe you’re an ally or an advocate—but let’s start with the person in a position of leadership. Somebody comes to you and says they’ve been abused by the pastor.  What should you do?

BOZ TCHIVIDJIAN:  Well, I think we have to start off with definitions. And we use the term abuse. And I think sometimes we use that term, in many cases, in a much more narrow way than it should be. I come across people, in my opinion, and based on my experience, who have been victims of abuse by church leaders and it’s not always sexual. It can be emotional. It can be spiritual. Oftentimes they overlap. So, you know, I’ve yet to come across a situation involving sexual abuse that doesn’t have a spiritual abuse component to it—inside the church. And the same thing with emotional abuse. So, I think part of the important aspect is helping equip and educate our churches—not just leaders, but everybody—on what abuse is. Because if somebody comes and discloses something and you’re going, “Well, there’s no sexual contact involved so it’s not abuse and let’s move on.” You may be missing some really important red flags there. And some opportunities to address something that needs to be addressed. But I think that one of the dynamics that we have to remember is that within most church contexts, especially when the reported offender is any type of leader in the church, that person is the insider. And the person stepping forward usually is the outsider. And that is—when I say “the insider” I mean, the person who is in leadership—the person who is well beloved and well respected by the congregation, the person who the congregation feels like they know most is that person in leadership. The person stepping forward, oftentimes—not always, but oftentimes, the person stepping forward—has been targeted by that leader for particular reasons. And one reason is because they may be somewhat of an outsider. One reason may be because they may be somebody who has a reputation for having a troubled life. Or somebody that maybe not everybody in the church really knows at all. They may be a quiet person. And so, when that person—if that person steps forward to begin with, which is oftentimes not the case, sadly. But if they’re able to step out of the shadows and disclose and report, oftentimes, the immediate response from those around is to circle the wagons around the one that they believe they know—the one that they believe is in leadership.

JULIE ROYS:  Okay, Boz hold that thought. I’m going to need to go to break. But when we come back, let’s pick that up. What do you do when someone comes to you with an allegation of sexual abuse? Again, speaking with me today, Boz Tchividjian, founder of G.R.A.C.E., which stands for Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment. You’re listening to The Roys Report. I’m Julie Roys. We’ll be right back after a short break.

SEGMENT 2

ANNOUNCER:  We now return to The Roys Report. Here’s your host, Julie Roys.

JULIE ROYS: How should churches handle allegations of sexual abuse? Welcome back to The Roys Report. I’m Julie Roys. And today I’m discussing this critically important issue with Boz Tchividjian and experienced litigator who’s prosecuted hundreds of sexual victimization cases. He’s also the founder of G.R.A.C.E. which stands for Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment. And he’s the author of The Child Safeguarding Policy for Churches and Ministries, a book we’re giving away today. I’ve got three copies of this book and to enter to win one of those copies, just go to JulieRoys.com/giveaway. I heard from someone recently who’s been an elder Chairman at a church also an attorney, he said, “Everyone in church leadership should have a copy of this book.” Again, the child safeguarding policy for churches and ministries. If you’d like to enter to win that just go to JulieRoys.com/giveaway. Also, Boz, I really appreciated what you said before the break about educating the church on what abuse is and how spiritual abuse often is a part of sexual abuse. It’s very rare when you have sexual abuse in the church that there isn’t spiritual abuse involved. And I want to encourage you listeners, I actually have a video from Wade Mullen, who has done so much work on spiritual abuse and what it is and the dynamics of that. And that is posted at my website right now. So, I encourage you go and listen to Wade Mullins talk on spiritual abuse at my website. Again, JulieRoys.com. Just an excellent resource there. But Boz, you were saying before that break when someone comes with an allegation of sexual abuse in the church, or even it might be spiritual abuse or emotional abuse often, we don’t know how to deal with it. But this person coming is often the outsider. The person they’re accusing is often the insider that we know really well. And so, being discerning in these issues, probably is extremely difficult. So how do we do that?

