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Churches must practice what they preach regarding the scandal of child sexual abuse, according to a grandson of the famed evangelist known as America’s Pastor.

“This is really fundamental,” says Basyle “Boz” Tchividjian, a grandson of the Rev. Billy Graham. “The gospel we preach is about a God who sacrificed himself for the individual.”

But religious leaders frequently renounce abuse victims to protect clerical and institutional reputations, Tchividjian said in a phone interview Friday.

The interview was in advance of his address at a Chaplains for Children conference that the Gundersen National Child Protection Training Center is sponsoring June 8-10 at Viterbo University in La Crosse.

“If we are preaching that gospel, churches need to sacrifice the church and stop sacrificing the individuals,” said Tchividjian, the 46-year-old founder and executive director of GRACE, Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment.

Tchividjian plans to lead conference participants in an exercise, based on case studies, on how to respond to allegations of child sexual abuse.

Part of his expertise stems from his eight years as the chief prosecutor of child abuse cases in the 7th Judicial District in Florida.

“It was the first time I had come face-to-face with this offense, this crime,” he said.

In the process, he observed how sexual predators groom their victims and the effects on families, he said.

“With the families, the devastation suffered by victims created my desire to handle the cases,” said Tchividian, who now also is a law professor at Liberty University School of Law in Lynchburg, Va.

When he went into private practice, he said, “I thought, ‘What do I do with all I have learned?’”

The answer was to help train church officials, staffers and congregations about how to understand, prevent and respond to the crime, he said.

GRACE started slowly in 2004, he said.

“When we first formed, it was the same time the Catholic abuse mess surfaced, particularly in Boston,” he said. “There wasn’t the same type of focus in Protestant churches.

“A lot of Protestants pointed fingers and said, ‘I’m glad we’re not like them,’” Tchividian said. “I said, based on my experiences, we are just like them. We’re just more spread out.”

Initially, he said, GRACE encountered pushback from those denying the problem, but slowly gained credibility as the issue became more publicized.

Many pastors try to handle such situations in-house instead of reporting them to law enforcement, he said, adding that his advice to church leaders is, “When in doubt, always report.”

The law requires it, and pastors and staffs are trained “to be shepherds, to preach and share God’s word” and not in the science of forensic interviews, he said.

“Know your boundaries — don’t be so distrustful of authority, as some are in pockets of Protestantism,” he said.

Those who believe what they preach realize that God has ordained law enforcement authorities to handle such investigations, he said.

As an example, he said, “If I have a heart attack and go to the hospital, I don’t care whether the doctor is Christian, or Muslim, or any other. I want the best surgeon in town.”

Everyone wants to protect children, but not enough efforts concentrate on the response, Tchividjian said he plans to tell conference participants.

“It’s just as important to help them develop response protocols as child protection,” he said.

The conference should help participants learn that their response should not depend on whom is accused, such as sheltering notables, but on the welfare of the victim, he said.

While previous approaches often have been geared to silence victims, he said, “We need to transform cultures to make churches so children feel so much more free to report, to step forward.

“I’ve seen the damage to kids 10, 15 or even 20 years later, and it’s tragic,” he said.

Tchividian has written a 30-page booklet titled “Protecting Children from Abuse at Church: Steps to Prevent and Respond.” He also writes the column “Rhymes with Religion,” focusing on abuse and faith communities, for Religion News Service. The title of the column refers to the pronunciation of his last name.

His nickname is the result of people also having trouble pronouncing his first name, Basyle (bah-ZEEL), so he became known as “Boz.”

Tchividian recently published the book “Thank You Billy Graham,” referring to his 96-year-old grandfather, whose health has been failing for two years.

“He is largely bedridden,” Tchividian said. “We enjoy each day we have with him.”

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Mike Tighe is the Tribune newsroom's senior citizen. That said, he don't get no respect from the cub reporters as he goes about his duly-appointed rounds on the health, religion and whatever-else-lands-in-his-inbox beats. Call him at 608-791-8446.

(8) comments

pmasa7th

To Air Force Retired: I had the opportunity to work with Boz Tchividjian in the State Attorney's Office in Florida and I consider him a friend to this day. I know of no one who is more dedicated and sincere to this issue than he is. He has had opportunities to be a circuit judge in Florida and could have capitalized on his family connections to be financially comfortable for life. That wasn't Boz. He chose to do this because this was his calling and it took a great deal of courage to challenge the established protestant religions that denied that sexual abuse occurred in their churchs. I think you owe him an apology!

AirForce Retired

He's still part of Liberty, so, Nope,no apology

coco mama

All the comments are crazy. Billy Graham is a beautiful man of God- full of love and good will.

It is fine to use child rape- although the rest of the world generally used Sexual Abuse to cover a range of sexual crime against adults and children. Rape is not the only way to sexually abuse a person.

Just because some people that are religious sexually abuse children doesn't mean the religion is for it. Sexual abuse in rampant all over the world - from religious to non-religious places. I was sexually abused in a home that did not attend church at all.

This organization seeks to help churches learn to do the right thing. I am not sure why anyone would feel the need to attack and or mock the group. It seems crazy. I am pretty sure that Democrats, Republicans, Communists and Independents are equal in the sexual crimes against children.

Law enforcement should always be involved. Agreed!

Clarification

Maybe being Republican is a religion? "Former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert was paying a former student to keep quiet about allegations of sexual abuse from the time when Hastert was a teacher and wrestling coach in Illinois, two sources with knowledge of the federal government investigation told CNN on Friday afternoon."

AirForce Retired

Wonder if he is a Racist Bigoted homophobic moron like his grandfather and the other current graham preacher.

Machiavelli

"Churches must practice what they preach regarding the scandal of child sexual abuse"

The best way to start doing that is to stop using euphemisms: it's really child rape, don't try to nicey-nice it up with euphemistic phrases such as sexual abuse. Let the English language do what it was made to do, don't turn it into fuzzy-headed mush.

Child rape is so common within religion that you have to ask whether religion exists as a tool for old people who want to rape young people. That's rampant in Christianity, sure, but Islam is even worse. Buddhism, well, look at Thailand, one of the most depraved nations on the planet.

Religion and child rape go together like Warren Jeffs and prepubescent girls.

“We keep on being told that religion, whatever its imperfections, at least instills morality. On every side, there is conclusive evidence that the contrary is the case and that faith causes people to be more mean, more selfish, and perhaps above all, more stupid.”
― C. Hitchens

Hammsbone

Why can't pastors have a little fun?

Clarification

"Many pastors try to handle such situations in-house instead of reporting them to law enforcement, " THAT is what enrages most people! If the person was an arsonist, drug dealer or (as we have seen) embezzler, they would never hesitate to call the cops. But his ill-conceived idea that you must "protect" the faith is doing exactly the opposite. Now. let's see if we can discuss this without the sweeping general generalities.

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