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The new rules

We lose something when we look to legal fences for safety

The new rules

(Rachel Beatty)

There has been climate change in America.

I came close to changing a stinky diaper the other day. They caught me in time. On my next volunteer shift at a local Christian ministry, I was taken aside and told in hushed tones that someone had walked into the room and seen me and reported it. I am served notice never to change a diaper in that nursery unless another woman is watching me. That’s the new rule.

I was delivering an item to my father at church where he works on weekdays and where our congregation uses a portion of the building for a community school. The glass-paned main entrance doors were locked, but I was able to wave down a teacher in the hallway, a woman familiar to me from ages of church attendance. Having let me in, she stayed by my side even after I told her I knew where I was going and escorted me to my destination in the building. It was awkward. It’s the new rule.

The woman who assists me in ESL happens to be a veteran kindergarten teacher. Last year was the first year the school had to cancel its spring field trip. When I asked why, she said there are not enough parents with criminal background checks to be their chaperones. Too bad for the kiddos; it’s the rule now.

Everyone’s a suspect now and eyes his neighbor warily.

My Peruvian friends who wanted to take our ESL classes are out of luck. Por qué? Porque the only way they could attend is if we had child care, and we don’t. Por qué? Porque the few people who are game to put out time and money to have their backgrounds inspected are already plugging holes in other vital ministries.

If there are not two babysitters who show up to mind the toddlers of a local ministry I serve one shift a month, the single sitter may not take the children into the playroom across the hall, but all parties must crowd together in the project area though it is most inconvenient for conducting business.

Weather changes incrementally, below the threshold of our observation. When you are first aware of a warm day turning chilly, it has already been going on for some time. When you first sense you are getting uncomfortably warm in a room, the temperature has been rising without your notice as you were busy with other things.

The Bible predicts increase of evil in the last days, and precautions must undoubtedly be taken: “For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive. … Avoid such people” (2 Timothy 3:1, 5). So we “avoid such people,” and to do so, multiply our fences.

But bad men still breach good fences. And something’s gained (maybe), but something’s lost when we look to rules and legal fences for safety. It may be that reliance on the blunt instruments of one-size-fits-all safety measures has the unintended effect of making us complacent in the fundamentals we once knew for generations—that there is no substitute for knowing the flock of your pasture before placing anyone in positions of responsibility.

Everyone’s a suspect now and eyes his neighbor warily.

And there is something even worse, as stated better than I could myself by a reader of this magazine, whose 11-year-old daughter wanted to help a lifelong family male friend in his first-grade classroom—a room lined with windows on a hallway constantly monitored—but was denied because the child protection policy would not allow it. The mother wrote:

“It grieves me to see the institutional church training the innocent to think in such sinister terms about herself, and training all of us to look at one another as potential predators or potential prey. I had to explain that to her. I had to introduce to her the notion of sin where there was no sin. I had to create in her a skepticism and suspicion that had previously been only purity.”

The climate has changed in America. You feel it subtly in every interaction. And somewhere out there an 11-year-old child is wondering things about a family friend that never should have crossed her holy mind.


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  •  Brendan Bossard's picture
    Brendan Bossard
    Posted: Tue, 11/21/2017 10:14 pm

    According to St. Paul, the Law can only condemn us.  Christ frees us from this.  This freedom unfortunately sometimes awkwardly interacts with legal realities in our culture.  This Christ-follower will be relieved to enter the pearly gates.

  • Thomas Peck
    Posted: Sun, 11/26/2017 07:43 am

    I play in the Worship band and a few weeks ago so come very early to church.  As I tried to open the door to the building it was still locked and the greeter came over and opened it.  I asked him why the door was still locked and he said it was a new rule - there was not a member of the Security Team yet in the building and the doors cannot be unlocked if Security is not present.

    I thought to myself what if I was a seeker who just happened to arrive early and found the door locked.  I fear we are moving in the direction of insulating even our buildings from the world.


  • Postmodern Redneck
    Posted: Sun, 11/26/2017 07:16 pm

    In my lifetime (I'm 67) we have moved from being a high-trust society, where people seldom locked the doors of their homes or locked their cars; to being a low-trust society, where not only people lock their doors, but upgrade their locks to be more secure and install alarms.  And we are finding out the hard way that a low-trust society is a high-cost society.

  • Laura W
    Posted: Mon, 11/27/2017 03:07 am

    Yes, it's sad, but what's the alternative? We can't afford to be careless about these things. And sometimes bad people can put up a good front for quite a while, so even knowing someone well doesn't necessarily mean there should be no external safeguards against abuse.

    I once had to tell a brother (who I know to have excellent character) that he couldn't walk off with his young friend from the nursery, since the parents hadn't arrived yet. I hated to do it, but we both knew why that policy was necessary. There are just too many people who would love to take advantage of an atmosphere of easy trust if given half the chance. I think we adults can deal with the extra effort (and awkwardness) it takes to keep the kids safe from that.

  •  Brendan Bossard's picture
    Brendan Bossard
    Posted: Mon, 11/27/2017 01:30 pm

    Good security policies also protect the adults and the organization from gossip.  Imagine the gossip storm that might have occurred if your friend had been allowed to take the child, and then dropped the child off at home later than expected.  Only your friend and the child knows what happened.  I personally am glad that there are eyewitnesses everywhere in my son's school.

    Posted: Mon, 11/27/2017 02:53 pm

    It seemed to be the whole point of the article was that there are no precautions strong enough to prevent those intent on evil from doing their worst. We can not rely on the rules to protect us, a free society only works in a Christian environment where godly intent and behavior are the norm. Everytime an evil act is announced, the victum, family member, or advocate wants some guarantee "that this will never happen to anyone else". There is no guarantee, evil will continue to propagate in a society that rejects God and His Sovereignty, just tighter rules and more loss of freedom.

  • infohighwy
    Posted: Wed, 12/06/2017 04:43 pm

    The youth pastor of a group I was associated with years ago had a policy that stated that if any youth sponsor ever gave a ride home from church any youth kid, the kid had to be the same gender as the sponsor (back when kids actually had a gender, but I digress!), or could take home a boy and a girl as long as the opposite gender was let out first. He trusted his youth sponsors, but also realized that even a false accusation could ruin the life of the sponsor, the pastor, and even the church, and being extra careful to avoid any pretense that something untoward might happen was the best policy. That was decades before VP Pense's (surprising to the mainstream media) admission of the agreement he has with his wife on his business associations with other women. As we have all seen lately in Congress, and in televsion, even an accusation can ruin a person's life, whether it be true or not. Clergy are most at risk since even a hint of wrongdoing can undo their entire ministry forever. And the forces of evil never skip the chance to ruin the life of an effective, honorable church leader!

  • Smiloch
    Posted: Tue, 01/02/2018 12:09 am

    This well written lament brought me to tears because it expressed  so well the thoughts and sadness I have had concerning the "road" we as a society have gone down. When we officially rejected faith in God, and especially when we embraced the idea that unwanted pre-born children are not worthy of our protection, we set a path that has led us to a very evil country. The hope I see is a growing prayer movement among God's people.