What Is HappeningThe tragedy and scandal at the Penn State University football program continues to make headlines as the findings of various investigations are released and now as punishments and consequences are meted out. At the center of this tragedy are the actions of assistant coach Jerry Sandusky and the inactions of head coach Joe Paterno, along with the school's president and others in key leadership positions. The scale of this story is enormous. That it happened at one of the most highly respected universities in the country is shocking. That the all-time winningest coach at the top level of college football would be involved is even more so.
The ramifications of what is being uncovered are far-reaching. My initial reaction from nearly a year ago was that this will reshape not just college athletics or the world of sports, but nonprofits and all organizations that serve in and around children. I continue to pray for the families of the victims and the entire community that is grieving.
This tragedy, like the shooting deaths in Aurora, Colorado last week, is unsettling. I think it gives us reason to clearly define what it is we believe.
What We Believe
The Bible tells us that every person is created in the image of God and therefore has great and immeasurable value in the eyes of God, the Creator of the universe (Genesis 1:27-31). Jesus goes on to define a right relationship with God as one that is like a father and child (Matthew 6:9). He goes on to say that entrance into heaven hinges on changing to have childlike characteristics (Matthew 18:3). Finally, Jesus speaks a word of woe to anyone who would cause one of these "little ones" to stumble. The church is a collected group of people who are seeking to live by the Kingdom values taught by Jesus and found in the Scriptures, but also who are teaching and confirming such grace-filled living in the others who are welcomed on the journey (Ephesians 1:18-23). Embodying the love and radical grace of Jesus is what it means for the church to be the 'Body of Christ' in the world.
What We Do (in response to our beliefs)
A number of years ago, our church council adopted a Safe Sanctuaries policy, similar to the one required of every United Methodist Church in South Georgia, to be intentional about protecting children, our church, and our volunteers. It sets some minimums for both recruitment of volunteers (time involved at church, background checks, etc.) and establishes policies about how children are supervised (at least two approved persons present, no groups in rooms without windows or open doors, etc.). We continue to live into what this means for our church.
In addition to our volunteers, the Conference required a day-long session of Sexual Ethics training for clergy serving United Methodist churches every three years. Scott is scheduled to attend his third round of this in September of this year.
Starting this year, we have adopted the principles of ORANGE ministry with children and families. ORANGE is about the church's commitment to partner with families to shine the light of Jesus into the lives of the next generations. Families are first in the line of influencers of children, so we want to help them train up children in the best possible way. This means we are encouraging more participation by adults in children's ministry events instead of less. We love families of every size (family is 1+)!
Beyond just policies and practices, we pray. We pray for those who have been hurt by the world and for those not yet reached by God's love. We pray for every child in our care and prepare for all of those who will arrive someday. We pray that as we teach and model the love of God we know we are also greatly loved.