Safeguarding to the glory of God
How our biblical principles shape our approach to safeguarding
This page seeks to explain what we mean by “safeguarding to the glory of God” and that “we see safeguarding is a practical expression of our biblical and gospel principles”. It is not intended to be an exhaustive list of principles, nor is it a thoroughly worked-through “theology of safeguarding” but a simple illustration of our perspective. As Evangelical Christians (using the term ‘Evangelical’ as a theological description and not as a cultural one), we believe that Scripture is authoritative in all areas of life and conduct to which it speaks. While there are many passages in scripture that shape our thinking in relation to safeguarding, one that encapsulates well our perspective is 1 Peter 2:12:
Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honourable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation (ESV).
As our society becomes increasingly secularised, we have many new gospel opportunities, but there are also challenges. There are aspects of our society and the prevailing worldviews that are contrary to our biblical principles, and increasingly sections of society see some of our views as bigoted and “evil”. The gospel itself is an offence but some of our views, for example on the sanctity of life and same-sex marriage etc., are seen by sections of our society as oppressive and abusive and some are seeking to seize the opportunity to attack faith groups in general, including Evangelical Christianity. There are lines that as evangelicals we cannot cross, and some sections of our society see safeguarding within the evangelical community as a real concern. Suspicion, criticism and opposition is increasing. While we cannot compromise our biblical principles, we believe that it is important that we respond to this situation positively; not retreating into a defensive position, but demonstrating through our commitment to best practice in safeguarding that although they are offended by our beliefs, they see our good work in safeguarding and have to commend us for that.
We see many biblical principles that drive and shape our approach to safeguarding, including the following:
The inherent and intrinsic value of all human life
We believe that all human beings are made in God’s image. We were each uniquely and personally formed by God in the womb and all human life is given and sustained by God himself. Scripture speaks of the high value placed on human life; including the life of unborn children. This means that each person is not simply a living being with fundamental human rights; they are souls who are loved by the King of kings and bearers of the image of God. Unborn children are equally valued and loved by God.
Jesus loved and cared for everyone, regardless of their position within society. He touched the untouchables, accepted those society had rejected and valued those that the society did not. He dealt with women and children as well as men, the sick, poor and the oppressed with the same love and compassion that he exercised to the powerful and wealthy. His first appearance following his resurrection was not to the Apostles but to the women.
Scripture commands us to follow in Jesus’ footsteps, showing no partiality but loving each person equally.
The world in which we live
Although created perfect by God, the world in which we live is corrupted by sin and rebellion. God reveals himself as Redeemer and Judge and ultimately all things will be set right when Jesus returns to judge the world and to establish his kingdom. Until then, we live in a world where the effects of sin and the evil deeds of fallen people are a present reality. Humans are sinful by nature and deed; rebels against God and his laws. As such, we are grieved, but not surprised, to see a world where exploitation and abuse are rife. We look forward to a day when God will establish his everlasting kingdom; a kingdom where pain, suffering, sorrow and tears will be no more, but for now we live in a corrupt and broken world.
The community of God’s people
The church, as a community of grace, and the kingdom of heaven on earth, is not a gathering of perfected souls, but a gathering of sinners saved by grace. Where believers are living under the lordship of Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit, there should be no abuse or exploitation. We recognise, however, that we are all capable of falling into sin and so we must be personally and corporately vigilant. We must not tolerate complacency, when we think we are standing firm, we should be particularly careful that we do not fall. Scripture and experience demonstrate to us the wickedness and deceitfulness of the human heart and so we must be watchful.
Within the church community, there are those who are saved by grace and walking faithfully in the power of the Holy Spirit, those who are saved but are struggling with a wide range of issues, those who are seeking the Lord but are not yet saved, those whom we are ministering to on a practical level but are spiritually disinterested and many other variations too. Churches, whilst not unique, are in an unusual position from a safeguarding perspective. The acceptance of all into the community involves welcoming strangers and even those who may pose a risk to children, young people or vulnerable adults.
This introduces particular risks that many organisations can eliminate through exclusion of the risky individual. Handling such situations requires great care and wisdom, but we must wrestle with this challenge with wisdom and discernment if we are to be faithful to the gospel. In another context, Jesus told us to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves and this certainly seems to apply to safeguarding.
Dealing with sin in our midst
In scripture, serious, personal or corporate sin is exposed, challenged, rebuked and judged. While we must always deal in love with those who have fallen into sin, seeking their repentance and restoration and never seeking to publicly humiliate or vilify an individual or group, we must never forget that “sin in the camp” is detestable to God who will ultimately judge, and such sin should never be covered up or excused. Leaders are to be held especially accountable since they have greater authority and responsibility. Great wisdom and sensitivity are required, but the Lord reveals Himself as one who opposes injustice and exploitation and we, as His people, must value what He values.
The day will come when all will be revealed; that which is done in secret will be brought into the light. Our lives should reflect this belief, and our conduct should reflect the heart of God. When a person, particularly a person in a position of authority, harms or commits a legal offence against another person, this should not be covered up but dealt with honestly and openly, seeking to balance all of the relevant principles, but with particular focus on the victims.
The love of God for a broken and corrupt world
God loves those whom he created and has provided a way of reconciliation. Ultimately, the whole creation will be redeemed and restored, however, at present, we are called to minister within our communities and to seek to bring the love, compassion and healing of Christ to those around us. This inevitably brings us into contact with many who are strangers and outcasts, weak and vulnerable. The heart of God is for the protection, strengthening and healing of those in need and we should care for them as Christ would: with love and acceptance whilst seeking their healing and blessing. Scripture is clear that it is the responsibility of his people to care particularly for the weak and vulnerable and that the exploitation of such people is a particularly heinous crime.
Rulers and authorities are appointed by God
We are commanded to respect and honour those whom God has set in authority over us as leaders, even if they are evil. While there are times where as a matter of conscience or justice we have to oppose oppression and injustice and act on behalf of those who are exploited and oppressed, the basic rule of life is to obey the law, being exemplary citizens and living at peace with those around us.
It is our view that while there are challenges for us, safeguarding principles are not in contradiction to our biblical perspective. Indeed it is our view that if we think through our beliefs and the relevant biblical principles, some of which we have listed above, we will not only meet our legal requirements but will significantly exceed them and will be leading the way in safeguarding.