Institutional Control

I have been wanting to write something about the crisis/fiasco at Penn State University for a few weeks.  However, to be honest, I needed to give myself some time to get my mind wrapped around the strong emotional reaction I had when the details about the allegations began to surface.

I react very very strongly when I hear about adults who abuse young people.  I’m sure many of you do too.

I’ve tried to spend some time trying to figure out why I become so angry when I hear about cases of child abuse.  First and foremost, for those of us who work with children and youth, our hearts break for the victims.  I can’t begin to imagine the pain they will live with.  I believe that God’s heart breaks.

But I think that another source of my anger is because I am so keenly aware of what is at stake in the work that we do with the young and the vulnerable.    I feel that all of us who are called to work with the young are given a sacred trust to protect.  And I am aware that when that trust is broken, when an adult commits misconduct, the work is made that much more difficult for all of the rest of us.

And so for the pain those young men endured, I have to admit that I feel deep sadness.
And towards the perpetrator(s) of these crimes and this injustice, I have to confess that I feel great anger.

There is another aspect to my anger, however.

On so many levels, this shouldn’t have happened.  Organizationally speaking, where were the institutional controls that possibly could have prevented these things?  There was massive failure, and blame to go around.

So here’s the question that we have to ask ourselves?  What are our institutional controls?  In what ways are we as the church of Christ vulnerable, and therefore putting our young people at risk?

Why are there still congregations within the ELCA that don’t do background checks for volunteers?  Why do we still put our adult volunteers and youth in high risk position by having them share rooms  at gatherings and retreats?  Why do we take the “warm body” approach to identifying and training adult volunteers?

There is history which would indicate that the church is fertile ground for perpetrators.   Those of us who have leadership roles also have responsibility to tend to these important issues.  We have a responsibility to know the issues.  We have a responsibility to train our volunteers.  We have a responsibility to protect the young people God has called us to serve.

It is one thing to be angry.  It is another thing to take that anger and to turn it into action that will protect the well being of all of God’s children.

Take that action.  Please.

Networked in Christ,




  1. Well said. I totally agree. I am curious as to how folks do things like gatherings a s hotel stays with their child protection policies. Our policies say there has to be two adults in each room whenever there is an overnight and this has made gatherings or things with hotels pretty cOst prohibitive and we don’t do them anymore – how do others handle that?


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