The questions are shocking, but not rare for Protestant churches and religious organizations across the United States. These groups want to know the personal histories of prospective employees in an attempt to protect themselves against liability for potential sex abuse scandals based on the false belief that victims of sex abuse as children are destined to become abusers as adults.Hundreds of churches, including The National Community Church (PDF) in Washington, D.C., the Shalom Mennonite Fellowship in Arizona, Nazarene Churches (PDF) in Ohio, and Church on the Rock (PDF) in Missouri all ask applicants some variation on: “Were you a victim of abuse or molestation while a minor?”
Even potential janitors at Trinity Preschool in Texas are asked this question (PDF).
Some ministries don’t stop at past sexual abuse. The Ark-La-Tx Crisis Pregnancy Center, an anti-abortion clinic in Bossier, Louisiana, also evaluates applicants on their “submission to authority,” and asks them, “When do you feel sexual intercourse is morally permissible?” (PDF)
Houston megachurch Lakewood asks volunteers: “Have you ever been involved in a cult or the occult (witchcraft, satanism, psychics, horoscopes, etc)?”
The National Black Home Educators organization recommends local chapters vet officers by asking them, “Have you indulged in any form of pornography in the past 2 years? If so, please explain.”
The Trail Life troop, a Christian leadership program for young men at Grace Covenant Church in North Carolina, asks employees: “Have you ever been convicted of, accused of or practiced homosexuality?” (PDF)
While the Catholic Church is known for its scandals (with 3,400 reported to the Vatican between 2004 and 2014), Protestant churches have been struggling with their own sins. The decentralized nature of Protestant churches helps keep individual scandals from going national, unless they involve outsized figures like Josh Duggar (the ex-reality TV star who admitted to molesting his siblings and neighbors) and evangelical minister Bill Gothard who resigned from his ministry amid accusations he harassed or molested dozens of his followers.
Despite the lack of public attention paid to Protestant sex abuse, church insurance companies took notice.
“It is very significant to observe that a number of church insurance companies are reducing significantly the insurance coverage they provide for child abuse or molestation, and in some cases are excluding it entirely,” Richard Hammar, the Senior Editor of Christianity Today’s Church Law and Tax Review wrote in Ministry Magazine, in January 1991.
[S]ince most offenders are men and most victims are women, the hypothesis that a major contributing factor to sex offending is a history of sexual abuse does not make sense.”
The sex abuse questions are likely legal because churches are not totally bound by non-discrimination laws.
“Under the ministerial exemption, religious institutions are allowed to violate employment-discrimination law when hiring and firing their ministers,” said Greg Lipper, a lawyer for Americans United for Separation of Church and State. “Not everyone who works for a church is a minister, but the exception applies to employees with significant religious responsibilities, including clergy and religious-school teachers.” So asking the janitor about their past abuse might be prohibited, but asking the Sunday School teacher is fair game.
Legal or not, it’s wrong to force abuse victims to relive the trauma in job interviews.
Again, the sex abuse questions are liability, not science. Anna Bryant, a public affairs officer with State Farm Insurance, told The Daily Beast she could find nothing in their policies that would recommend churches to ask about past sexual abuse. (Bryant also said church insurance is “not a big line of business for us.”)
David Clohessy, the president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests called the question “offensive,” lacking scientific evidence, and a violation of privacy. “Survivors should be able to decide when, if, and to whom they will share this information,” he said.
The questions aren’t just wrong, they’re simply dumb. “If a predator is looking for a way to get to kids, he would very likely lie and say never abused,” Clohessy said. “So all it would really do is screen out people, who through no fault of their own, are victims of horrific crimes.”
Again, in my view, the root of the problem is church teaching on human sexuality which is more focused on control of people's lives - especially females - and continuing to cling to antiquated beliefs first formulated by those we would now consider mentally ill. Until these teachings change, we can expect that there will continue to be many disturbed individuals damaged by the teachings of the "godly folk."