Dear Church Family,
In the our denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), the government and oversight of our church is comprised of three hierarchical church courts made up of ministers and elders (technically referred to as Teaching Elders (TE’s) and Ruling Elders (RE’s)). At the local church, we have what is called the Session (comprised of the pastor(s) and the elders of the church). At the regional level, we have presbyteries (our church is part of the North Texas Presbytery). And, at the national level, we have the highest court of our church which is called the General Assembly.
The Session of our church meets together to pray for our members and conduct the business of the church on a monthly basis. The North Texas Presbytery meets four times a year. And, the General Assembly of our denomination meets annually, usually in June. The 42nd General Assembly of the PCA will meet this year in Houston, TX, June 17-20, 2014. Delegates from PCA churches from all over the country (TE’s and RE’s) will gather for worship, prayer, to hear reports from the various agencies and ministries of our denomination, and to debate and vote upon important issues that impact the whole denomination.
Seeing as this meeting is about a month away, I thought that in the weeks leading up to General Assembly, I would share with you some of the major items that will be discussed, debated, and voted upon this year. Of course, I won’t be able to cover everything (I just received a digital copy of the 862 page (!) “Commissioner Handbook”), but it is good for us as connectional Presbyterians to understand and know some of the important issues that affect the broader church.
Typically, the issues that come before the General Assembly for discussion and debate come by way of “overtures,” official communications from individuals, sessions, or (more usually) presbyteries. This year, 47 overtures have been submitted to the 42nd General Assembly. Twenty of those overtures have to deal with “Child Protection in the PCA” (there is really only one overture with 19 endorsement or supporting overtures from other presbyteries).
I’m not a prophet, but I don’t think that there will be much debate concerning this overture and that it will pass with overwhelming, if not unanimous, approval. This issue was raised at last year’s General Assembly by an individual and there was much support for it, but it was sent back to have the language developed and refined.
Like most all overtures, this one contains several “Whereas” statements giving the reasoning for the overture, followed by several “Be it resolved” statements which contain the actionable items. Basically, this “Child Protection” overture seeks to raise awareness among our church and exhort individual churches and ministries of our churches to implement training and practices that will protect children from sexual abuse.
You may read the entirety of this overture here (linked pdf document), but here is a summary of the reasons for this overture (whereas’s), followed by a summary of the proposed actionable items (resolutions).
1. Jesus demonstrated righteous anger and rebuked those who sought to prevent children from coming to Him and condemned those who would harm children.
2. Sexual abuse among children is an epidemic in our culture (some studies show that one out of three girls and one out of seven boys will be sexually abused before the age of 18).
3. The church (particularly, church leaders) may not remain silent, but must proactively take steps to prevent child sexual abuse and report these crimes to the proper civil authorities.
4. Scripture warns leaders to protect those who are entrusted into their care, and the civil laws acknowledge child sexual abuse to be a serious felony that must be reported.
Resolutions (“Be it resolved”)
1. Exhort church leaders to implement training and procedures to better ensure the protection of children.
2. Remind all churches that the heinous crime of child sexual abuse must be reported to duly appointed, God-ordained civil authorities.
3. Urge all church leaders to use their influence to protect children and to support victims of sexual abuse.
4. Direct the Permanent Committees and Agencies of the PCA to review their policies and procedures with regard to child protection and report back to the 43rd General Assembly.
5. Urge all members of the PCA to renew our allegiance to our Lord Jesus by loving our children as he loves our children, ‘for to such belongs the Kingdom of God’ (Mark 10:14).
As I said, I suspect that this overture will pass without much debate. This is a very important issue with very practical implications for our everyday life in the church. The prevalence of child sexual abuse may be shocking to some. The sin and effects of child sexual abuse often go unseen, unreported, or unacknowledged. The prevalence of sexual abuse is staggering. While we must continue to proclaim the gospel and the transforming power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 12:1-2; Titus 3:5-7; Jude 1:20), we must also make every effort to protect our children from those who would do them harm.
At Providence Presbyterian Church, we have in place a “Nursery Ministry Handbook and Policies and Procedures Manual.” We also require those who volunteer in the nursery and work with children in the church to undergo a background check. Links to both of these documents may be found on our church website here. If you haven’t read these documents before, please do so. Some have asked why these procedures and background checks are important; hopefully, reading this overture concerning child protection will answer those questions.
It is not enough, though, to implement background checks and have a policy and procedure manual. We must all be sure to maintain awareness, ensure adherence to these policies and procedures for ourselves and others, be vigilant in the education and oversight of those who work with children in our church, and take seriously the protection of the children who are entrusted to our care.
Please pray for our church toward this end, and please pray for our denomination and General Assembly as we take up this important matter in June.
The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch