If theology is to the church as a compass is to sailors in a storm, then safeguarding is the true north of all the helpful service the church has to offer. Together they must set the direction of all Christian ministry.
At thirtyone:eight we’ve worked over the last year with Dr Krish Kandiah, social entrepreneur and respected Christian Theologian, to explore what the Bible has to say about the Christian responsibility to protect vulnerable people. We’ve worked together to create a theology of safeguarding to guide and direct all that we do. Framed within the context of Proverbs 31:8, from where we get our name, we’ve drawn on the wider themes and patterns found throughout scripture.
Sadly, there are many examples of where individuals and institutions have failed to protect the vulnerable as highlighted in recent times by the various independent, public inquiries into institutional child abuse and a range of other areas of injustice across the four nations of the UK. Abuse has been uncovered in government, in sport, in healthcare, in show business and sadly also in the church and other faith settings.
Since caring for vulnerable people is at the heart of our Scriptures, it is shameful that not only has the church often failed to adequately care but has also allowed abuse and neglect to take place on its watch. Jesus himself gave the sternest of warnings to those who fail to care for those who are vulnerable. “It would be better for us to have a large millstone hung around our necks and to be drowned in the depths of the sea than to cause those little ones Jesus cares for to stumble” (Matthew 18:6).
One of the most important lessons we have drawn is that the church has to do everything it can to heed this warning and to remove stumbling blocks for children and other vulnerable people experiencing Christian compassion. It must engage purposefully and wholeheartedly with theology and safeguarding, ensuring they underpin all its ministry to all people and the creation of the safer places that they expect and deserve.
A robust theology of safeguarding is a gift to the church. Like an unbreakable compass in a storm, it keeps us travelling safely in the right direction without deviation or distraction.
Proverbs 31:8 forms part of the advice given by a mother to her royal son at the end of the book of Proverbs. There is symmetry here, as the book of Proverbs begins with advice from a royal father to his son. This beautiful bookending depicts both the family and the workplace as the classroom for the passing on of wisdom, shows that both men and women are to take the lead, and identifies wisdom’s mandate, motivation and mission relating to safeguarding and the creation of safer places:
Every generation must play its part in caring for vulnerable people.
The book of Proverbs ends as it began with wisdom being passed on from one generation to the next. This model is preserved in Scripture to authorise us to teach wisdom afresh for every generation. There are three important considerations for a theology of safeguarding based on this intergenerational mandate: Spiritual and Familial Connections; Victim/Survivor and Voice Considerations; and Prohibitive and Positive Concerns.
Every leader must pursue God’s purpose and priorities for vulnerable people.
The wisdom given in Proverbs to a King challenges all leaders. The Bible’s unequivocal articulation of God’s concern for vulnerable people should motivate Christians to take safeguarding responsibilities very seriously, especially those who are in positions of power, influence and responsibility. There are three important implications for leadership that comes from this theology of safeguarding mandate: The nature of leadership; The priority of leadership; and the focus of leadership.
Every means must be employed to keep vulnerable people safe, heard and noticed.
The wisdom given throughout Proverbs is very practical and has universal application. When instructing Christians how to put faith into practice, the Bible reiterates these practical steps of caring for vulnerable people and those in distress. There are three important functional aspects of the outworking of the theology of safeguarding: Advocacy for vulnerable people; Defending the rights of vulnerable people; and to Dignify the destitute.
Justin Humphreys our joint chief-executive said “We have been delighted to work with our good friend, Krish Kandiah to develop a theological overview of why we do what we do. It is my privilege to be able to now share this with you.
It is not intended to be an exhaustive commentary, but we hope it will assist people to understand what motivates us and what inspires us to work with the many thousands of organisations who look to us for credible and professional assistance. It is important to us that all those who are in need of support are confident that we understand them and also understand God’s heart for protecting the most vulnerable in our society.”
The Christian scriptures say that in order to stay true to its divinely directed course, the church needs the word-based ministry of ‘apostles, teachers, pastors, prophets and evangelists’ (Ephesians 4:9-15). Amidst the storms of distraction and winds of unhelpful trends and fads, the church charts its way forward first
and foremost by holding on to the word of God, rightly understood and properly applied through vitally relevant theological reflection, discernment and insight.
The Bible gives us a clear mandate, motivation and mission to ensure that those who are or may be vulnerable are heard, defended, and treated appropriately, effectively, fairly and compassionately. In our ministries, education, leadership, families and communities and in the attitudes and actions that underpin our systems and structures, we must speak up for them. Our theology must be worked out in best safeguarding practice for all.
On developing the theology, Dr Kandiah says “Christians in all organisations must be attentive to what the Bible has to say about safeguarding in our different areas of work and ministry if we are going to be faithful and effective. I am excited that thirtyone:eight are seeking to ground their vital work on biblical principles”.
We’ve devised our theology of safeguarding to be a ‘live’ and working document that we can build on and develop as our understanding grows, and we would love for you to be a part of that. We’d like to hear your thoughts and feedback to help us grow in a better understanding of these areas. Download the full document at thirtyoneeight.org/theology and get in touch using the contact us form on our website.