Risk Management or Stereotyping


Recently I had a conversation with a friend about a recent risk management policy change at her church. The policy basically says that no men are allowed to change diapers or take children to the bathroom while volunteering in the children’s ministries area. This can only be done by women.

My first reaction was not a good one. But of course Jeremy and I discussed it and he did say that the policy protects men from any claims, but even he seemed a little surprised by the policy.

But I guess I have to ask, even if it protects men, how does it protect women?

And does it really protect men or does it stereotype them?

And how does it stereotype a woman?

And what does it say to children or teens? It certainly doesn’t communicate equality or encourage men to be involved in rearing children at the most basic level.

It seems when the policy is spoken about, it’s in hushed tones as if it’s not really supposed to be leaked to the entire congregation. And women raise their eyebrows and shake their heads, but don’t feel they can say anything.

I say the policy should be that two people always need to be present when changing a diaper or taking children to the bathroom.

I’m just curious, what say you?

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18 thoughts on “Risk Management or Stereotyping

  1. Kate @ upsidebackwards says:

    Are there no single fathers in the congregation? What are they meant to do?

  2. Laura Pierson says:

    I agree with you, Jen, two people should be present. In my opinion, you’re right that there are stereotypes all over that policy.

  3. Shawn Kitchen says:

    You couldn’t have hit on a more personally relevant topic if you tried, Jennifer. I’ve been on the short end of this kind of policy within the church, and from my standpoint, it’s nothing less than stereotyping men as sexual predators.

    There’s a culture permeating the church today that says that men are dominators… sexual aggressors… deviants by nature… and that women and children are, by default, innocent, sinless, helpless creatures who must be protected at all times from evil men.

    The church should be a safe haven, a place where people can be protected from the falseness of the world. Unfortunately, my experience has been that the church often becomes the place where stereotyping becomes codified under the guise of “protecting the flock”. It’s easier for church leaders to make certain assumptions about certain persons and then proceed accordingly, rather than to take the time to actually discover the truth of a situation. In this particular case, it’s easier (and highly socially acceptable) to create the premise that men are sexual predators who will molest anyone at any time, create a “risk management policy”, and then have everyone pat themselves on the back for being proactive, protective, and safeguarding the “innocent” within the church.

    The truth is, this is nothing more than a codified, leadership-sanctioned, modern day witch hunt.

    Look at the very phrase “risk management policy” and what it implies. With just three words, the premise is established that (a) there’s a risk involved with men, (b) this same risk doesn’t exist with women, (c) the danger is between men and children, and (d) that an active action must be taken.

    I would agree with Jeremy that the “policy” protects men against any claims, but it does so my labeling them as predators and declaring them to be dangers that people must be protected against. How is that fundamentally any different than locking men in jail when they’ve not been found guilty of a crime, and then justifying it by saying “Well at least in jail they’re protected against claims of raping women”?

    There’s an 800-pound gorilla of a problem at your friend’s church.

    • clergygirl says:

      Shawn, thanks for such a thoughtful reply. I agree. I think it sterotypes all men as possible preditors and even though it protects men it doesn’t protect women from the stereotype of only “women’s work.”

  4. I completely agree with you Jen – 2 people present is by and far the best policy. At my church, we’ve sometimes had a short supply of children’s workers. In this case, I will generally page the parents to come take the child to the bathroom (if there’s no bathroom in the nursery) since we can’t spare 2 workers to take them while leaving 2 in the nursery.

  5. The Rev. Lynnette Fuller says:

    This is a difficult issue that all religious institutions have had to deal with in the last ten years. As the number of sexual abuse and sexual harrassment cases were reported, became public, prosecuted, and in many case reached a finacial settlement, the institutions and their Insurance Companies began to create new standards and policies. The Insurance Co.’s have set very strict guidelines for the congregations in order to offer reasonable coverage rates and to protect their interests (and I hope the interest of the congregations.) They have set their guideline to avoid almost all possibility of abuses that have occurred or could occur. The religious institutions in order to receive coverage are in the process of instituting and complying with the new guidelines and this has created an appearance of distrust, and fear.

    In my Church all pastors, sunday school teacher, youth leaders, staff, and any person who is in regular contact with children are required to be certified by attended Sexual Harrassment and Sexual Abuse course designed by the Church and the Insurance Co. requirements. This certification last three years and then the courses must be taken again. The courses are given continuously, in convienient locations, and are free. The courses are very similar to those required of most public educational and health institutions. There are also guidelines for closed doors when only two people are present, all situations where youth are present, number of private counseling sessions, and many more possibilities were abuses have been recorded to have occurred or could occur.

