Departments and Ministries
Dear Dr. Smith
67. Dear Dr. Smith
The minister of a Church was told that a 24-year-old male had sex with a 14-year-old girl. He claimed that she gave consent; her parents claimed that their daughter was raped. However, the parents requested that the law should not be involved; they felt that Church discipline would be sufficient. What should the minister do?
Dear Concerned Friend,
Your question is not only difficult but also troubling. A sad story if you pleased, anyway, let me deal with the issue as it is. There are three principles at stake in this dilemma. First; there is a Legal issue to be resolved, second; there is an ethical issue, that is, to be true to one’s member and to live up to their expectation, and thirdly; there is a spiritual issue, to be true to one’s God and the principles and standards of the Church.
1. The legal issue: It is required by law that certain persons and officials report any case or suspected case of child molestation. (Social Service Law # 413) In their capacity, ministers are officials to their parishioners and the society as well. Besides, among the categories listed in Social Service Law #413 as mandatory reporters, are Christian Science Practitioners. Ministers could well fall under this category and should be very careful on how they treat these issues.
2. The ethical issue: Ministers must be confidential people. They must keep information related to their members confidential unless disclosure is in the best interest of the member, is required for the welfare of others, or is required by law. Outside of those need for disclosure, ministers must respect their members right to privacy and avoid illegal and unwarranted disclosures of confidential information.
3. The spiritual issue: The Bible is very clear in it’s teachings on fornication, (I Cor 6:9-10, Matt 19:9). The minister has to give clear leadership and spiritual guidance on issues that go against biblical principles.
Questions that may emerge in the mind of the minister are: What would the church members think of him if he should divulge confidential matters? Would his action cause them or any other church member to distrust him? Would the family leave the church in disillusionment? Would other family members and close friends leave as well? What would the leaders or members in the congregation say or do when they hear of his action? What would happen if he was to conceal the rape and then later someone else reported it? And most of all, what does God require of him.
The question of reporting or not-reporting this issue to the authorities is not a choice the minister has, regardless of the mother’s wish, or the member's feelings. His spiritual, legal and ethical obligation in this situation is to protect the child. A minor cannot give consent to sex. Therefore, he should meet with both parties; explain to them the legal requirements of the law, and the principles of the Church. He should then cause the family members to report the case to the local authorities, or, if they refuse, he should report the matter himself. A 14 year old is a minor and the least the minister can do is to use the law to protect the child. There are other spiritual interventions that he may have to utilize for both sides of the family. There are no winners here. Tough question, tough case, tough request and tough intervention.
But who said ministry was not tough?