ATTY. BOZ TCHIVIDJIAN: Well, know first and foremost that most offenders in especially in that context—and this is at least what I’ve experienced in addressing this issue for 25 years—has been that the offender is going to be very effective in immediately spinning a narrative where he or she is seen as the true victim. And that the genuine victim, the narrative is going to be spun, that that person is really the perpetrator. That that person is for whatever reason, trying to destroy the life or ministry of this wonderful, great man, this great leader. And people in a church context—knowing what we already talked about—that they already know the leader and have some degree of love and admiration for that person—they think they know the leader—and don’t really oftentimes know the victim who’s the outsider, people will naturally gravitate towards the narrative that they find much more acceptable and much more comfortable. And so, I say all this because I think it’s really important to know these dynamics before we just say, “This is what you should do.” Because if you don’t understand the dynamics that are behind all of this, you may try to use a process and check off some boxes, but you’re still going to miss the mark. And you’re still going to end up hurting folks even in how you respond. And so, understanding that dynamic that within a very short period of time, that narrative will be spun, people will gravitate towards that narrative, because that’s the narrative they choose to believe. And shortly thereafter, that victim is either silenced or they’re shown the door. I can’t tell you Julie, how many victims or parents of minor victims who come forward to disclose abuse within the church, within weeks find themselves with no more community in that church. There’s something wrong with that. The one who should find no community, if any, should be the offender, not the one who’s been offended against. But time and time again, it’s because I think church leaders and church congregations don’t grasp these pretty complex dynamics to begin with. They look at it very quickly, they make a judgment call very quickly, and then they run with it. And usually that judgment call is running with, alongside and in support of the leader, the person they know. So that’s why I think it’s really important in every church and organization to have a developed response protocol that your church organization uses. And it doesn’t matter whether the reported offender is the senior pastor, or the it’s the newly hired custodian. You have to take the relationship aspect out of the equation and as much subjectivity out of the equation. And you have to be able to apply an objective process, that is not only objective in its process, but also in its nature. And that is, we can’t just because the reported offender is the senior pastor, “Well, we’re going to try to handle this differently.” I mean, think about this in this way. If, let’s say now, in the in the world I come out of in the Presbyterian world, you have a session. Most of those session members work on a pretty regular basis with the senior pastor and all pastoral staff. And suddenly, now, they meet, you know, once a month for session meetings, they go to retreats. They, I mean, all this stuff. And then suddenly, overnight, there’s an allegation made against the pastor, one of the pastoral staff members. There’s no way a session member can approach that issue objectively, because they have relationship with the main party of the of the complaint, the reported offender. And so, when you have relationship, there’s no way you can approach that in the objective manner that’s absolutely needed and critical in that in that situation. And so, what ends up happening is—even if they try to—what you begin seeing over time is a process that embraces—even subtly embraces—the reported offender. And oftentimes shuts down or minimizes or marginalizes the reported victim. So, having a protocol in place that says, “Listen, soon as we get this disclosure, here’s what we begin to do.” And it doesn’t matter who it is.

JULIE ROYS: Are you saying then that boards need to—because boards are always—I have yet to find a board that isn’t good friends with the leader. I mean, that’s how the boards work. And some of that’s necessary. I mean, you need to work with people that know you and, you know, obviously, you have a collegial kind of relationship with.

ATTY. BOZ TCHIVIDJIAN: We usually they’re there because of that leader.

JULIE ROYS: Right. Well, that’s true. And so, the question is, are you saying that boards are not effective to investigate this themselves? They need to have some process that puts the investigation in somebody else’s hands that might be more objective?

