Christians, the early church & child abuse

One of the great tragedies of our day is that the church (and I use that in its widest form) has increasingly become known as a place where children have been abused. There are too many scandals, too much secrecy, too many cover ups of abusers using the cover of priesthood and religion. It is religion at its very, very worst.

The church cannot, must not, tolerate the abuse of children.

It wasn’t always this way. In fact in its earliest days Christians were famous for the opposite – the protection of children. Larry Hurtado draws attention to the work of John Martens who shows,

Not only that early Christians condemned the practice, but also that they recognized the need to avoid it among Christians.

In fact it was Christians who really originated the language of child abuse in the first place.

As Martens notes, there was a whole Greek vocabulary for the practice of having sex with children:  “pederastia” (“child-love”), “pederastes” (“child-lover”), etc.  Indeed, Roman-era poets and others celebrate the practice, and it seems to have been tolerated widely.  It was particularly slave-children who likely suffered the most.  But (and this is Martens’ contribution) in early Christian texts we see what appears to be a rejection of these benign and condoning terms in favour of terms to express forthrightly that the practice is evil and destructive.

In Christian texts from the second century onward, the person who engages in sex with children is called a “paidophthoros” (“child-corrupter/abuser”), and there is the prohibition, “do not corrupt/abuse children” (“me paidophthoreseis“).  Our earliest instances are in Epistle of Barnabas (10:6; 19:4) and Didache (2:2).  These terms seem to have been coined by early Christians to re-label and condemn the practice and those who engage in it:  Not “child-love,” but “child-corruption.”

Every local church & Christian organisation must work to reclaim the reputation of the early church and to be the enemies of child abuse.

Justin Holcomb offers 9 tips for parents to help children protect their bodies.

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