Ministry means working with people.
And people are sinners.
So those who are ministering to others will at times find themselves knee deep in messy situations. Unfortunately, these situations often involve criminal behaviour which has never been reported to the civil authorities. Probably the most common instances are child abuse (physical, emotional, sexual, or neglect) and domestic/family violence.
EDIT: Based on some of the comments, I wanted to add a quick clarification here. I am not suggesting that every action that could possibly be prosecuted as a crime should be reported. I am referring to serious crimes such as the above-mentioned child abuse and domestic/family violence. Additionally, I am not referring to necessarily digging up old crimes. I am referring primarily to the handling of crimes in the present.
As the Roman Catholic Church amply illustrates, religion finds it tempting to handle these situations in-house. Next to the Roman Catholic Church and unaffiliated cults, probably no Christian religious group is more notorious for these practices than Fundamentalism. If you doubt that statement, spend some time at the Freedom From Abuse Network1 or just spend a few minutes exploring google on the topic.
To be honest, we should all blush with shame that these things even need to be said. But they definitely, very much need to be said.
Yes, in Australian Fundamentalism.
So here are 16 reasons why crime should not be handled in-house.
1) It is a criminal offence in some jurisdictions to fail to report even suspicion of abuse of minors.2
2) It leaves the victims of crime exposed to danger instead of protecting them.
3) It thwarts the civil government’s ability to do their God-given job.
4) It creates a moral bubble in which the civil law does not apply.
5) It puts church leaders in a position of power in areas where God has not given them authority.
6) It protects criminals.
7) It creates an environment of fear of civil authorities.
8) It leads to resentment on the part of the victims.
9) It develops people who believe they are above the law.
10) It harms the testimony of Christ when it finally comes out in later years as a scandal.
11) It creates an environment of secrets.
12) It fails to effectively bring crimes to a stop.
13) It usurps God-ordained civil authority.
14) It treats crime as an offence against the victim instead of what it is, a crime against the state and society.
15) It damages people.
16) It fails to recognise that authority is delegated by God and is limited in scope.
Brothers, we need to do right in this matter. Every single time.
If you’re not sure what to do in a particular situation, I encourage you to pick up your phone and contact a legal professional, your state’s child protection agency, or your local police. Typically, they will be happy to answer your questions and clarify your obligations. I also encourage you to keep detailed notes about each action you take in a way that will be preserved until you die.
Open your mouth, judge righteously,
Defend the rights of the poor and needy.
Grace to you.
1I do not endorse the FFAN carte blanche. I do support the cause of justice and mercy and am thankful for anyone who labours for these.
2See the National Child Protection Clearinghouse for a helpful outline of reporting obligations in Australia.