‘Step-Up Sunday’ rally to push awareness

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 102 views 

Father John Maxwell, Manager of Pastoral Services at St. Edward Mercy Medical Center and pastor of the St. George and Alexandra Orthodox Church in Fort Smith, admits that it’s “a challenge” finding balance between faith and “healthy skepticism.”

In a recent interview to promote the upcoming “Step-Up Sunday” (April 22), part of the “Step-Up, Speak-Out” (SUSO) movement to end child abuse, Maxwell addressed the conflict.

“Scripture says, ‘Put not your trust in princes or sons of Man in which there is no salvation,’ and Jesus did not trust Man because he knew what was in them. But love is also something that believes all things and hopes all things. Having these two things that are in contention with each other coexist can be difficult,” Maxwell said.

Maxwell added: “There is a certain side of things where we don’t have a blind trust. People need to prove themselves in some sense. And churches need to have that healthy skepticism. Not in a distrusting sense that we isolate ourselves from the whole world. You can’t do that. But being aware is important.”

Maxwell encourages churches to "put policies in place" to protect children if they haven't done so already.

"West-Ark Church of Christ and the Roman-Catholic Church both have very good policies in place, with proper screenings of church leaders, Sunday school teachers, and people working with children. They have a thorough background check, and make sure an adult person is not in a closed room with a single child."

Maxwell continued: "Even when there's a teenager with a smaller child, you don't want to set up a situation where something could happen behind closed doors. I would just hope that a church would have a sense of discernment, because these individuals (pedophiles) can fool a lot of people."  

To raise awareness, a number of area congregations will devote “Step-Up Sunday” to address the presence of child abuse in the Fort Smith region by delivering sermons and worship services centered on the topic.

Survivors of abuse are invited to give testimony of their experiences, though it’s not a necessity, Maxwell noted.

“People are at different stages of what they’re able to do. They may not be able to speak publicly as Garrett (Lewis) and some others have, but they can confide in someone.”

Maxwell said that he doesn’t believe everyone should speak about their issue publicly, but he does believe, “everyone needs to talk to someone.”

“You can’t keep this buried inside of you. It is very healing to talk with someone, who gets it, and understands,” Maxwell said.

Maxwell continued: “People need to know there are places they can turn to if this is causing past memories to bubble up inside of them. I think that’s a beautiful thing, that people could receive healing now from things that have plagued them their whole lives.”

And Maxwell would know. The pastor admitted to The City Wire that he is working through his own past trauma.

“In my own case, I have my own history, and I’ve finally been able to start journaling about things,” Maxwell said.

Maxwell said his wife (then fiancee) was the first person he told, and that it “took me 22 years before I could tell another human being — a therapist. Then, it took me eight more years before I could tell my doctor. Now I have been able to tell a few other trusted people, but it’s not something that’s been easy to talk about or look at.”

And it’s not something he’s ready to reveal to the public, he added.

“In fact, I hear so many other people’s stories, and they’re so much worse than mine that I feel guilty (for not being able to speak publicly). I’m just so happy this (SUSO) is being done in our community. We need it badly,” Maxwell said.

Churches participating in the “Step-Up Sunday” event will distribute SUSO flyers and provide a number of resources for victims (i.e. support group contact information, websites, and hotlines). Maxwell said they would also encourage members to consider participating in the foster care program.

"The number of instances (of children in foster care) is going up now, and we need to speak about it. We need to find good people to be foster parents, and that shouldn't be restricted just to churchgoers. Any good person, who can help a child in this way, is really needed," Maxwell said.

"Step-Up Sunday" will proceed Saturday's (April 28) "Step-Up, Speak-Out: A Rally to End Child Abuse," which begins at 11 a.m. on the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith (UAFS) Campus Green.