    The basic aim is to protect children, vulnerable adults, the institution and the Ins Co. It therefore becomes necessary for the institution to interpret for its members the meaning of the policies if they chose to implement them. This is very important!

    Does it all give an appearance of discrimination? Absolutely. Is is discrimination or stereotyping? I don’t think so. Or maybe I should say ‘I don’t think that is its intent, or what the religious instituion is implying as it addresses the new Ins Co guidelines.’ It is often awkward, inconvenient, and frustrating but I think it is erring on the side of protecting the children, the innocent and the vulnerable.

    We clearly live, work, and pray in changing and challenging times.

    • clergygirl says:

      It is a hard issue. I totally want my children protected. When I was in my first pastorate I knew a man at the church was seriously a predetor. He had not been convicted but was clearly a concern. He was always offering to help in the children’s area. It’s scary. Every church should be doing background check’s but it just doesn’t seem right to say “only women” can change diapers. Usually the diaper station is right in plain view of the rest of the nursery, although I’m sure not in all cases. I wonder if this really is a suggestion from Insurance companies? If churches weren’t non-profit it seems to me this would be a legal nightmare don’t you think?

    • Shawn Kitchen says:

      Lynnette,

      Your response is well-stated, but I have a couple of questions.

      You posed the question, “Does it all give an appearance of discrimination?”, and responded with “absolutely”. My question in this case is, why do we sanction something in the church that we admit has the appearance of discrimination?

      My other question is more philosophical. In your next to last sentence, you state “It is often awkward, inconvenient, and frustrating but I think it is erring on the side of protecting the children, the innocent and the vulnerable”. To that point, where do we draw the line? We can certainly “protect the children, the innocent and the vulnerable” by simply decreeing that certain people are forever banned from the church premises (after all, it would serve that very purpose), but I don’t think that any sane person would advocate that approach.

      I agree that we clearly live, work, and pray in challenging times, but I don’t believe that the church’s response should be to act like “The World, V.2”. I’ve not read about the Jesus in Scripture who reacted in fear to the world’s behavior.

      The moment you create “policies” (another term is “fear driven reactions”) to “protect” people from situations that may not have even happened, you start down a slippery slope towards the inevitable conclusion that says “No one is allowed to do anything, at any time, in any place, for any reason, with any person”.

      You deal with individual sin by dealing with the individual who sinned, not by punishing, stereotyping, or discriminating against people who haven’t committed the sin.

      • lynnette fuller says:

        Hello Shawn,

        You have phrased the dilemma beautifully, and asked perfectly ‘right on’ questions. I will try to address them one at a time as you asked them.

        First: “Why do we sanction something in the church that we admit has the appearance of discrimination?” I have a little difficulty with the word ‘sanction’ so I will use the word ‘create’ because it evokes the process. I have no interest in banning anyone, even those who are known to be perpetrators. My hope is to help create open, welcoming, safe places of worship, learning and growth.

        In the process of learning how to create a church environment that is not only realistically safe for the vulnerable but also safe from discrimination there are many steps. We have a goal to be a reflections of God’s love for all persons, to be a place of trust and safety, to be a people continually open to a creative Spirit. To move towards that goal requires us to be patient, to be malleable, open to learning from the events of our times and to respond to them and perhaps most to the point of this issue to be gentle with each other through the process. A step taken too early in this process was to write a policy that appeared to say ‘its women’s work to change diapers’ and ‘men are potentially dangerous, even predators.’ (Mind that I don’t know what the actual wording was.)

        However it is for me a logical policy that the woman take a child to a changing area that is in a women’s bathroom. I am pragmatic on this issue because of these realities: 1. Privacy issues for women; 2. A shocking percentage of the abuses that have occurred have occurred in the bathrooms. The statistics of abuse have not been disputed. 3. Statistically in our population a small but significant number of people are predators and they will take advantage of a trusting environment. In that small population the significant number of predators are male. This is a fact and it causes both men and women to grieve its truth. In the process of building a community we must often take this kind of grief onto ourselves and act in wise but wonderful ways. To simply tack the guideline on a bathroom door would not be wise or wonderful. It would be shocking and open to misinterpretation.

