Ministry means working with people.

And people are sinners.

So those who are ministering to others will at times find themselves knee deep in messy situations. Unfortunately, these situations often involve criminal behaviour which has never been reported to the civil authorities. Probably the most common instances are child abuse (physical, emotional, sexual, or neglect) and domestic/family violence.

EDIT: Based on some of the comments, I wanted to add a quick clarification here. I am not suggesting that every action that could possibly be prosecuted as a crime should be reported. I am referring to serious crimes such as the above-mentioned child abuse and domestic/family violence. Additionally, I am not referring to necessarily digging up old crimes. I am referring primarily to the handling of crimes in the present.

As the Roman Catholic Church amply illustrates, religion finds it tempting to handle these situations in-house. Next to the Roman Catholic Church and unaffiliated cults, probably no Christian religious group is more notorious for these practices than Fundamentalism. If you doubt that statement, spend some time at the Freedom From Abuse Network1 or just spend a few minutes exploring google on the topic.

To be honest, we should all blush with shame that these things even need to be said. But they definitely, very much need to be said.

Yes, in Australian Fundamentalism.


So here are sixteen reasons why crime should not be handled in-house.

1) It is a criminal offence in some jurisdictions to fail to report even suspicion of abuse of minors.2

2) It leaves the victims of crime exposed to danger instead of protecting them.

3) It thwarts the civil government’s ability to do their God-given job.

4) It creates a moral bubble in which the civil law does not apply.

5) It puts church leaders in a position of power in areas where God has not given them authority.

6) It protects criminals.

7) It creates an environment of fear of civil authorities.

8) It leads to resentment on the part of the victims.

9) It develops people who believe they are above the law.

10) It harms the testimony of Christ when it finally comes out in later years as a scandal.

11) It creates an environment of secrets.

12) It fails to effectively bring crimes to a stop.

13) It usurps God-ordained civil authority.

14) It treats crime as an offence against the victim instead of what it is, a crime against the state and society.

15) It damages people.

16) It fails to recognise that authority is delegated by God and is limited in scope.

Brothers, we need to do right in this matter. Every single time.

If you’re not sure what to do in a particular situation, I encourage you to pick up your phone and contact a legal professional, your state’s child protection agency, or your local police. Typically, they will be happy to answer your questions and clarify your obligations. I also encourage you to keep detailed notes about each action you take in a way that will be preserved until you die.

Open your mouth, judge righteously,
Defend the rights of the poor and needy.
……………………………..–Proverbs 31:9

Grace to you.

1I do not endorse the FFAN carte blanche. I do support the cause of justice and mercy and am thankful for anyone who labours for these.
2See the National Child Protection Clearinghouse for a helpful outline of reporting obligations in Australia.

this is part 1 of 3 in the series
Prosecuting crimes

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About Jason Harris

Dr Jason Harris is a writer, pastor, and academic. He has authored multiple books, articles, and papers including his book Theological Meditations on the Gospel. Jason has a PhD from James Cook University as well as degrees in theology, music, accounting, and research. Jason has lived in Cairns, Australia since 2007 and serves as pastor at CrossPoint Church. You can contact Jason at


  1. Kez 7 February, 2012 at 8:58 am

    Really REALLY good post, Jay!! Thank you for sharing it…

    I read the other day in a magazine that in the U.S. a father simply “kept things “in house”” after discovering his 13 year old son had raped his three year old step sister. He claimed that it was his responsibility to protect his son and his right as a father to decide how best to handle the situation. Apparently the state disagreed, charging him with “rape under the Parental Responsibility Code” for basically being an accessory to his 13yo’s crime by not reporting it to the proper authorities. He was also charged with 2 counts of “child abuse by gross neglect” (One count for his daughter and one count for his SON!) and 1 count of having hindered the law or something along those lines…

    On another note, why are the churches/pastors/Christians who hide these things so eager to protect, forgive and restore the abusers as quickly as possible but will often heatedly and passionately argue with and eventually separate completely from fellow Christians who differ from them on nothing but standards of music and dress…? something is painfully out of wack there…

  2. C.E. Staff 22 February, 2012 at 8:59 pm

    Thanks for the points. Can you give me the Scripture for each point.

    Also what about 1 Corinthians 6:1-7 and the Scriptural responsibility to exercise church discipline. Where do we draw the line?

  3. C.E. Staff 22 February, 2012 at 9:54 pm

    Also what should the church have done about Saul who became Paul who had murdered and abused so many Christians? Surely the fact that he was converted shouldn’t have meant that the church should overlook the crimes of this abuser.
    Perhaps his execution by Nero was just after all?