ATTY. BOZ TCHIVIDJIAN: Yeah, I think from day one, the board has to recognize that there’s a conflict of interest. There’s an inherent—if it’s not inherent, it’s at least a perceived—conflict of interest. So, we have to step away from being the decision makers and the investigators. So how do we do that? Well, first of all, understanding that—especially if it’s a disclosure of sexual abuse—that board members are not trained and equipped to be investigators. So, know your limitations. And your limitations as a board when a member of your board or leadership is accused of doing something like that—sexual misconduct or any type of sexual assault or abuse—is that you’re greatly limited in what you’re going to be able to do as a board to address this. And so I think the big things that the board can do is to receive the complaint, to make sure that the reported victim is heard, that is welcomed, that that person is supported, and that we do everything we can to connect that reported victim to a support network—inside or outside of the church—that could also be helping connect that person with a qualified therapist if that’s what they want. And they might be helping pay for that therapy. But on the on the other end of that is, yeah, this this has to be investigated. First and foremost, if it’s a disclosure of a crime or you think it might be a crime, it needs to be reported to the local authorities. Now, you know, we don’t tend to get into the nitty gritty of that, but I think it’s really important if it’s an adult that comes forward about being sexually victimized by a leader or anybody in the church, yes, that’s a crime and it needs to be reported. I think it’s really important that the church work with that adult to report the matter. We want to empower that person to move forward and make that report. What I find in a lot of churches is the churches will initially demonstrate real kindness and care and apparent concern for the victim. But what they’re really doing is they’re leading that victim away from actually reporting the offense to the local authorities. They’ll say, “You know, it’s okay if you want to report this, but I understand how difficult this can be for a victim. And the process can be really painful.” And by the time they’re done talking to that reported victim, that person has no desire to report this crime to the Police. We need to be the greatest advocate for this person. Say, “Man, we will walk with you to report this and we will be there to support you. You’re not going to do this alone.” And that’s what so many survivors are mostly afraid of and good reason to be. And that is that they’re going to walk this journey alone the moment they step forward and disclose it.
(A) They’re probably going to lose their church community and (B) They’re going to be alone.

JULIE ROYS: So tough, so tough. Again, that’s Boz Tchividjian founder of G.R.A.C.E. Godly Response to Abuse in a Christian Environment. I’m Julie Roys. You listen to The Roys Report. We will be right back. I have so many questions based on what you just said, Boz. But we will be right back. Have to take a break. But when we do, we’ll talk more about reporting and supporting this abuse and the abused in the church. We’ll be right back.

Segment 3

ANNOUNCER:  And now, more of The Roys Report.  Once again, here’s Julie Roys.

JULIE ROYS:  One in four. That’s the percentage of women who have been sexually abused by the age of 18. One in six is the percentage of men who’ve been abused by the same age. Welcome back to The Roys Report, brought to you in part by Judson University. I’m Julie Roys. And the statistics are heartbreaking. Sexual abuse has ravaged so many in our society, but it’s not just there out in the world, sex abuse is happening in the church. And these abuse victims and survivors are in our pews. How can we protect them? How can we advocate for them, help them heal? Well, joining me today to help us learn how to do that is Boz Tchividjian, founder and Executive Director of G.R.A.C.E., which stands for Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment. He’s also an experienced litigator who’s prosecuted hundreds of sexual victimization cases. And we’re going to go get back into our discussion about how to report abuse in the church—how to investigate it. But before we do that, Boz is going to be making a major change. And I’m honored that he decided to talk about that change publicly for the first time here on this program. So Boz, please tell us about the change that you’re about to make and why you’re doing it.

BOZ TCHIVIDJIAN:  Oh, thanks, Julie. Yeah, it’s been a change that’s been coming for a while. But I decided last, a few months ago, that I’m going to, this May, going to be leaving my position at Liberty University School of Law. A position I’ve held for almost 12 years. And I’m going to be stepping down as the Executive Director of G.R.A.C.E. And I’m returning to the practice of law with a focus on representing victims of abuse. I have found in the work that I have done for years that there are so many survivors out there that need good, not only just good, but competent and zealous advocacy inside and outside the courtroom. And I’ve got a law degree. And I’ve practiced law for 15 years. And the more I’ve thought about it and prayed about it, I’ve decided I want to go back and use that law degree to zealously advocate for those who’ve been wounded, especially inside the church. There are a lot of lawyers that handle these cases and many of them are really good. And many of them should not be doing this. They don’t understand victimization. They don’t understand the church community“““““““` and church cultures. And they end up re-victimizing their own clients. And I’ve encountered so many of those survivors who’ve been actually re-victimized by the very lawyers who are supposed to be advocating for them. And so, the more I thought about it and prayed about it, I thought, that’s the next 20, 25 years of my life. I want to dedicate it to that and I’m excited about it. You know, I have to tell you, I’m, you know, it’s mixed feelings about stepping down as the Executive Director of G.R.A.C.E. It’s an organization that I started in 2004. I love it. I will always love it. I hope to remain on the board. But I also have been around ministry for most of my life and have always never liked when people, or individuals who start ministries, can’t let them go and are defined by that particular ministry. And G.R.A.C.E. has never been about me. It’s always been about serving and advocating for the wounded and educating and equipping Christ’s church. And so, I think it’s time that somebody come after me, who has maybe different gifts than me to take the organization and move it forward in a time that we are incredibly busy. We’ve grown more in the last 18 to 24 months than we’ve grown in the last 10 years. And so, it’s an exciting and important time in the life of G.R.A.C.E. And I just really believe that God has somebody selected, who will step into that position, and take it to where He wants to go, and that it will never be about a person. But it’s always going to be about the persons that we serve. And so, I’m looking forward to it. It’s again, it’s going to be, I’m certainly going to have mixed feelings about all of it. But I have a tremendous amount of peace. And I’m very excited about representing survivors. And I’ve already got a number of cases around the country where I’m doing that. And yeah, I feel like I’m putting my time and my talent to good use with what I know and the degree that I have and the experience I have as a litigator. 

