The hot topic at last month’s General Assembly of the PCA was the personal resolution on Child Sex Abuse offered by Pastor Mike Sloan. Bobby wrote extensively and clearly about the details of the argument and the rise and ultimate recommittal of that resolution. In the comments on Bobby’s article, and in the debate of the Overtures Committee, two issues with the resolution have appeared.
Without question, none of those who argue against the resolution do so in support of abuse. They are men who want to do what is best for the Church and the children in their local churches. The question is not on whether or not the PCA is against child abuse. The opposition raised centers on the validity of such a resolution or overture; can the General Assembly legislate the activity and policy of individual churches in this matter.
The first objection deals with the nature and extent of cooperation with the Civil Magistrate.
The paragraph in question is the second of the “Resolved” in the original document. It reads:
RESOLVED that we pledge our commitment to work and fully cooperate with duly appointed God-ordained government officials in exposing and bringing to justice all probable perpetrators, who morally and criminally harm the children placed in our trust, and not in any perceivable way display reluctance in fully cooperating with lawful authorities by attempting to handle the issue internally by subjecting either the supposed victim or alleged criminal perpetrator to private “church discipline” or relational “restoration” apart from the fulfillment of our mandated reporting duties to God-ordained government authorities; and be it further
This paragraph was quickly redacted as the Overtures Committee set to work on the resolution. Some folks are suspect of any sort of cooperation between the church and state. This was voiced by one commissioner at the Overtures Committee who said, “I know I am a southerner, but I find any mandatory cooperation with the government less than desirable. And I think that the GA mandating it won’t go over well where I am from.” Even among Two Kingdom advocates, this perspective is extreme, given the question at hand. Others claimed confessional support by saying that WCF XXXI only requires us to cooperate with the civil magistrate only when we are requested. This likely comes from WCF XXXI.5 This chapter pertains to the role of Synods and Councils and requires them to limit their time to ecclesiastical matters and not civil affairs. The original resolution is intended to address matters (possibly) inside our churches. The issue of child abuse and reporting is not simply an “out there’ problem, it is present, unfortunately, in our churches. This issue has far more to do with WCF XXIII than it does XXXI. Still others fear that since the law regarding mandatory reporting is different in every state, a national policy could create confusion and problems.
When it comes to the issue of mandatory reporting, the resolution does not go into detail on how you should handle mandatory reporting, just that you should handle it. This is vague enough to fit into any states laws, while specific enough to avoid situations that have plagued the Roman Catholic Church as well as the allegations against Sovereign Grace Ministries. In short, the resolution has teeth.
Further, a close look at WCF XXIII should give us the sense that mandatory reporting is not just allowable by the Confession, but encouraged by it. One of the primary purposes of the Civil Magistrate listed in WCF XXIII.1 is “for the punishment of evildoers”. (cf. 1 Peter 2:14) Failing to engage in mandatory reporting robs the civil magistrate of their God ordained office. Later in XXIII.3 the Confession says, “It is the duty of civil magistrates to protect the person…that no person be suffered…to offer any indignity, violence, abuse, or injury to any other person whatsoever:” It is the job of the civil magistrate to protect citizens from one another. The civil magistrate exists as a minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath on those that do evil. (Rom 13:4) To harbor, or protect, or even fail to report abuse would be a perversion of justice and a violation of the 9th Commandment as well as WLC 145.
For those who would still contend that the church should only cooperate with the civil magistrate in the cases where the magistrate request it, state laws mandating reporting should be seen as a standing and proper request.
The second area of concern among opponents of Pastor Sloan’s resolution is that the General Assembly would be overstepping its bounds. Some argue that the Assembly should not intervene and interpret at this level of detail. Others believe that the Confession and Scripture are sufficiently clear on this and no broad statement is needed. While we are a grassroots denomination, the PCA has seen fit to apply Scripture and the Confession in several areas in the past. With resolutions and position papers on Abortion (’78), Divorce (’79), Freemasonry (’87/’88), Pornography (’86), and Women in Combat (’01/’02) the Assembly has done just that. These national policies have been helpful guidelines for the churches in the PCA.
May God give the PCA strength to adopt a resolution with the teeth of Pastor Sloan’s original in Houston next year. It is both confessionally and scripturally sound; not to mention it being the right thing to do.