Coping with Church Scandals in a Digital World

Boy crying against a wall

The news is rife with stories of high-profile people abusing positions of authority. A recent story close to my heart is sex abuse scandals in my home state of Pennsylvania. How does the church react to such accusations and scandal? How we react on our digital platforms is closely scrutinized. Here is my playbook for what to do if a scandal hits your area or church.

Maintain Transparency

During the early stages of a scandal, be open with what is happening. If you cannot disclose details, let people know this. Whatever you do, avoid lying. Conversations can be recorded and posted online in a matter of minutes. Posts to any digital platforms can be captured and archived. Any attempts to bend the truth will come back to make your church look even worse. Address what you can, and let your audience know when you cannot speak on a subject.

Display Empathy

If misconduct is confirmed, the first thing you need to do is empathize with the victims. Real people suffered as a result of this misconduct. Also, empathize with your congregation. They are dealing with this news as well. Trust has been broken and everyone needs to heal. Provide them with private outlets to reach out to counselors and support groups.

Apologies Matter

If your church is involved in such a scandal, your first reaction should be a public apology. I am not in charge of your public relations department, nor am I directing how any parent authority asks you to act. But hiding on the internet is not possible. People will talk about you no matter what you do. A public apology at least puts out your attempt to make things right.

Reassurance of Prevention

Security clearances are a must. If your teams do not have them, get them right away. Post a list of necessary clearances to reduce worries of future scandals. Do not associate names with those positions. Inform visitors that you performed background checks on everyone working with at-risk populations.

Also, I would invest in security cameras. Today more than ever, it is cheap and easy to outfit church spaces with surveillance. There are even ways to run power over Ethernet cables to operate network cameras. The primary reason is protecting personal property. But reassuring parents may be a close second. I am not an expert on building security. But I would recommend posting cameras near exits, common areas, and classrooms.

Action Item

Your church leadership is the shepherd of their flock. Volunteers are the body of Christ to the world. It hurts when these groups give in to sinful and unlawful behavior. In response, follow these steps for your digital platforms. Be sincere with your empathy and apologies. Many Christians will recognize repentance and work toward forgiving involved people and parties. Lastly, do not forget to pray for God’s guidance. Rely on His words when talking both publicly and privately about these difficult situations.

Note: My deepest sympathies to the victims of abuse recently brought to light. I pray that my many Catholic friends keep their faith in the Lord, and seek His face for comfort and peace.

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Author: Stephen Morrissey

I have been making websites since 1996, and using social media since 2006. My current profession is designing user experiences for corporate software, websites, and mobile applications. I started sharing my knowledge with the world in 2011, about a year after a revival in my faith.