In today’s blog, you will be receive insights in how to visit a church like an insurance adjuster. In my insurance adjusting career handling all sorts of serious claims across the US, one of my favorite reads was Don Winslow’s “California Fire and Life” –
“Jack Wade was the rising star of the Orange County Sheriffs Department’s arson unit, but a minor scandal cost him everything, except his encyclopedic knowledge of fire. Now working as an insurance claims investigator, Jack is called in to examine a suspicious claim …”
Waving my author wand in a circle three times, I empower you, reader, as “Church Claims Investigator” to prepare you evaluate the claims made by the next church you visit. Can you sniff through the assertions of a church to determine whether this group is a safe match for you and your family? The insights given below will likely raise questions in your journey:
- Rule one: ask lots of questions
- Rule two: there is no bad question.
Your first assignment begins now …
… Your First Visit
… Begins with the worship bulletin. Below is an example of a church we have visited frequently. The first step, do a survey of the balance between men and women serving in the church. In the bulletin below, count how many men are listed in the bulletin compared to number of women. In a second pass, count how many females are serving in leadership roles, versus watching babies in the nursery, serving coffee or working as office receptionist.
The yellow highlights in the bulletin below show how the church sends the message that female leaders are welcome here:
Before you attend the church, you can visit its website’s leadership area. We visited another prominent local church a few times. Below is their website today. Let’s click on this and see what you can observe compared to the example of the United Methodist Church bulletin above:
Upon clicking “Leadership” –
Blurring out the faces and descriptions, you get the picture that males run the church. A review of their doctrinal statement would support that white, straight males run the church.
Who is valued?
Why is the above important? Last month a Prescott pastor of the Reformed Baptist Church of America was convicted of multiple counts of child molestation. None of the local male church leaders of this denomination attended the trial. My wife and I visited one of the associated churches, and here is what we found:
All the pastors and elders were male. The women sat at a different table from the men. Women were groomed to have a career under the protection of their husbands, meaning no career of their own. For example, a woman could work in the front office of her husband’s insurance agency.
Divorcees were second class citizens and grown children of divorce were suspect. Gay people have no place at the table. Home school is promoted to advocate separation from sinful society. And, now, most troubling, church discipline is to be administered from the pastor down in the church.
The top down church discipline means that the pastor doles out discipline he sees fit in a tight chain-of-command over the elders, the elders over the church members … the husband over the wives. In essence, the Reformed Baptist Church of America attempted to create a male dominated plantation style of leadership, where any dissent was met with threat of shunning and possibly corporal punishment.
In the associated criminal case, the Prescott pastor used a boat paddle to administer spankings while church members could not challenge the chain-of-command leadership and male wall of silence.
ARE THE DOORS OPEN?
In my last church where I served as Executive Pastor, we offered our Confirmation Class not only to church youth but also as a merit badge for the local Scout troops. Our classes and field trips invited and encouraged the parents of the youth to attend. The parents enjoyed participating as much as the youth, learning along with the youth.
Are parents encouraged to chaperone the youth activities? Does the church practice “child safety” practices?”
child safety practices
Brotherhood Mutual Insurance provides excellent resources on how to maintain child safety in your church – CHILD SAFETY. If you are serving as a deacon, elder or pastor, you have a duty to implement practices described at https://www.brotherhoodmutual.com/resources/child-safety/
There is no excuse not to adopt such principles. In fact, failure to adopt safe practices could implicate you as party to a crime if you had evidence of abuse and failed to take action to stop it.
Your assignment is to visit a local church of your choice. Begin with the website. Visiting the church: Where are the women in leadership? The people of color? Are gay people welcome? Divorced people? Does their doctrinal statement read like a multi-paged single spaced Manifesto? A sample “Manifesto” copied below is one of three “Affirmations” from one of the Reformed Baptist Church websites which serves as church “twin language” relaying that the church holds to the similar code of “submission, allegiance, and protection.” In particular, these like-minded groups hold that women need men to protect them from their own life choices and decisions. Male control of finances can limit life choices such enrolling in a college course, clothing and beauty purchases, selection of friends, and education of children. It’s hard to escape when you can’t buy shoes for the journey. Children, likewise, fall under the same “discipline and protection.” Buzzwords I highlighted in red from the Reformed Baptist website post below: allegiance, we have nothing good in ourselves, controlled, vulnerable, we submit, through the roles he has called us, we seek our own good when we seek the good of the body, protection and guidance, respective roles, God’s sovereign will, honor and obey, we submit.
