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Walking the ministry tightrope: religious freedom, child safety, and gender confusion

Walking the ministry tightrope: religious freedom, child safety, and gender confusion

Pastors and ministry leaders: Raise your hand if college or seminary prepared you for protecting children from abuse, religious liberty battles or the culture war over gender and sexuality.

Courtesy of Mark Hancock

No? Well, you’re certainly not alone! As America seems to be transitioning to a post-Christian era, our churches and ministries walk a slippery and perilous tightrope.

We face issues and challenges unimagined just a generation ago. Today’s teenagers are infused with ideas and moral beliefs that are totally at odds with traditional Christian values. How we handle this “new reality” is now our most critical step forward. Anti-Christian forces are tugging at the tightrope, intent on seeing us plunge into the abyss.

As the leader of Christian boys adventure movement Trail Life USA (www.TrailLifeUSA.com), I work closely with churches across the nation. We have more than 830 troops operating in churches across all 50 states. I believe every church and ministry leader needs to be especially vigilant right now on three fronts:

1.  Protecting Children From Abuse

We live in an increasingly sexualized culture. Netflix received just criticism for its recent depiction of girls in the controversial film, Cuties. Jeff Dalrymple, director of the Evangelical Council for Abuse Prevention, has noted that one in every three girls and one in every four boys will be sexually abused in the U.S. before the age of 18. As churches and ministries that mentor young people, we must cultivate robust child protection measures. With many troops meeting at local church facilities, the Boy Scouts of America’s sex abuse scandal has fired a warning shot across the bow of all America’s churches. Our top priority must be to ensure that every single child in our churches is protected against any form of abuse. Church leaders, if you haven’t already done so, you need to put policies, protocols, and safeguards into place now to make sure this catastrophe never happens to any child in your church.

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2.  Religious Freedoms

Churches now face tight new government restrictions due to COVID-19, yet mass street protests go unchecked. In Nevada, casinos are being treated with more leniency than churches. Thousands of ministries teeter on the brink of losing the right to worship, speak out, and exercise their faith as they see fit. The stakes have never been higher -- not just for churches, but for all the communities we serve. It’s estimated that 350,000 religious congregations operate schools, pregnancy centers, soup kitchens, addiction programs, homeless shelters and adoption agencies. If church leaders allow their religious freedoms to be eroded and their churches to be “neutered,” think of the cost to our nation. It’s not just about being able to meet together to worship freely. True religious freedom prevents the cultural majority from using the power of the state to impose their beliefs on others. Right now, we’re seeing increasing pressure on churches and ministries to accept the beliefs and lifestyle choices of what’s rapidly becoming the perceived cultural majority. There’s accelerating pressure on us to not only accept a non-biblical worldview, but also to actively embrace and celebrate what the prevailing culture, led by our media elites and entertainment industry, deems to be praiseworthy. If we, as church leaders, bend with the winds and go against our core beliefs in order to conform, our religious freedoms – including freedom of conscience and thought – will be stripped away one by one.

3.  Sexuality and Gender Issues

It’s absolutely essential right now to boldly stand for – and speak – the truth in the midst of shifting cultural definitions pertaining to sexuality and gender. Marriage was, is, and always will be biblically defined as the union between one man and one woman. But the reality is our culture, with alarming audacity, is exerting influence on many fronts that’s infusing sexuality and gender confusion – contrary to biblical truth – into our children. Increasingly, children are told that biological sex does not determine gender, and they’re encouraged to experiment with same-sex dating. The message is, “If you haven’t tried it, how do you know you won’t like it?” Moreover, recent evidence suggests the “gender equality” movement is influencing many churches. The 2020 American Family Survey, released in September, revealed that only 36 percent of parents believe churches are serving boys well – which isn’t equality at all. We must make sure both girls and boys have every opportunity to fulfill their God-given destinies. In the midst of this battle, Glenn Stanton of Focus on the Family – which is partnering with Trail Life USA for an upcoming webinar on these issues – reminds us that we must also continue to love our neighbors, including those with differing perspectives and lifestyles.

How do we, as church and ministry leaders, navigate these issues and cultural shifts? One thing is certain: we cannot stick our heads in the sand. That’s why Trail Life USA has teamed up with experts at the Alliance Defending Freedom, Focus on the Family, and the Evangelical Council for Abuse Prevention to host a free 90-minute webinar for church leaders specifically to address these critical issues. The December 9 webinar, Solutions for the Three Greatest Threats to Your Ministry: What Every Church Leader Needs to Know, will provide concrete answers and give you confidence to move forward in these turbulent times. You can register for free at www.TrailLifeUSA.com/ReligiousFreedom.

Remember: you’re not alone walking this perilous tightrope. We will cross this chasm safely together!

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Mark Hancock is the CEO of Trail Life USA, a Christian boys’ adventure and character development organization, with 30,000 members in 830-plus troops across all 50 states, and author of Let Boys be Boys, 5 Critical Needs of Boys, and Why Are We Sitting Here Until We Die?

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