Doubt in Real Life
Lots of adults in authority positions with children and teenagers abuse these positions. Teachers, counselors, doctors, priests and ministers, among others, are guilty of abusing power. However, we all know that there are lots of really great examples of adults that work with youth. Lots of great people extend a hand and an ear to kids that are sometimes deeply troubled. With kids unlikely to report their abusers in these situations how do we figure out who’s guilty and who’s innocent?
I worked with children and youth in a large protestant denomination while I was in college and in my early twenties, as both a paid staff person and a volunteer. Among the many things we had to study was how to protect ourselves from being wrongly accused of improper conduct with a minor, what was suspicious behavior, and what types of behavior in a child or teen could indicate possible abuse. For instance, you wouldn’t want to invite a teen over to your home for a visit if another adult were not present as a witness. It’s sad that something so possibly innocent has to be avoided at all costs but what’s sadder is when a child is molested or a person’s reputation is needlessly ruined.
I was working a camp with a couple of other youth workers who were friends of mine one summer when I was still in college. One of the youth workers was a volunteer and a college friend of mine that we’ll call Violet. The other was a youth minister from a large urban church that I had met at several of these types of functions, and we had struck up a nice friendship. I’ll call him Paul. He later went on to seminary and now is a very successful ordained minister with a small town congregation.
At that time in my life I was very active in the church and active in my campus ministry organization. I had a friend that we’ll call James. I went to high school with him, but we only really hit it off in college, through the campus ministry. James wasn’t at the camp with Violet, Paul and me. James had graduated the year before and was trying to secure a position as a full time youth minister without much luck.
I didn’t know it, but Paul and James knew each other. Paul was not a big fan of James. What? Not a big fan of James?! Who wouldn’t love James? Why, he was funny and kind and smart! I had worked around him with children on a daily basis, and he was good with them. James and I had a pact to marry if neither one of us was hitched by the time I turned forty. Why wouldn’t Paul like James?
That’s when Violet and Paul told me that they would let me in on a little secret, but I had to promise not to tell James. It seems that Paul and James had worked a camp together the summer before. At this camp James had been witnessed doing some suspicious things with one of the campers. He spent an inordinate amount of time talking, alone, with a boy. Since he was the boy’s camp counselor he was assigned the same cabin as his sleeping quarters. He’d been witnessed more than once sitting in the boy’s bunk at night and touching him while they talked, not inappropriately, but touching. He’d been talked to about this behavior by one of the camp leaders and had afterward still persisted in the behavior.
After he told me about his experience with James, Paul told me something else. There was a statewide “blacklist” for children’s protection, of people whom the church leaders had deemed inappropriate to work with children. This list was often consulted by churches in our denomination before they made a decision on whether or not to hire or even interview a potential youth worker.
At that point in time in my life it didn’t seem fair to me that James should be judged so harshly and labeled a possible pedophile based on the flimsy “evidence” that had been provided. Basically, what got him thrown on that list was one person reporting his suspicion of inappropriate conduct. Any one of us could have been added to that list. Once, at a lock in, I took a sixteen-year-old boy out to the church parking lot by ourselves and taught him how to drive a stick shift, using my car, until it occurred to me how it might look to others.
To make a long story short, I broke my confidence to Paul and Violet and let James know why he wasn’t able to secure a youth position. James confronted the church authorities in question, and Paul confronted me over the phone. He is a gracious man who has since forgiven me, but I regret having done it. James later secured a youth ministry position in another state and then came back for a successful stint in youth ministry at his home church, the one that he grew up in, where they’ve known him since he was a baby. He’s in seminary now. James and I are no longer friends for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is my nagging doubts remaining over this issue. I do wish James well. I hope that there is nothing to doubt.
Entry filed under: Child Abuse, Children, Chrisitanity, Ethics, Faith, Human Rights, Sexual Abuse & Assault, Social Commentary. Tags: Adolescence, Child, Christianity, High School, Minister (Christianity), Religion and Spirituality, Sexual abuse, Teens.