CCPAS has developed a Theology of Safeguarding. Over nearly two years the Board worked to provide a robust statement within a Christian context that would underpin, inform and motivate the work of CCPAS. The Board is grateful to Bill Stone, long time CCPAS worker, for drafting the statement (and for this summary). The full statement addresses the range of safeguarding issues in which CCPAS are involved, including those related to the protection of children and adults at risk, support to survivors of abuse and the pastoral care and supervision of those who pose risks to others. The full statement which was the subject of wide consultation is available from the Board Secretary at [email protected]
Although the Bible is not a safeguarding manual, certain scriptural themes can help us understand God’s mind and provide, I think, some theological underpinning for what we do.
God and safeguarding
The Theology of Safeguarding begins with God. He is personal. He created and sustains the world and remains actively involved in it, particularly in His son Jesus Christ. The single attribute of God that is given most prominence throughout scripture is His love, to such an extent that an overarching theme throughout the bible, even in the Old Testament, is God’s “steadfast love.”
Another consistent strand in scripture is safety. In a turbulent world, God’s love is a haven. The Old Testament world could be a frightening place, especially for the small, the weak, and the poor; children were particularly vulnerable.
A third element of the doctrine of God that relates to safeguarding is His passion for justice. God rescues the abandoned, favours the oppressed, exalts the meek and humbles the proud. He gives a voice to the voiceless.
These themes of love, protection and justice combine in the Fatherhood of God, whereby He is our Heavenly Father. This may be problematic for those who have experienced abuse by an earthly father figure, but it is how the Bible speaks and Jesus encourages us to address God in this intimate way. The love, care, nurture and protection that God the Father gives His children is the true model of fatherhood, against the travesty of fatherhood represented by human fathers or authority figures who abuse, neglect or abandon those in their care.
Understanding the Bible
The Bible may be explained within a fourfold schema of Creation, Fall, Redemption and Consummation. These themes provide a useful theological framework for both safeguarding and the day to day work of CCPAS.
Creation: The Biblical account of human beings created in the image of God provides a strong basis for valuing all human life, however frail. The doctrine of creation, especially personhood and relationship founded in the doctrine of the Trinity, affirms that all human existence matters to God. Human beings have an intrinsic dignity that is there from birth - the “Imago Dei”. This creation-derived respect for the unique preciousness of each individual must apply, in a very particular safeguarding sense, to people who are small, vulnerable and dependent. Many theologians believe that this doctrine is entirely compatible with the language of human rights, which is at the heart of our legal system. So certain inalienable rights are intrinsic to all human beings - including children.
Children, in Bible times, were highly valued. They were seen as a blessing from God. They were to be protected, nurtured and cared for until they left their family to begin one of their own (or “leaving and cleaving”, as Genesis puts it). Although reciprocal obligations exist between children and parents (see, for example, Ephesians 6), children are subject to their parents in the sense that they depend on them to meet their needs.
Fall: The next great scene in the drama of world history, in Christian terms, is the Fall, or sin entering God’s hitherto good world. Although made by God and for God, humanity rebelled against Him, listening instead to the lies of Satan. This underpins all that is distorted in human relationships and is responsible for the alienation of the human condition.
The doctrine of original sin means that evil has become so ingrained that all aspects of human personality and culture have been infected by sin and selfishness. This is true at both interpersonal levels and within the authority structures of society. The implication for safeguarding is that power within human society is likely to be abused, meaning that the vulnerable are at risk.
If power, within a fallen world, is likely to be misused this must include spiritual power too. Misusing the symbolic power of religious leaders is spiritual abuse. This may range from pastors and priests putting undue pressure on members to give financially to the church, to serious physical and sexual abuse. Strongly-held beliefs about evil spirits have also been associated, in some parts of the church, with the abuse of children.
Redemption: This theme is at the centre of the Christian understanding of world history. The word comes originally from the slave markets, referring to ransoming a slave’s freedom: it is very closely related to the Biblical concept of salvation.
Jesus Christ is the focal point of God’s self-revelation, as he is the focus of Christian worship, since He is God incarnate, God revealed in human form, God come down from heaven to earth. The incarnation has radical implications for our view of children because, through it, Christ sanctifies childhood, being a child himself. Jesus subjected himself to the human authority of his parents, although not unconditionally, as Luke 2 affirms. The brief description of Jesus’ childhood in that passage: “the child grew and became strong, and the grace of God was upon him” offers a tantalising glimpse of what childhood is meant to be. Furthermore, Jesus’ treatment of children and his teaching about the Kingdom of God radically challenges previous understandings of the status of children.
Jesus’ death on the cross as a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the world is crucial, literally and metaphorically, to Christian faith. It offers complete forgiveness for our sins and opens up the way of salvation. The benefits of Jesus’ death are reconciliation and new life. His resurrection is the guarantee of eternal life; Pentecost releases the gift of the Holy Spirit, who brings hope, healing and wholeness.
Consummation: This refers to the climactic unfolding of God’s future. The Kingdom of God, inaugurated by Jesus’ first coming, will be completed at his second. Many references to the promised future feature children playing freely and without fear. So Isaiah illustrates it by picturing little children and wild animals in carefree proximity. Creation is restored to its primeval harmony. Revelation 21 presents a vision where oppression and abuse have for ever been banished: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away”
Jesus and safeguarding
The most direct reference to child protection in the Bible is the interaction between Jesus and his disciples concerning the Kingdom of God. His teaching is a direct response to their question about power and authority. They ask: “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” so Jesus places a little child in their midst, saying: “unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven”. (Matthew 18: 3-5).
Jesus then warns the disciples severely of the dangers of “causing one of these little ones who believe in me to sin”. “Little ones” here may mean not just children but all who are vulnerable. It is significant that Jesus is here roused to use unusually violent language. He clearly cannot abide such behaviour.
Both what Jesus says about children and how he treated them should shape Christian attitudes and behavior towards them, too. In the face of Pharisaic hostility and adult disinterest Jesus affirmed and celebrated the value of children for their own sake. He obviously loved children and enjoyed their company. So He embraced them, whilst his disciples tended to see them merely as an interruption or an irritation. His welcoming of children is particularly important within a culture that considered them irrelevant to the adult world of religion and power.
There is something about children, to which Jesus draws our attention, which speaks about God’s own way of being and acting, a way that is foreign to adults preoccupied by power and status and which fundamentally challenges our worldly self-centredness. This child-likeness, which Jesus says is the passport to his Kingdom, demonstrates how radically different God’s Kingdom really is.
The cultural context of the Bible is far different from our own. Israel was a largely rural, agrarian society within which the extended family was the primary unit of economic activity. It was under oppressive Roman rule. Its society, family relations and daily routines were therefore all very different from those we experience. These contextual differences mean we must be very careful about how we apply Bible teaching to modern day living.
However, it is clear that protecting children and all who are vulnerable, weak and oppressed is central to God’s character. Jesus demonstrated that children are to be cherished, valued and protected. He taught that they have a special place in his kingdom and his followers throughout history have worked and prayed for a future in which children are secure in the Father’s love.