        Here is where the concept of the process of change comes in. It is necessary first to educate about the realities of abuse.

        Second to turn to our faith to learn ways to bear these awful statistics and to clarify the intent of a new policy. In this process we hear each other speak of the kind of pain it causes us as individuals and as a community. We pray, we console, we share, we support, we challenge, we learn and grow in trust and wisdom.

        The third step is to create a policy that is wise and vigilant in its elimination of opportunities for abuse. The clarity and kindness of the wording is very important so that if posted it makes clear our intention to be a loving, welcoming, open community but wise to our vulnerabilities. The fourth step is the implementation of such policies in a clear and compassionate way so that each newcomer understands immediately it meaning and intent.

        Now here is the Wise part. Any change will bring conflict, even the simplest change and these policies ask for major changes to our common life. These conflicts appear and are discussed in a myriad of conversations within the congregation and beyond. Because we are lively, hooked in, we want to be fully understood, we want compassion and we want justice and we want to be heard. We often disagree, we can be hurtful and we can be hurt. We can be wounded. We can be self-righteous and we can be righteous. Absolutely conflicts bring out the best and the worst while they also bring out the issues that are hidden within and attached to the conflict.
        This is Good News. There will be much to learn and much to do.

        The Wonderful is this means we are alive, invested and interested. Every issue is a Lenten Program in the making. Every concern is an opportunity to learn and participate. Every wound is an opportunity for healing, every call for compassion and justice is an opening to grow deeper into the Gospel for inspiration and meaning. When you read the accounts of the early Church you will see how this bore out. Deepening in faith and wisdom as they struggled to define who they were in the new circumstances they were living. And where the conversation went beyond the congregation it was an opportunity to share that faith.

        The Kingdom has both arrived and arriving within our lives. So at times the old and the new are sharing common ground. Things can look like one thing but actually be another coming into life.

        It is with great courage that we become part of a creative process of God. So yes I am willing to go through a process even when the conflict and misunderstanding seems too much to bear in order to move towards a more lively, healthy, safe congregation.

        I wrote perhaps too much so I will post this part of the reply and the others are in the making.

        In Christ,
        Lynnette

      • lynnette fuller says:

        “The Slippery Slope” and The World, V.2, (B.L.O’Malley)

        We need to hear, I need to heed the voice of the prophet. You have pointed out and warned of the possible consequences: It may be discrimination in disguise; it may be the entrance to a ‘slippery slope’; it may set into motion a war of conflicts, or thought of as punishment. This is exactly one of the kinds of voice that must be heard in the forming of policy in order to sustain the viability of a community, a congregation. It is no easy task because the prophetic voice is often marginalized, stereotyped, and even persecuted as seen in the treatment of prophet voices heard in the Biblical accounts. I hear and dread the conceivable negative results of instituting preventative sexual harassment and sexual abuse policies. And to add to the ones you have mentioned is the ‘will any policy be sufficient to keep our building safe?’

        This is exactly why we ‘work out our faith with fear and trembling.’

        By nature I am a non-compliant personality. I have a healthy mistrust of authority. I am wired to explore and to challenge the How and Why we do things. I most often refuse to be an ‘innocent bystander’ (D.Bonhoeffer), but I am also an optimistic, idealistic woman. So I fall into the categories of the possibly naïve, non-violent interventionist.

        This voice must also be heard in the forming of policy guidelines, along with the voices of each of the congregants. We are One Body and we simply have to learn from each of our parts. To one it may seen ‘All or Nothing‘; to another it may be ‘Yes, but‘; another ‘but we never…’; ‘this is crazy’; ‘this is inspired’, ‘this is necessary’; ‘this will never work’; ‘this has to work!’ but the voices of the children and the vulnerable are not heard. We must speak for them. This is why the process is so important to me to gain a consensus of what freedoms can be reasonably offered up, as a gift, to protect our vulnerable parts.

        It seems ridiculous now but in the past people objected to fire codes; to safety exits; to handicap accessibility; to financial accountability; and to background checks as intrusions on their freedoms and their privacy. We have suffered because of that naiveté, and learned from our mistakes. If sexual impropriety has not occurred in the history of your parish life you would be in the minority of religious institutions. It is probable that if it has not happened it will happen. So lets talk about and deal with it now.

