Book Review: On Guard, by Deepak Reju
Deepak Reju. On Guard: Preventing and Responding to Child Abuse at Church. New Growth Press, 2014. 208 pps. $19.99.
I spent my freshman year at Auburn University embracing all the extracurricular activities I could. Oddly enough, the university was a stick in the mud about the fact that I was not doing the same with curricular activities. I was clueless about my situation until the administration wrote me a kind letter alerting me to the fact that my blazing 1.7 GPA was about to get me sent home. I remember feeling as if I had been slapped out of a deep sleep. That unnerving and abrupt awakening to reality was what I felt multiple times reading through Deepak Reju’s new book, On Guard: Preventing and Responding to Child Abuse at Church. I now pastor a church that has a very proactive stance concerning the prevention of child abuse but Reju provides more thoughtful and practical approaches to the matter than anyone else I know.
Reju is an elder at his local church, a trusted and accomplished counselor, and a father. He writes as a theologian who wants to serve families at his church and all churches. Careful readers of this volume will find On Guard balanced with theological insight and practical advice.
The first five chapters provide convincing evidence that this topic is pervasive in churches and demands serious thought. The reader is not inundated with rage or fear-inducing stories but will find more than enough real-life narratives to establish the need for the book. Readers are also not overwhelmed by dry and (for some of us) unintelligible statistics. The statistics and studies that appear throughout the book are clear and helpful. In the opening five chapters, Reju writes lucidly about the myths that make churches vulnerable to attack and the types of predators that are able to access the church and its children.
In the next 11 chapters, Reju provides the reader 11 necessary strategies for the church to address child abuse.
In chapters 6-13, he sets forth 8 basic strategies for protecting against child abuse and preparing people for its occurrence. They are as follows:
- Have your church write and Implement a Child Protection Policy (CPP).
- Employ a check-in/check-out process.
- Take church membership seriously (probably the least expected by most readers).
- Initiate a serious screening and verification process for volunteers.
- Give serious consideration to building design.
- Train staff members and volunteers how to watch, listen, and evaluate people and situations.
- Prepare the rest of the church (pastors, kids, and parents) before abuse happens.
- Get to know the people and resources in your community that deal with abuse.
The first eight strategies contend that both sound doctrine and common sense produce an adequate (though not foolproof) defense for our children. For most readers, chapter eight will appear inconsistent with the topic. However, Reju makes a clear case that a proper biblical approach to church membership provides a vital part of the defense against child abuse. Other chapters that address building design, screening processes, and check in/checkout procedures will be harder for smaller churches to embrace but Reju points out that this is exactly what child predators rely upon to succeed.
In chapters 14-16, he then includes 3 more strategies for responding to child abuse and child abusers.
- Help the church to be responsible in reporting child abuse.
- Help the church to respond wisely to child abuse.
- Help the elders/pastors and the church to wisely deal with one who has been a child abuser.
The last three chapters provide the toughest material to think through. What should a pastor do when abuse is suspected? What if the one being accused is a friend, trusted staffer, elder, deacon, or member? How do we as a church respond to child abuse when it becomes apparent that it occurred on our watch? When an abuser shows up at our church, how do we handle him or her? (Yes, women abusers attend church, too.) What does forgiveness and grace look like for someone who has exhibited these predatorial instincts? While being almost brutal to contemplate at times, these chapters are some of the most vital in the book.
Overall, a good word for the book is “balanced.” The book is neither “merely” theological nor proudly ignorant of theology. Instead, Reju bridges theology and practice better than most.
THEOLOGICAL AND PRACTICAL
On Guard is richly theological. Theology is not only explicit in the chapter on church membership, but is woven throughout the book. I particularly appreciated Reju’s implicit insistence that a fundamental reason churches are vulnerable is an underdeveloped understanding of grace. Prior to abuse, churches talk about grace as if it does not or cannot alter you, wake you from the dead, make you into a new creation, and embed you into the lives of other believers. After abuse, the abuser can count on inciting a sense of confusion and naiveté by acts of remorse rather than repentance, knowing that common, cheap grace—combined with concern for the church’s reputation—may provide enough weight to produce a thin forgiveness (i. e. a lack of real consequences).
Another strong example of the theo-practical balance is Reju’s description of child predators. He speaks about them the way any father of an abused child would; he calls them wicked and sinful and evil. However, he also is confident in the power of the gospel to save them and place them into a local church that wisely knows how to minister to them. This is the substance of much of chapter 16.
The book is also unbelievably practical. Reju gives the reader clear paths to organizing and executing each strategy in the book. He also includes six priceless appendices for any church to use in implementing these strategies:
- A Really Quick Guide to Writing and Implementing a Child Protection Policy
- Child on Child Sexual Abuse
- How do I Talk to My Kids about Sexual Abuse?
- An Example of a Screening Application
- Child Abuse and Neglect Training Sheet
- Training Scenarios for Staff and Volunteers
A VALUABLE AND NECESSARY BOOK
As a pastor and father, I am profoundly grateful to Reju for this book. Its thoughtful theological expression, wide scope of sources, and affectionate determination provides pastors, youth, children’s leaders, and parents with ample practical muscle for addressing abuse both before and after its occurrence.
No church is completely safe from this horrible act, and Reju never portrays a gullible “do these steps and you will be safe” mentality. However, he does believe that biblical wisdom that is added to common sense and rightly motivated by affection for children will increase their safety. With that in mind, no one in leadership should wait to read this book. It is simply too valuable and necessary to miss.