JULIE ROYS:  Yeah, well. We wish you well on that. And we’ll be praying for you and also for G.R.A.C.E. It’s just such an important organization. But you’re right, also very important to represent the sex abuse victims properly in court and to know what you’re doing. And you’re right. There’s just so few who know how to do that well. So . . .

BOZ TCHIVIDJIAN:  Well, just so for your audience, I mean, just so they know. I mean, G.R.A.C.E. is not going anywhere. We are here to stay. I long for the day where the world doesn’t need this organization. But we’re a long way from that. And so G.R.A.C.E. is, as long as there is this horror inside of the church, G.R.A.C.E. is going to be there. And we will never let that go. 

JULIE ROYS:  Yeah. Well, I appreciate what you’re doing. And it is a sign of a healthy organization when the leader can leave and it can continue. So, I trust that that will happen and be praying for a competent and really godly Executive Director to step into that role. But let’s go back to our discussion. We’re talking about reporting these issues. And then when a board gets an allegation of sexual abuse, how important it is for them to hand that off.  And one of my big questions for you—I know G.R.A.C.E. does these investigations, third party investigations. Are there any other because I’ve actually talked to boards who are like, okay, what do we do? Where do we go? I say, well go to G.R.A.C.E. But you can’t handle all of them. What are some other options that boards have as far as the investigating these things?

BOZ TCHIVIDJIAN:  Yeah, that’s a great question because there’s not a lot of options. You know, two options that I see oftentimes used, are either people come to us, or they hire a lawyer or a law firm. And, you know, my concern with that, and I say this as a lawyer, but G.R.A.C.E. is not a law firm. And we’re not a legal, you know, we don’t do legal work. But as a lawyer, a lawyer always has a fiduciary duty to his client. And that means if a church comes to me and says, “We want you, Boz, to do this investigation, as a lawyer, not in capacity of G.R.A.C.E., and we want it to be independent.” The challenge is how do I make that truly an independent process when my ultimate fiduciary duty is to my client, which is the church. And that can provide a possible conflict of interest or at least a perceived conflict of interest. And then the other problem I have, I think, with churches who go run to law firms, is that a lot of times, just because you’re a lawyer does not mean that you have the experience or the ability to investigate sexual abuse disclosures. You know, it’s like, if somebody came to me and asked me if I could handle a tax law case. I would never do that because I have no clue about tax law. And I don’t ever intend to know more about tax law than I know now, which is very little. That’s why I have an accountant. But it’s the same thing—is just because they’re a law firm, just because you’re a lawyer—so  if you’re going to go to law firm route, which, again, I’ve already expressed some of the reservations I have about that, you better go to a management law, employment law firm. A management employment law firm is a law firm that is almost exclusively represents, what we call, management, which is the employer.

JULIE ROYS:  Okay. Hold your thought there. Short segment, I hate that. 

BOZ TCHIVIDJIAN:  Okay. No that’s fine.