        It is my experience that a community can work this out. It is a mutual ministry to create a safe building within which people are willing to offer as a sacrificial gift, limitations on their own physical, emotional, psychological comfort levels to those who are without resources to defend themselves. It is an informed gift. A gift filled with Grace and Compassion.

        ‘…and that’s all I have to say about that’ (Bubba,F.Gump)

        Faithfully,
        Lynnette

  6. clergygirl says:

    I wonder what day care policies are like?

    • lynnette fuller says:

      Random:
      A Licensed insured Day Care probably has similar guidelines. Whether they implement them is another question.

      Humor and logic go long way. Education and imagination seal the deal.

      In the secular world it is called The Buddy System. In a chistian institution there is ‘When two or three are gathered in His Name.

      A diaper changing area in full view of other adults, when the other adults are present, probably meets most requirements.

      Avoid impropriety and even the apprearance of impropriety even when it seems just silly.

      Terrible, terrible things have happened, continue to happen, and will continue to happen. Realistic, educated, inspired, determined, let’s stretch the boundaries of our imagination, our comfort zones, overcome our naivete, our self interest and implement patterns of behavior that may temporarily inconvenience us, perhaps initially offend our sensibilities but will serve and protect the innocent, the vulnerable.

  7. clergygirl says:

    Hey! I love the discussion! Thanks for sharing all these wonderful thoughts. Probably I am guilyty of having a first response that protects what I value, but then I started wondering if this wasn’t stereotyping men as well. But above all does need to be the little ones. I am all about that. I just think there is a way to do this that values all three. Shawn and Lynette, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts here!

    • Shawn Kitchen says:

      Thank you for opening the topic.

      I will freely admit that, as I stated earlier, I have been on the short end of this kind of proactive “policy” making. In fact, the single most debilitating, spiritually damaging event to ever happen to me came at the hands of a Pastor and Elder board who were more concerned with “policies” than they were with truth or relationships. I spent almost ten years being filled with an all-consuming anger – nay, hatred – toward the church in general and the people involved specifically. It’s only by the grace of God that I was able to learn how to forgive and to allow God to rebuild the broken pieces of my life. I can also say to you that it is by nothing other than the power of God that the person who hurt me the deepest throughout that ordeal has become my dearest friend. The power of the cross of Jesus Christ can heal broken relationships, and I am a living testament to the fact.

      I thank you, Lynette, for being wise enough to listen to my words and examine them for any Scriptural merit. Regardless of my personal experiences, no one should take my words as truth simply because I spoke them. Weigh everything I say through the lens of Scripture and wait for the Holy Spirit to guide you in your decisions (this is a general admonishment, not directed at any one specific person).

      This exchange has given me much to consider, and I suspect that I’ll be pondering it for years to come as I raise my own two sons.

      There are still a couple of thoughts that remain in my mind as I read the replies. The preeminent thought is this: A great deal of evil can be accomplished under the guise of “for the children”. It is human nature to be fearful, to be cynical, to expect the Boogeyman around every corner. I heard a statement once that “If you convince a man that he’s going to die tomorrow, he’ll probably find a way to make it happen”. I think a similar statement can be made in this instance – that if you create a “policy” out of a fear that everyone is a potential danger, then you’ll eventually find danger in everyone you see… whether it’s actually there or not.

      This is the slippery slope. When you live in fear of the possibility of danger, you become conditioned to think that everything you see is dangerous.

      In my own mind, I keep coming back to the concept that you deal with sin by correcting the individual sinner, not by proactively legislating against those who haven’t committed the sin.

      So where do we stop? Will there be a point where we tell ourselves “We’ve done such a fine job of creating rules that now we can rest assured that nothing bad will ever happen again”? To do so would be to ignore the basic truth that mankind is a sinful creature in need of God’s grace.

      No matter how many “policies” you make, people will still find a way to sin.

      Policies (another word would be “laws”) do nothing to create righteousness. They are powerless to stop sin from happening. All they can do is tell us that we’re guilty and deserved to be punished. This is why Christ had to die – the Law was powerless to save us.

      Policies don’t stop wrongdoing. They only establish the need for punishment.

      We already have laws and punishments that cover this type of situation.

      This is why the proper way to deal with sin is by correcting the sinner, not by creating more “policies”.

      Where there is no sin, there is no need for punishment or discrimination.

      Creating more “policies” does nothing but make us slaves to fear, not slaves to God. God is not the author of fear.

      My soapbox is well worn… perhaps I should put it away now. 🙂

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