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The new rules

We lose something when we look to legal fences for safety

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There has been climate change in America.

I came close to changing a stinky diaper the other day. They caught me in time. On my next volunteer shift at a local Christian ministry, I was taken aside and told in hushed tones that someone had walked into the room and seen me and reported it. I am served notice never to change a diaper in that nursery unless another woman is watching me. That’s the new rule.

I was delivering an item to my father at church where he works on weekdays and where our congregation uses a portion of the building for a community school. The glass-paned main entrance doors were locked, but I was able to wave down a teacher in the hallway, a woman familiar to me from ages of church attendance. Having let me in, she stayed by my side even after I told her I knew where I was going and escorted me to my destination in the building. It was awkward. It’s the new rule.

The woman who assists me in ESL happens to be a veteran kindergarten teacher. Last year was the first year the school had to cancel its spring field trip. When I asked why, she said there are not enough parents with criminal background checks to be their chaperones. Too bad for the kiddos; it’s the rule now.

Everyone’s a suspect now and eyes his neighbor warily.

My Peruvian friends who wanted to take our ESL classes are out of luck. Por qué? Porque the only way they could attend is if we had child care, and we don’t. Por qué? Porque the few people who are game to put out time and money to have their backgrounds inspected are already plugging holes in other vital ministries.

If there are not two babysitters who show up to mind the toddlers of a local ministry I serve one shift a month, the single sitter may not take the children into the playroom across the hall, but all parties must crowd together in the project area though it is most inconvenient for conducting business.

Weather changes incrementally, below the threshold of our observation. When you are first aware of a warm day turning chilly, it has already been going on for some time. When you first sense you are getting uncomfortably warm in a room, the temperature has been rising without your notice as you were busy with other things.

The Bible predicts increase of evil in the last days, and precautions must undoubtedly be taken: “For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive. … Avoid such people” (2 Timothy 3:1, 5). So we “avoid such people,” and to do so, multiply our fences.

But bad men still breach good fences. And something’s gained (maybe), but something’s lost when we look to rules and legal fences for safety. It may be that reliance on the blunt instruments of one-size-fits-all safety measures has the unintended effect of making us complacent in the fundamentals we once knew for generations—that there is no substitute for knowing the flock of your pasture before placing anyone in positions of responsibility.

Everyone’s a suspect now and eyes his neighbor warily.

And there is something even worse, as stated better than I could myself by a reader of this magazine, whose 11-year-old daughter wanted to help a lifelong family male friend in his first-grade classroom—a room lined with windows on a hallway constantly monitored—but was denied because the child protection policy would not allow it. The mother wrote:

“It grieves me to see the institutional church training the innocent to think in such sinister terms about herself, and training all of us to look at one another as potential predators or potential prey. I had to explain that to her. I had to introduce to her the notion of sin where there was no sin. I had to create in her a skepticism and suspicion that had previously been only purity.”

The climate has changed in America. You feel it subtly in every interaction. And somewhere out there an 11-year-old child is wondering things about a family friend that never should have crossed her holy mind.

Andrée Seu Peterson

Andrée is a senior writer for WORLD Magazine. Her commentary has been compiled into three books including Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me. Andrée resides in Philadelphia, Penn.


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