Yesterday the General Church Council (GCC) resolved that the Lutheran Church of Australia (LCA) will join the National Redress Scheme for people who have experienced child sexual abuse in institutional settings.
Established by the Commonwealth Government, the scheme is a direct result of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. It will provide a nationally consistent means of response to abuse that occurred within churches and other institutions.
The LCA is joining state and territory governments and non-government bodies across Australia which have already ‘opted in’ to the scheme. These include the Catholic Church, the Anglican Church, the Salvation Army, the Uniting Church and Scouts Australia. The scheme is due to start on 1 July 2018 and will run for 10 years.
In joining the National Redress Scheme, the LCA is acknowledging the wrongs done to those who have experienced child sexual abuse in our church, and is making a commitment to support them. This action is consistent with the commitment made by our General Synod in 2015 to care for and protect children while engaged in church activities. Delegates overwhelmingly ‘reaffirmed that our children are a precious gift from God’. The resolution goes on: ‘They are to be nourished and nurtured in their spiritual life within the Lutheran Church of Australia and their needs must be considered by all boards, councils and committees prior to the making of decisions. Children are to be cared for and protected from all physical, psychological, sexual and spiritual abuse while engaging in all church activities.’
General Synod further authorised the GCC ‘to commit resources to continue to develop effective procedures, and education and training programs to ensure that children are valued, respected, listened to and kept safe from harm’.
Luther’s Small Catechism unpacks the 5th Commandment ‘You shall not kill’ as meaning, ‘We should fear and love God, and so we should not endanger our neighbour’s life, nor cause him any harm, but help and befriend him in every necessity of life.’
This applies particularly to children, gifts whom God entrusts into our care. They come especially under divine protection (Isaiah 11:6-9). As God protects the vulnerable, God’s people are to do the same (Isaiah 1:17). When children came to Jesus and his disciples shooed them away, he reversed the usual order of things by saying that the Kingdom of God belongs to ‘such as these’ (Matt 19:14, Luke 18:16). In welcoming a child, we are welcoming Jesus (Matt 18:5, Mark 9:37, Luke 9:48). All through his ministry Jesus honoured children, teaching that if one wants to become truly great, one must become like a little child (Matt 18:1-5, Mark 9:33-37, Luke 9:46,47).
Therefore the church and all Christians have a special responsibility to care for children and see that no harm comes to them. How we treat children is a test of the genuineness of our faith. We are called to make every effort to protect children and treat them with the love, care and respect that God requires of us.
For some time now the LCA has expressed its serious concern for the protection of children by requiring that people who engage in ministry with children undergo the specialised training provided by LCA Professional Standards. Every one of us is required to report abuse or suspected abuse of children, regardless of whom the alleged perpetrator might be.
The Royal Commission made 189 recommendations in its final report. The LCA’s Royal Commissions Working Group is reviewing all the recommendations that relate to us and is formulating proposals for GCC’s consideration. You will hear progressively more about this and the implications for our church. As this goes on, I urge all of you – congregation and parish councils, child and youth ministry leaders, and individual members – to ensure that you are providing the safest possible environment for children in your care through actively implementing the LCA’s child-protection policies and procedures.
- for people who have been abused while in our care, particularly if they are children, or were children at the time of the abuse
- for forgiveness for wrongs we have done to people who should have been able to trust us, and that he will help us to care for them now in ways that will bring them healing
- for the work of the Holy Spirit in giving us faith, convicting us of sin, and breathing in us the gift of new life, that we may discern how to work with those among us who have offended and confessed their offence, and learn how to give them the help they need to change their behaviours
- for God to help us to do better, and that our church will always be a safe place for everyone, especially for those who are most vulnerable.
- LCA Royal Commission Working Group webpage, includes Royal Commission Final Report and recommendations
- LCA Professional Standards training
An LCA eNews, with more information about the National Redress Scheme and its implications for the LCA, will be released on Monday 18 June. The same information will be published in the July edition of The Lutheran.