Reflection on a Presentation given by Justin Humphreys
“Towards a Theology of safeguarding September 2021”
“Prohibitive and Positive Concerns: How is a robust Theology of Safeguarding a gift to the Church?”
The NBSCCCI (National Board for Safeguarding Children Catholic Church Ireland) continues to explore a Theology of Safeguarding through a series of presentations by various theologians, scripture scholars and ethicists.
Mr Justin Humphreys is the CEO at thirtyone:eight the leading independent Christian Safeguarding Charity in the UK. He has spent the last 25 years working with vulnerable groups. He is a lecturer of Psychology at the University of Chester, he also holds an MSC in Child Protection and Strategic Management and a BSC (Hons) in Social Work Studies.
Safeguarding must never become synonymous with an obligatory bureaucratic tick-box exercise. Theology must never be perceived as a dusty irrelevant pastime. If these unhelpful stereotypes are accepted, then a Theology of Safeguarding risks becoming detached from reality and irrelevant to our day to day lives. Safeguarding Theology is as vital to the Church as a compass is to sailors in a storm. Safeguarding is the true north of all the helpful service the Church has to offer. The Church can only go forward by holding on to the Word of God and woven through that word is the message that the Church should be concerned with the most vulnerable in the context of safeguarding them.
Safeguarding is at the heart of scriptures and it is a disgrace that the Church has failed to adequately protect the vulnerable and has in fact allowed the sexual abuse of small children to be committed by depraved members of the clergy and the religious. Jesus in Matthew 18:6 gave the sternest warning against those who sexually abuse children. The Church has to remove all the stumbling blocks, that is, those who have sexually abused little children and their supporters who persistently refuse to embrace safeguarding measures.
A Theology of Safeguarding needs to underpin our missionary society. A robust theology of safeguarding is a gift to the Church and indeed our own Society. It liberates those entrapped in views that damage children. It erodes the lingering odours of clericalism in the context of child sexual abuse. It removes the misplaced loyalties of misguided clergy and religious who fail to accept and embrace fully a Theology of Safeguarding.
“Speak out on behalf of all the voiceless and for the rights of all who are vulnerable”, especially small children who were sexually abused by some clergy and religious, Proverbs 31:8.
Every generation must play its part in caring for vulnerable people. We are mandated by God to deepen spiritual connections, children are both a gift of nature and of divine providence. We are both a human and a divine origin story. All human beings have spiritual connections and thus we are mandated to uphold those connections in a holistic way. Safeguarding is always a partnership; it is not something done to the vulnerable or about them but with them and for them. We as a Society can be part of that partnership if we embrace a Theology of Safeguarding and make it a priority for our missionary way of life.
Safeguarding Policies and procedures can often be seen as negative documents listing all the things that should be done and shouldn’t be done and seeking to minimise risk. However, Safeguarding should inspire all of us to engage in constructive action to reduce and eliminate child sexual abuse committed by depraved people who should have protected them instead of robbing them of their futures. There is a need for preventative and responsive efforts in keeping the Church a safe place for all people.
Every leader must pursue God’s purpose and priorities for vulnerable people. Safeguarding must be a fundamental belief of all future leaders. Safeguarding is often seen as merely a necessary administrative function and yet new leadership must give greater significance to its role in their lives and ministries. Placing safeguarding at the heart of our Missionary Society ensures that it becomes an integral part of our lives.
Every means must be employed to keep vulnerable people safe, heard and noticed. There are three main areas to ensure the mission of a Theology of Safeguarding:
a) Advocacy for sexually abused children at the hands of depraved individuals who have to be held to account and where justice must prevail.
b) Defending the Rights of those sexually abused children.
c) Dignify the Children who were sexually abused.
In conclusion we can say that the bible gives us a clear mandate, motivation and mission to ensure that those who were sexually abused are heard, defended, treated appropriately, and compassionately. In our Missionary Society we must speak up always for the sexually abused. Our Theology must be worked out in best safeguarding practice for all in a way that brings healing and justice for all the children who were sexually abused and robbed of their childhood and indeed their whole lives.
We will be presented with a great opportunity at our forthcoming Chapter to develop our own Theology of Safeguarding that can become part of our own missionary identity as we move forward. I certainly hope that Safeguarding will be dealt with at the Chapter in a transparent way where the welfare of children will come first.
This is the last article in this series on Towards a Theology of Safeguarding, there will be a conference in October 2022 to draw all the inputs together and formulate a way forward. I pray that each of us in the Society will endeavour to support children who were sexually abused by depraved individuals, some of whom are our own members and that we show empathy towards them. I pray that any lingering clerical minimisation or hostility towards embracing good safeguarding policies and practices may cease. I pray that all members may reflect on the words of Nelson Mandela, “The true character of a Society is revealed in how it treats its children”.
Denis C Hartnett mhm
Mill Hill Missionaries