The conservative dogmatic diagram below is widely circulated on social media to show how male “protection” runs downhill –
An excellent blog on this can found at “How Sexism in the Church Almost Ruined My Life.” Jennifer Martin subtitled her blog “A Supposedly Feminist Website.” The diagram describes a trickle down theory from the males in power. Women sheltered under this protection find a world in which they want for nothing. The man provides their financial needs and shields them from pressures of having a career. However, when a controlling or abusive man enters this world, he discovers his own gated entertainment park, where no man can question his exploits and no woman has a voice. A woman’s protected world of quilting, crafts and apple pie becomes a prison walled by the cage of protection and reinforced by the complicit advice and silence of the male elders and pastors.
To suggest that women don’t need men to protect them from their own life choices upsets the entire testosterone filled male compound. I like the old Baptist motto, “It’s not how high you jump; it’s how straight you walk.” Or as Jesus said, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” John 8:36. For those who are trapped in a faith group described above, there is hope for you to escape and begin anew.
Just as I encouraged preachers to use a “vook” (vision book), I encourage you to use a bound journal. If you are visiting a new church, write your own interpretation of its “Beliefs” and “Practice.” The worship service of one church reverberated with drums and guitars and Bible based preaching. I spoke with a woman attending with her young son. She thought this might be the church for her husband and family. What she didn’t discern was to join this church meant attending two or three afternoon long “training” sessions explaining what we really believe. In other words, by the time you and your children made friends, you begin to discover what they believe and practice. The young mother lacked the tools of which I speak in this article to sniff out the unspoken rules. The church we visited that day was led by the all male leaders pictured blurred above.
Your journal might say something like this:
Observations: Ask reporter questions
Beliefs: In plain language
Practices: What it means to be a member here.
Through your journal you can “hold onto your car keys.” Through this process you may find a church through which you can find spiritual growth and freedom. It may take you a year of observation to get to a place you are ready to join. Why rush it?
FINAL SECURITY CHECK
You have a duty yourself to be informed on child safety in the church and to promote it wherever you join: https://www.brotherhoodmutual.com/resources/child-safety/
Background checks are like locking a screen door; they provide peace of mind but don’t replace securing the other doors of exposure. As an insurance adjuster I run some form of background check daily and find:
- Organizations either fail to run background checks or fail to re-run them
- Employees and volunteers can move to another state and change their name and provide a false Social Security number and date of birth
- Organizations could have detected an alias or fake ID but either failed to act or did not know how to act on the information
- A “no match found” on a report may not indicate a clean background
- An organization can simply fail to read or interpret its own reports.
Background checks are like locking a screen door; they provide peace of mind but don’t replace securing the other doors of exposure.
Some street smart suggestions from an insurance adjuster:
- Run your own own background check on leaders involved with your children
- Background checks do not replace organizational and personal safeguards for children
- If the church or organization will not implement safety measures for children, as spelled out at Brotherhood Mutual, leave it.
- If you discover abuse in an organization like that above, for the sake of the victim, report it to 1-888-SOS-Child.
As an insurance adjuster myself for serious injury and high exposure claims for a national company, I carry a risk management mindset with me as I attend church. You don’t have to live in fear or isolation. Knowledge gives freedom. Hopefully, you have learned how to visit a church like an insurance adjuster. Bring your highlighter to church next visit.
14 Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”Matthew 19:14
Freedom & Courage to Claim Your Future,
Postscript: If you are searching for new church, The Church at Litchfield Park serves as a hallmark of a balanced ministry, where all people are welcome to worship and serve in a safe environment. You can review the church website at https://www.churchatlitchfieldpark.org/ and use it as a touchstone as you visit churches your area.