JULIE ROYS:  But we’re going to need to pick this up on the other side of the break again. Again, what do you do? Who do you hire? Such an important conversation. Again, that’s Boz Tchividjian, founder of G.R.A.C.E., which stands for Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment. I’m Julie Roys. You’re listening to The Roys Report. When we come back, we’ll pick up this important discussion on handling sex abuse allegations within the church. We’ll be right back.

SEGMENT 4

ANNOUNCER:  This is The Roys Report with Julie Roys.

JULIE ROYS:  Sexual abuse is a huge problem in both the Catholic and Protestant churches. But how can we create an environment where abusers stand in fear and their victims are emboldened instead of the other way around? Welcome back to The Roys Report. I’m Julie Roys. And today we’re discussing this critically important issue with Boz Tchividjian—the founder of G.R.A.C.E., an organization that equips religious organizations to respond to allegations of abuse. Boz, also, is an experienced litigator who’s prosecuted hundreds of sexual victimization cases and has a wealth of knowledge and experience regarding our issue today. And, by the way, if you’re just joining our program, and you want to hear what you’ve missed, I’ll be posting the complete audio to my website about an hour after the end of this program. Just go to julieroys.com and click on the podcast tab. Also, there’s just a lot of articles there—videos relating to our issue that we’re talking about today—especially the ones that are posted from the Restore Conference that we had earlier this month that dealt with some of these issues. And especially, I mentioned before, Wade Mullens’ talk on spiritual abuse. If you’re hearing that for the first time, don’t know what spiritual abuse is, I really, really strongly encourage you to listen to that. But Boz we were talking last segment about what the church board does that wants to investigate an allegation of sexual abuse. It comes to them, usually they’re—if the sexual abuse allegation is concerning their pastor or leader in the church, they usually have so much relationship, they can’t really be objective themselves and investigate it. They can go to G.R.A.C.E. They can hire a lawyer, but as you were saying, there’s lots of issues with hiring a lawyer. Because, often, the lawyers represent their clients and you become—the church becomes their client then. And they often see that as, you know, trying to protect. And then this is what’s so sick about the whole thing. It’s like trying to protect the brand of the church, which is often tied in with the pastor. And so the whole organization is a afraid of this information coming out. And really all of the pressure is to minimize what happened instead of really trying to get to the truth and just be open and honest about it. So again, what do they do? If the lawyer isn’t a good option, where do they go?

BOZ TCHIVIDJIAN:  I think first and foremost, I said this earlier but I want to re-emphasize this, and that is it should be reported to the authorities. You know, there should never be a situation where a leadership is sitting around talking about, well, either hiring G.R.A.C.E or hiring somebody else, without saying, wait a minute, has this matter been reported to law enforcement? And even if it involves an adult, there are a growing number of states where it is a crime for a member of the clergy to engage in sexual contact with somebody in their congregation that they have oversight and authority over. So I think that’s really, really important because I think I don’t ever want to minimize the fact that this has to be reported to the authorities. If the person, who comes forward, is an adult, like I said earlier, the church should work with that person in making sure that the matter is reported to the authorities. Now, once it’s reported the authorities, then the church has to figure out—okay, what do we do as a church? For example, G.R.A.C.E. will come in—we’ll not only investigate the underlying allegations, but one of the other key points of  investigation that we will look into, is what did the church know? When did it know it? And how did it respond? You know, that’s something that law enforcement and prosecutors are not going to investigate. They’re investigating the underlying crime between the perpetrator and the victim. Law enforcement is not investigating, well, what did the church know? And what did they do in response to it? That’s where a third party comes in to help the church understand and get to the truth of those specific issues. So, you know, hiring a third party is, in my opinion, is really, really critical. But the third party has to be objective and it has to be trained and qualified and experienced. So, like I said earlier, a law firm is not your best bet because of the fiduciary duty, and especially a law firm that primarily represents management or employers. I tell victims who are thinking about interviewing. You know, they’ve been called to do an interview with an investigator that is really a law firm that represents employers. And I’m saying do you realize that you’re sitting down with the lawyer of the church and telling them all this information? And that means that they can use that against you at any other time should you go forward in any other manner. So be careful of that. So to answer your question, in a short form, I would say, yeah, contact an organization like G.R.A.C.E. And if we can’t help you, we will do our best to connect you with somebody who can. It’s what we did a few months ago with a particular denomination. We couldn’t assist but we were able to work with our contacts in getting a qualified, objective and experienced investigator to handle the matter.