    And then there’s 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 where it speaks about thieves and extortioners of whom “such were some of you.” I guess he is speaking to those who had served their jail sentances after they got saved and were turned in to the civil authorities by the church.

    By the way, what do I do when I discover that my son has stolen some jelly beans from the lollie jar. Should I ring the police? Theft is a punishable offence by civil law, isn’t it?

    Hey, while we’re thinking about these things, is there any New Testament examples of the church turning over to civil authorities erring church folk. I can’t think of any off hand.

  4. Jason Harris 22 February, 2012 at 10:10 pm

    @C.E. Staff,

    The points are drawn from a variety of disciplines including law, logic, history, science, experience, and theology. I wouldn’t want to risk a simplistic treatment of Scripture by giving a pile of references. I am, though, happy to try to address any specific questions or passages that connect to this.

    Your question on 1 Corinthians 6 is a good one. I’ve been thinking about it recently and will try to do a whole post on the topic soon.

    Grace to you.

  5. Jason Harris 22 February, 2012 at 10:21 pm

    @C.E. Staff,

    I think our posts crossed each other on the way. =)

    The tone of your second comment comes across as combative, but I’ll answer trusting your questions are sincere.

    Saul was not a criminal. He was sanctioned by the Jewish Sanhedrin (the Jewish governing body at the time, under Roman authority of course) to do what he was doing.

    1 Corinthians 6:9-11 doesn’t address that issue. That’s not the point in that passage. We don’t know whether they were ex-cons or what. We do know that Zaccheus went back and made his past offences right (even though they weren’t all illegal).

    I’m a little baffled by the lolly jar one… I suppose if you as a parent view that as a criminal offence, you have the option of going that route. But I think I was fairly clear that the sort of criminal activity I was addressing primarily was “child abuse (physical, emotional, sexual, or neglect) and domestic/family violence.”

    On your last point, there aren’t examples of a lot of things that we know the NT church had to deal with. That in no way nullifies any point I’ve made here.

  6. Jack Drganc 27 February, 2012 at 9:45 pm

    Although I agree that certain crimes must be reported, especially serious ones, sometimes things can be “settled out of court” so to speak. For example, in the heat of the moment, a son or daughter might threaten to kill his/her father or mother or another member of the family. This is quite serious. But if that person who makes the threat repents and apologizes for his/her rash words, it is better to overlook the transgression with love. Proverbs 19:11 says, “A man’s discretion makes him slow to anger, And it is his glory to overlook a transgression.” (NASV)
    Your comment about secrets seems a bit ideal in a real world. Discretion realizes that there are times when it is best to not have to air someone’s dirty washing. I guess the key here is whether they have shown regret for what they did or said; whether they have asked forgiveness. What do you think?

  7. Jason Harris 27 February, 2012 at 10:12 pm

    Thanks for the comment Jack.

    I think it’s important to distinguish between civil disputes and criminal matters. There are some things we are free to overlook or “settle out of court” and you are right that this is often the best response. But there are things which we cannot overlook or settle out of court. My post tomorrow morning addresses this more specifically so I’ll leave that for now.

    Your point about secrets is also good. My argument is not against keeping secrets when it is righteous to do so. My argument is against creating an environment where there are a lot of secrets; secrets that are not kept secret because love is covering an offence, but because to tell would risk prosecution, retribution, excommunication, etc. or a combination of the above.

    I will make an actual change to my post above regarding the scope of my comments. That’s something that both your comment and C.E. Staff’s comments addressed that will be helpful to clarify… I will mark the edit. Thanks for your insights on that.

    God bless.

  8. Kez 28 February, 2012 at 10:43 am

    Jason, re: your edit, what if an “old crime” is still causing problems and consequences in the present? Is it then worth digging up to sort out – legally if necessary?

  9. Jason Harris 28 February, 2012 at 11:24 am

    Hey Kez,

    Nothing in this post is intended to address the handling of “old crimes” per se. Of course if the “old crime” was serious and was handled in-house, then the repercussions of that wrong will likely be long-lasting. Reason #10 in the post alludes to this.

    The question of whether to pursue prosecution of crimes—whether old or new—is another question altogether. My post this morning addresses the question of whether it is permissible. I intend to post later on the question of whether it is advisable.

  10. Kez 28 February, 2012 at 2:57 pm

    Sounds good. I’ll watch for the upcoming post. Thank you… =)

  11. ....... 26 July, 2017 at 5:33 am

    Why do these churches excommunicate people for dress code / having friends or family in there life that are outside the religion , listening to different music or differing on standard yet they feel so strongly about keeping sex offenders and parents who abuse there kids with excessive disapline.

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