“If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of stumbling-blocks! Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to the one by whom the stumbling-block comes!” Matthew 18:6-7

“If you scandalize these little ones,” Jesus said (“stumbling block” is literally scandalize in the Greek here), “it would be better for you to be drowned in the sea!”

Jesus placed a high value on protecting the children brought to him and we who follow Jesus should, too. We should be known for how well we guard children and vulnerable adults, protecting them from harm. Have you and your church made this a priority?

April is child abuse prevention and sexual assault awareness month in the United States because too many “little ones” are scandalized. Every 9 minutes in the U.S. a case of child abuse is substantiated. One in 9 girls and 1 in 53 boys under the age of 18 experience sexual abuse or assault from an adult. And of those children sexually abused, 93% are harmed by someone they know and trust (59% acquaintances, 34% family members). One out of 6 women have been the victim of rape or attempted rape.

When people are harmed by sexual abuse and assault the impact is rarely momentary. Survivors of assault and abuse experience a high rate of post-traumatic stress disorder, suicidal thoughts, and difficulty in relationships. And if the abuse happens in association with a church staff person or volunteer, or the church covers for the abuser, many survivors experience spiritual injury, too. Abuse in the church threatens their faith.

Later in Matthew 18 Jesus tells of the shepherd who leaves the 99 sheep to find the single lost one. Finding the lost one brings rejoicing. There is good news, here. Prevention works! Because of the efforts of abuse and assault prevention organizations sexual violence has fallen by 50% in the past 20 years. Going in search of the vulnerable one and bringing them to safety brings rejoicing for those whose abuse is prevented and for survivors who find encouragement and support.

CBF can help you and your church identify and protect the vulnerable around you. The Clergy Sexual Misconduct Task Force has produced educational and policy resources that are free to use in your congregation. CBF also partners with Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE) to provide abuse prevention training and policy development support. Let us help you follow Jesus to protecting children.

Jay Kieve CBF South Carolina coordinator and CBF abuse prevention and response advocate.