JULIE ROYS:  And don’t some denominations—like I know Presbyterian Church actually had some sort of council, that’s above the local church level, that’s able to investigate or at least rule on these matters. But a lot of . . .

BOZ TCHIVIDIJIAN:  Yeah, that’s usually a disaster.

JULIE ROYS:  Is it really? (Laughter). It sounds good.

BOZ TCHIVIDJIAN:  Yeah. Well, it all sounds good. It’s great on paper, but it’s a presbytery. All these presbytery, members of the presbytery, usually pastors in that local area, and they all know each other. And they’re not equipped to investigate. They’re pastors. They’ve never been educated and trained to equip sexual abuse investigation. So even presbyteries need to reach outside of themselves and get an independent body, who knows what they’re doing and how to investigate, to get to the bottom of these things.

JULIE ROYS:  So bottom line—boards have some humility. Recognize your limitations. Go and get a third party to come in like G.R.A.C.E. or somebody that G.R.A.C.E. recommends. And, you know, I hate to say like you’re the only game in town. But there just aren’t an awful lot out there that I would recommend.

BOZ TCHIVIDJIAN:  Hopefully that will change in time. And I think in what you said a second ago is really important to know. And one of the things that I have encountered in leadership of churches and organizations that, to me, is incredibly dangerous. And it’s the combination of ignorance and arrogance. When you have a board that is both ignorant and arrogant, usually they’re arrogant they don’t realize they’re ignorant. Bad things happen. And it’s a board that’s unteachable. And that is, those are the boards where these types of situations end up imploding. And if you experience that type of board, or leadership in your church, leave. I just say get out. Because they’re not going to change and they’re only going to do more damage. And so, you have to put yourself in a safe space and that safe space may mean that, tragically, you’re going to have to step outside of that community and find a new one.

JULIE ROYS:  Yeah. And that there’s, I hate to say this, but it’s just so typical the way that they respond. And if there’s an abusive pastor or leader, a spiritually abusive pastor or leader, he has already manipulated that board and has abused them. And they don’t even realize they’re being abused. Because that’s why they’re in the vortex to begin with. 

BOZ TCHIVIDJIAN:  They’ve been groomed.  

JULIE ROYS:  Exactly. And they don’t know how to—they can’t possibly help the person who’s been abused because they’re being abused, and they don’t see it themselves. So how will they see it in somebody else? And so it, you know, again, and again, it’s happened so much now.  And I said in the break to you—I’m like, you know, people come to me when the whole process has broken down. And they’re like, will you please report? And my impulse, you know, I want to go back to the board and say, “Please take care of this, so I don’t have to.” And time and time again, I’ve gotten to the point where I’m just like, you know, why do I even bother? Because every time I do it, it just seems like they never do what they need to do. And instead, they turn it. Then I become the enemy and it turns on me. And it’s just so hard.

BOZ TCHIVIDJIAN:  I say this often and this is because I’ve experienced it for so many years. And that is—church leaders, we communicate the Gospel with our lips, which is all about a God who expends Himself and sacrifices Himself in order to redeem and protect and save an individual. But we actually live out the polar opposite. We will actually sacrifice the individual in order to protect and save ourselves. So churches and Christian communities, especially leadership, have to begin living out the very Gospel that they claim to embrace and love, especially in these types of situations.

JULIE ROYS:  Yeah, amen to that. Well, in our last about five minutes so we have here for the program, I do want to talk about just creating an environment of protection in our churches. Because I think there’s a way in which we can be proactive to not allow our churches to become places where predators can actually prey on the sheep. Where they get the message really clearly, early on, that’s not going to happen here. And that’s not welcome here. How can we do that?

