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27 August 2017

Why should we safeguard the vulnerable?

Ben Thomas photo Ben Thomas Director of Operations
Child - safeguarding (Pixabay)

What words come to mind when you hear the word ‘safeguarding’? Boring, policy, risk, paperwork? Or words like, abused, neglected, broken and vulnerable?

This is the first of a series of blogs that will help us better understand what we mean by safeguarding and why we’re passionate about doing it well in Above Bar Church.

Kayleigh* was a bubbly little girl. She lived with her foster family and walked to school every morning with her friend and her friend’s mum, Harriet*. One morning, Harriet noticed Kayleigh’s eyes were all red. She’d been crying and looked shaken up. What Kayleigh told Harriet that morning horrified her. Kayleigh was being abused by her foster mum. She’d beaten her with a metal pipe and stamped on her bare feet. (NSPCC. Read the full story.)

Imagine how scared and isolated Kayleigh would have felt. She had been placed in the care of her foster mum, but something had gone horribly wrong. Instead of care, protection and love, she had been physically abused. Imagine how you would have felt if that was you. Imagine what would have happened if Harriet hadn’t called the NSPCC.

You may not be a foster carer; you may not volunteer in church or work with the vulnerable. But every one of us has a responsibility for the care and safeguarding of the young and weak within our church and society.

How does God feel about the vulnerable?

Sing to God, sing in praise of his name, extol him who rides on the clouds; rejoice before him – his name is the LORD. A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families, he leads out the prisoners with singing. (Psalm 68:4-6)

Our God is amazing! He reigns supreme. He is Lord of all creation – the one true God. He made the heavens and the earth. Yet in all his power, majesty, and glory, he cares for the fatherless, the lonely, the vulnerable.

When we become Christians we are invited to join him, to work with him, to feel what he feels and to serve his purposes.

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (James 1:27)

I’m confident that James didn’t mean this to refer just to these two groups, but much more broadly to encompass all who are vulnerable – the weak and broken and those in distress within our society.

At the very core of what pleases God is care for the broken, distressed, and vulnerable. Just as he cares for the hurting and lonely, he wants us to care for them too. What an invitation, what a privilege to be given a role and a responsibility for those so precious to him – to care for the weakest in society, reflecting him and his character to those around us.

Safeguarding is not an added extra but a central part of our strategy for caring for the most vulnerable in our society.

Above Bar Street with church building

Why is safeguarding important?

  1. We live in a fallen world where human sin presents many dangers and obstacles to us all – especially the most vulnerable. Neglect and abuse – physical, sexual, emotional, and spiritual– are distressing realities in our world.
  2. As we’ve just seen, God is a refuge and a protector and we want to reflect him.
  3. We want to care for all those entrusted to us. We want to recognise their value and dignity as those made in the image of God because we love them and care for them.
  4. We have legal obligations. We follow these not simply because we must, but because we want to be good citizens who respect the laws of the land (see Romans 13:1-3), and we want to safeguard our church’s reputation.

So safeguarding isn’t just some boring box-ticking exercise, or purely a case of filing in the paperwork so we can get to the good stuff. It’s not just a duty, although it is a very solemn one. Safeguarding the vulnerable is part of our calling. When we do it well, we reflect the very heart of God and reveal his character to those around us.

For information on how we do this check out our next blog post, 'How do we protect the weak and the young?' In the verse above, James also highlights the importance of keeping ourselves from being polluted by the world, which we’ll look at more in our third safeguarding blog post – ‘Safeguarding the vulnerable in the reality of the present age.’

* Names have been changed to protect identities.

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