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World News

New church resources to prevent and investigate allegations of spiritual abuse launched

by Kelly Valencia

Evangelical churches across the UK will soon have access to new safeguarding guidelines and recommendations. 

Affinity, a network of over a thousand churches and Christian organisations, has launched a new book on how to prevent, identify and investigate pastoral malpractice and spiritual abuse in congregations.

 "I think safeguarding procedures are important, but only in as much as they're both implemented and understood, because they can just be on the shelf somewhere," Graham Nichols, national director of Affinity, told Premier. 

"That's true of safeguarding in general, but I think particularly in this area, it's what you might call many soft issues. It's not about criminality, it's not about a binary, and you committed a crime you didn't. 

"It's about attitudes and approach, lots of little conversations that go on, lots of excluding or including people, abusing or not abusing people in conversation. They're not easy things to legislate for. So it's important to have procedures in place. 

"But it's also really important to have a culture that says, I want to behave in a Christ like way towards you, if you're a member of the church, or if you're a leader of the church, and I want to be accountable as a leader, particularly for how I do that, and to be open to criticism on it," he continued. 

'Challenging Leaders' will include chapters defining what a healthy church culture looks like, definitions of abusive church cultures, understanding trauma and those who suffer, a guide on how to develop healthy procedures in the church as well advice on how to deal with the media when complaints get linked.

The book will also encourage readers to think about caring for those who have committed the abuse. 

Asked whether caring for the perpetrators of the abuse could make victims feel undermined, Nichols recognised it "can be difficult" to navigate but believes that if the leader has been abusive in a way that's not criminal and not in a safeguarding way either, we shouldn't write them off completely. 

"In the real practical scenarios, where you've got people present in churches, it's not easy to work out how you implement that," Nichols admitted. 

"I think there are a lot of 'ifs' about what they learned from it, how they're going to grow from it, what they are now saying about it. If they're saying, 'Oh, that was just a horrible experience when it wasn't true and I'd been unjustly treated', that's quite different to say, 'I've been humbled by this experience, I do recognise aspects in which I didn't behave right, this is what I'm doing to try and deal with it and I want people around me who can love me and help me to grow in that'.

"I don't think that disqualifies them from ever being a leader. Again, it might, but it might not. And all those things need thinking through."

Affinity is also encouraging Christians to share their experiences of good and bad leadership cultures, as well as any suggestions or comments.

'Challenging Leaders' will be released in March 2023.

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