BOZ TCHIVIDJIAN:  Yeah, that’s a great question. Because I do think we want to end on a positive note. And that is, you know, church communities and organizational communities can be transformed. They can be transformed into communities that are the safest places for vulnerable people and the most welcoming for those who’ve been hurt, and the least welcoming for those who hurt. But it takes work. It takes, in my opinion, a cultural transformation. You have to almost change the very DNA of that organization or community. And I think that one of the things we developed a few years ago is our Child Safeguarding Certification Initiative—which is something that we put together over a period of a couple of years with experts. Because we said, well, how do we make that transformation? How do we help churches make that transformation? And we looked at what was out there, and we said, that’s not happening. What’s out there right now is you watch a few videos, take a few quizzes and now you feel like you’re a safe church. Well, the culture hasn’t been changed at all. So we go in. We assign each church a safeguarding specialist to walk that church organization through a process. And he takes anywhere from three to six months—involves at least at least one, usually two, on-site visits. And in that process, we will train and equip every demographic within that community—from leadership all the way down to kids. And we will help them put together a safeguarding team who will either audit existing policies or develop new policies using the policy, the safeguarding policy guide, that you mentioned at the beginning of the of the show, and work with them so they’re not doing it all alone. But the reality is, they have to take ownership. It’s easy to just hire a third party like G.R.A.C.E.—and say, hey, just do our policies and train us. And no, we will help you all do those things. But the end of the day, you as a church have to take ownership of this issue. And we’ll be there to walk with you every step of the way. But you got to do that. And I have found that, with the work we do, it only works when top leadership from all the way, from top leadership down embraces that. And that means you have to understand, as leaders, that you don’t have the answers. And that you have to lean on the expertise of those outside your particular community and be teachable. And to tell your church, this is not an option. If we’re going to be a church that claims to embrace Jesus, and Jesus was the greatest child advocate that ever lived on the face of the earth, then that is who we are going to be as a church. So get on board or get out. And, you know, we’re seeing some really exciting and positive changes in the lives of churches through this process. We’re always tweaking it and there’s still always improvement. But what we’re finding is that when we go back to a church six months or nine months later, that what we helped them with was just the beginning. And that they’ve continued to move in that direction of transformation. Versus before we did this, I would go in and do a training in a church, come back six months from now, and they probably wouldn’t barely remember me, except I had a long last name, and I talked about sexual abuse in the church. They really didn’t do much in the way of transforming that church community. And so, yeah, the safe—and I am plugging this because I think it’s a great initiative—the G.R.A.C.E. Safeguarding Certification Initiative, to me, is a great starting place for churches, schools and other Christian organizations to move forward in beginning that transformation. The only other thing, I’ll say really quickly, is assessments. We do organizational assessments. Where an organization will come and say we think we have these issues. We don’t have a specific situation we want you to investigate. But we think we may have a cultural issue of how we view women, how we treat women, how we view kids and but we are probably not the best ones to assess that. Could you all come in and do that? And we’ll do that. And we’ll provide them with an organizational assessment report with recommendations to help them begin moving in that direction.

JULIE ROYS:  Boz, thank you. Thank you. We’re coming to the end of our time. I hate that we are but we are. But I just think of Psalm 82:3. It says, “Defend the weak and the fatherless, uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed friends.” I can’t think of a more vulnerable and oppressed group than those who have been sexually abused. So I hope you take these words to heart that Boz has given us today. Some of these steps—churches, employ them. Do them. And Boz, thank you so much, not just for coming on today’s program but for your work spanning decades. And blessings to you as you embark on your new venture. Just a reminder, if you missed any part of this show, or just want to listen again, just go to julieroys.com. We have the entire podcast posted very soon. Hope you have a great weekend and God bless.

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1 thought on “How Should The Church Handle Allegations Of Sex Abuse?”

  1. Praying that it goes well, but part of me is torn. Will Boz make more impact in private practice than he did at Liberty in training a generation of young Christian lawyers who will have some of the same perspective that he does? I can’t quite answer. What I can say is that, as a Sunday School grand-poo-bah at my church, I pray that I don’t have the opportunity to meet him, or others like Sarah Klein or John Manly, in their professional capacities.

    If you are, like me, heading up children’s ministries, also consider having a victim/survivor speak up in training if one is willing–and of course don’t push them to do it. Nothing communicates “this stuff is real” to volunteers like that, I think. It doesn’t have to be anything big–I was basically flashed by a babysitter and had a part in his abuse ending–but when it’s someone they know who can say “Me Too”, you can hear a pin drop.

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