Suffer the little children: Guarding Children and Young People against Spiritual Abuse

Jul 31, 2019 by

by Robin Barfield, Church Society:

Children and young people are the most likely to be spiritually abused, since spiritual abuse is most likely to occur in a relationship between a significantly more powerful individual (most likely an adult) and a less powerful individual (often a child or young person). The only successfully prosecuted criminal case of spiritual abuse in the UK so far was between a vicar and a teenage boy.  This means that those of us with responsibility for the care of children and young people in our churches have to be particularly vigilant.

We need to understand the ways in which children and young people are particularly vulnerable and then think carefully about how we guard against spiritual abuse occurring.

Children are Theologically Vulnerable

Children are full of questions and naturally curious about everything, including Christian things. Adults are seen as people who know more, who can answer their questions and who are, therefore, in a position of power and influence over the children they are in proximity to. Generally speaking, that is all children an adult is in proximity to. I minister in a primarily working class context, and I realise that in these circumstances, and others, it does not always feel as though all adults have this type of power over a child, but they do.

A child will listen to whatever you tell them about Jesus. If you say Jesus was half man, half goat a good number of younger children will nod and accept that without question. An adult would not. This makes children theologically vulnerable to whatever you want to tell them to believe, do, say or think. Evangelicals are therefore particularly open to this kind of spiritual abuse because we love the truth and we love people hearing the truth of the gospel. We are truth people. We recognise that the gospel cannot just be invented on the whim of the human heart but is revealed to us often in ways that rebuke and correct our own thinking and feeling.

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