Coming together to fight child abuse in religious communities


“You can start a revolution that will flame up and burn out quickly when you rally folks against a problem, but if you want to stoke the fires of long-term transformation, we must first give people something to be for; something to agree upon.”

With those words in April 2013, I joined the board of directors of the Child-Friendly Faith Project, an Austin-based, national nonprofit organization that educates the public about child abuse and neglect that is enabled by religious and cultural ideologies.

As a local minister and hospice chaplain, I hear the stories of those who have experienced damage at the hands of some persons acting in the name of religion. Often they carry that baggage with them, even to the end of their lives.

I also hear from concerned parents, helping professionals, clergy and persons of faith who grapple with how to care for children in a way that keeps them safe, but does not squelch the rights of adults to practice their cultural and religious beliefs.

For example, a mom stood in a kitchen at a holiday party last year and said to me: “I want to take my kids to church, but I don’t want them to have the same bad experience I did, and I don’t even begin to know where it’s ‘safe’ to take them.”

During a focus group at a seminary last spring, a well-respected youth minister in our community shared: “I’m concerned about the language we’re using with our teens in faith communities. Are we aware of how our words are impacting them? I know none of us want to inflict harm on our kids, but I worry that if we’re not paying attention, we will, unintentionally.”

A former hospice social worker colleague shared over coffee: “I’m struggling with how one family I’m working with is handling their child’s illness, but their actions are based on their religious beliefs. How do I respect the adults’ religious freedoms while honoring the child’s rights to emotional and physical safety? Where is that line and what is my responsibility here?”

Many want to know how to rebuild trust in an institution now often shunned. We people of faith have repair work to do, and those who have suffered deserve to know that we’re willing to drop our defenses and strive to understand.

To begin the work of healing, and ensure a healthy, nurturing environment for our children, we must engage in meaningful discussions about these issues. Debating our theological differences or focusing on the potentially damaging aspects of religion will ultimately resolve nothing.

Rather, we can find common ground and recognize that, regardless of our religious or philosophical outlooks, we all care about protecting the most vulnerable among us. Ultimately, that unified foundation is our best place to start.

The Child-Friendly Faith Project is committed to fostering such productive conversations. Through our educational programs, we seek to empower and equip faith communities and professionals in their efforts to protect children from maltreatment.

Furthermore, we understand that this kind of change can only be achieved through education and positive and respectful dialogue. I invite you to join child advocates, professionals, clergy, persons of faith and survivors of maltreatment in this conversation. Our upcoming conference will be the next intentional step toward a positive difference for our children, and for us all.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Lifestyle

She explores Austin's bird world from a wheelchair. You can, too.
She explores Austin's bird world from a wheelchair. You can, too.

A few years ago, out on a nature trail, Virginia Rose, enraptured by birds she was tracking through her binoculars, grew separated from her birding group. She was all alone, happily listening to bird songs and searching out their sources, when, eventually, a woman tapped her on the shoulder: “How did you get here?” “What do you mean...
Austin might be the ‘most difficult’ real estate market in Texas
Austin might be the ‘most difficult’ real estate market in Texas

As Austinites are in the middle of appealing-your-property-tax season, the folks over at Forbes.com would like to let you know about property investment across Texas. How did Austin do? As you might imagine, the answer is complicated. In a Forbes.com opinion piece entitled “Looking to Buy a Home in Texas? These Cities Are the Best Investments...
What’s the most dangerous stretch of road for bicyclists in Austin?
What’s the most dangerous stretch of road for bicyclists in Austin?

  Andrew McKenna rides his bicycle on Guadalupe Street in January 2018. (Stephen Spillman /for American-Statesman)   Anyone who has ridden a bicycle around Austin on a regular basis knows the feeling of a near miss. In my 15 or so years of pedaling to work, I’ve come close to getting hit by a car several times. I’ve also been...
University of Texas quarterback gets behind Austin kid’s quest to raise $1 million to save his sister
University of Texas quarterback gets behind Austin kid’s quest to raise $1 million to save his sister

University of Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger is trying to help 13-year-old Garland Benson raise $1 million for the Beyond Batten Disease Foundation. Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger runs the ball during the Texas Bowl NCAA college football game against Missouri. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN 2017 In December, ...
A third baby for Kate Middleton and Prince William: Does three babies feel like a lot?
A third baby for Kate Middleton and Prince William: Does three babies feel like a lot?

Monday morning Duchess Kate Middleton gave birth to her and Prince William’s third child, a boy.  Three babies. For those of us who have two babies or only one baby, would a third baby be totally out of the question? Dean of Windsor, David Conner speaks to Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge as they leave...
More Stories