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Sacred Fences

Updated: Oct 25


By Dr. Bascom Ratliff

Pastor, Parker/Beagle/Fontana United Methodist Churches

One of the basic requirements for being a local pastor is to complete a course that thoroughly addresses relational, sexual, and personal boundaries. I am dismayed by the frequent violations of these boundaries by leaders in the church. I also think it’s horrific when the church protects offenders under the guise of confidentiality and confession without fully considering the rights and concerns of the victims of such violations.

One of my earliest experiences with boundary violations involved a relative who was a pastor of a small country church. He was notorious for visiting widows and wounded parishioners in their homes to offer comfort and guidance. Unfortunately, it was later determined that he sometimes offered more than godly comfort. He was accused of abusing the pastor-member relationship. His church eventually disbanded because of his predatory behavior. He was never charged.

I am angry and disillusioned by those religious organizations and states that have permitted this predatory behavior to go unchecked because of fear and status. Church leaders who participate in criminal behavior or boundary validations should have no active role in the church. And church leaders who ignore or minimize such behavior should be relieved of their leadership duties. In matters pertaining to sexual misbehavior and other criminal acts, the church must act quickly and decisively in protecting vulnerable members.

Fundamentally, I believe in forgiveness. The church is about loving and caring for others. Forgiveness and mercy should always guide our actions and faith. However, this does not mean that we turn a blind eye to the harm and chaos that come from boundary violations.

During the next several weeks I will be addressing boundaries from a Christian perspective. I think of boundaries as strong sacred fences that protect us and keep us safe. Our sacred fences have gates, and we control who enters our space. We manage those relationships in a godly manner and we decide with whom we share our lives.

The church should be at the center of healthy boundaries and sacred fences. Protecting and nourishing members must be a priority. Maintaining and strengthening our churches through active worship and study also is a priority. When I think of second chances for violators, I think of the laws and commandments presented in the Bible. I think of the instruction and model of Christ.

Christ has made it crystal clear that all are welcome to eat at his table and share in his bounty. He also commands that we are to love and care for others. It is in our care for others that we truly reflect our relationship with Christ and our desire to follow him. Our care for others should never involve exploitation, harm, or boundary violations. Our sacred calling and strong fences should fully protect others while having an open door that safely and lovingly welcomes everyone that seeks God’s love and peace.

If you want to hear more about God’s wonderful promise of unfailing love and enjoy a great morning of music and worship, come visit us at the Beagle, Kansas United Methodist Church on October 23, 2022. We will be worshiping at the Beagle UMC during the month of October. In November we will be worshiping at the Fontana UMC and in December we will be worshiping at the Parker UMC. All services are at 10 a.m. We’ll be sure to give you a warm welcome, a hot cup of coffee, and the best seats in the house.

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