The Cry of the Innocents: Then & Now

by Rev. Nicholas J. Kersten

Director of Education and History

“…Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men…” — Matthew 2:16 (ESV)

This time each year, many Christians commemorate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. We rightly remind ourselves of the miraculous circumstances of His birth. We surround ourselves with symbols and music which remind us of the great faithfulness of God. We celebrate the fulfillment of thousands of years of prophecy. It is a joyous time for many of us — a time filled with wonder and gratitude at the lengths God has taken to make us his children and secure our eternal futures.

But one of the prophecies which Matthew says is fulfilled frequently receives less attention in the grand scheme of our celebration narrative: the so-called “slaughter of the innocents,” from Matthew chapter two. Matthew reports that the wise men who came to visit Jesus after His birth visited the murderous Herod, innocently telling him who they were looking for. When they found Jesus, they were warned not to return to Herod but to go home a different way. Likewise, Joseph, Mary, and the infant Jesus fled to Egypt to escape Herod’s wrath. When Herod realized he had been tricked and the coming King may have slipped through his fingers, threatening his own power, Herod ordered all the male children in the area of Bethlehem and the surrounding region killed. After this grisly act was completed, Matthew reports that the cries that issued from that region fulfilled a prophetic word from the prophet Jeremiah (chapter 31:15) referencing the cries of Rachel (Jacob’s wife) for her children.

It may be that we deemphasize this story because it puts a damper on our celebration. But it is important that we not forget the voices of those who grieve this season, and that we do not ignore the plight of innocent children who suffer from the wrath of misguided and sinful adults in positions of power. Such things are still an unfortunate part of our world — and we should not become blind in our celebrations to those who are hurting, especially in this season of hope and expectation.

For the past several years, our Conference has been in the process of evaluating our responsibilities to children. We have renewed our commitment to doing what we can to offer a safe environment for our children during General Conference meetings and at official General Conference events. In our contexts and in this era, that means accountability, policies, and background checks. It also means raising our level of commitment and being proactive in our commitment to being a safe place for our children.

That commitment is sadly necessary because abuse of children, sexually and otherwise, has reached epidemic levels in our nation. A study conducted by the University of New Hampshire1 indicates that during their lifetimes, based on current trends, approximately one in five young women are sexually abused before turning 18 years of age; and one in twenty young men are likewise abused. The composite numbers reflect a staggering reality: nearly a third of all children are being abused before they turn 18.

Shockingly, the vast majority of these young people are abused by someone they know. Only 7% of victims are abused by a complete stranger. In our culture, the innocents still cry out.

 

The Conference has taken many steps in the past several years, including the passage of a resolution at General Conference in 2015, which have affirmed our commitment to child protection. One such step is to encourage and exhort the member churches of our Conference to take the initiative to protect the sanctity and safety of their congregations, especially for their children and young people.

Safety in our congregations at this point comes in a variety of ways.

Perhaps the most important step local congregations can take with respect to ministry safety and child protection is to develop and implement their own child protection policies. Such policies can be brief and customized to the life of your church, but should reflect accordance with local, state, and federal laws regarding child protection in your area. This will likely include carefully considering how you recruit, vet, and train those who work with children in your local context — as well as a careful consideration of your ministry space to ensure that both your children and ministry workers are safe and protected. It is important to pay attention to the laws regarding mandated reporting in your state, as these sometimes vary widely and might impact how you train your workers and do your ministry. In all cases, having written a policy, churches should then abide by it!

The best resource to aid you and your church in navigating the sometimes murky legal waters is your local church’s insurance company. They have a vested interest in your church complying with all applicable laws. If your church is not insured, you should move to investigate finding such insurance as soon as possible. Most think of insurance as only something necessary in case of an incident. But an important role for your insurance company is to aid you in limiting your risks and keeping your entire church safe.

We are aware that some churches would like additional counsel regarding safety in ministry and child protection policies, so the Conference is considering the preparation of resources which would aid churches, including collecting sample policies from local churches and church insurance companies, and building lists of resources which may ultimately find their way into our Manual of Procedures. In addition, in 2017, we plan to undertake a survey of churches to evaluate how the member churches of the General Conference are providing safe ministry spaces for their children and ministry workers, and reporting the results back to the entire Conference.

A final way churches should be thinking about safety is through the lens of having appropriate insurance protection for themselves in the event of an incident. Even in situations where a congregation has taken all the prudent steps to provide a safe environment, we live in a broken world. Given the legal climate, and under such circumstances, churches who have an incident may have litigation brought against them. The General Conference does not assume responsibility for and does not insure local churches in the event of litigation. It is important for churches to provide for their own legal protection in such circumstances.

As we move towards the new year, let us all resolve to be sure that, to the extent it is possible, we do not permit harm to come to the children and youth that God has entrusted to our congregations. God saw to the protection of His Son while He was a child by giving Him a family and a community to protect Him. Let that be an example to us as we seek to protect, teach, and love the children God gives to us!

1. http://www.unh.edu/ccrc/pdf/CV192.pdf

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