Is TFT a Safe Community?
One of the criticisms sometimes aimed at True Freedom Trust (TFT) is that it brings together people who are all same-sex tempted and places them into a pressure cooker of mutual temptation! Maybe a glib response would be to say that the world is full of attractive people, so there’s plenty of same-sex temptation out there already! Same-sex attracted people are arguably exposed to greater temptation than ‘straight’ people in everyday life – one example is when they have to use single-sex changing rooms.
At TFT support groups and conferences, we do provide opportunities for people of the same sex to build friendships and spend time with one another. Inevitably, sexual attractions sometimes arise, and our staff and volunteers do what they can to help those involved navigate their way through the temptations. Doing this in a supported way can actually help members to understand themselves better and build stronger support for the future.
We should, of course, “flee from sexual immorality” (1 Cor 6:18), and this is exactly what Joseph did when the temptation of Potiphar’s wife became too much (Gen 39:12). But, if we are not in immediate danger of acting immorally, our response to temptation can be bolder. In the desert, Jesus did not run away from the devil with his hands over his ears. Instead he confronted the temptation with biblical truth (Matt 4:1-11), which had the decisive effect that “the devil left him” (4:11). Each person will need wisdom to discern whether involvement with the TFT community will lead to undue temptation or whether meeting with like-minded Christians will, in reality, strengthen his/her resolve to live a pure life.
With most activities in life, there is an element of risk, and good risk management is done well by assessing the likelihood of each risk and then mitigating its impact. Of course, there is also the risk of not doing the activity. For example, going running or cycling involves a risk of injury or accident, but the long-term risks to our health resulting from inactivity are generally worse than these more immediate hazards. We saw this with the Coronavirus pandemic: the government lockdown response kept many people safe in the short term, but this needed to be balanced with the significant costs in terms of lost jobs, delays to cancer treatments and the impact on many people’s mental health.
However, it is essential for TFT to be a safe place for all. Safeguarding, in its fullest sense, should be given prominence across our community. This builds trust and protects us all, particularly our more vulnerable members. We need to be realistic and not assume that Christians are beyond harming one another. So, how can we bring people together in the TFT community without undue risk?
1. We need to assess new members carefully
Although TFT is not a church, the staff and Voluntary Workers have a responsibility to protect our members. In Paul’s parting words to the Ephesian elders, he called them to “…be shepherds of the church of God... after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock” - (Acts 20: 28-29). TFT has always been a personal ministry, and we ensure that one of our team has had significant personal contact with each new enquirer before introducing them to a Barnabas Group or inviting them to our National Conference.
2. We need to be vigilant in our groups and gatherings
Most of us are at risk of finding another member attractive. And such attractions are more likely to arise in a support group (online or in-person) or at a residential conference. A group member might be innocently unaware of a growing bond forming with another member of a group – others in the group might be better able to see growing signs of a preoccupation with the other person. By having a tactful word, with either the person(s) involved or the group leader, unhelpful behaviours can be brought into the light before they become a problem.
There are also positions of power even within a friendly and non-hierarchical organisation like TFT. We need to notice people using their position/age/intellect/charm etc. to influence unduly another person in an unhealthy way.
3. We need to be honest about our own behaviours and motivations
Every member of TFT needs to take personal responsibility for the way he/she behaves with other members. 1 Cor 8:9 calls us to be careful “that the exercise of [our] rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak.” Each of us needs to examine our motivations and ensure that the way we interact with others is not leading others (or indeed ourselves) astray.
4. We need to build emotional safety
When we think about safety, we often limit our thinking to keeping one another safe from physical or sexual harm. But anyone who’s spent time in a support group or with a therapist will be familiar with the importance of building emotional safety. We’ve probably all experienced those long silences in a church small group, where people don’t feel confident enough to respond to a deeper question, and that’s frequently because we don’t feel safe enough to be vulnerable.
This might be in the form of ground-rules (e.g. “what is shared here, stays here”) for Barnabas Groups. We also require all new members to agree to our Basis of Belief and our Code of Confidentiality. This way, members agree not to undermine one another’s beliefs, nor betray their confidence.
In order to bring greater prominence and formality to these principles, the staff and Trustees have recently developed a standalone Safeguarding Policy, in addition to our existing Code of Practice. To support this, detailed guidance has been written for the four areas of ministry which we judge to require the most significant safeguarding focus:
1. Barnabas Support Groups
2. Events (particularly residential events)
3. Online Groups
4. Pastoral Work
We have appointed Safeguarding Officers, Safeguarding Trustees and provided Safeguarding Training to our volunteers around this new policy and guidance.
You can also read the Safeguarding Policy on the TFT our website: www.truefreedomtrust.co.uk/safeguarding
This article was originally published in the Autumn 2020 edition of the TFT magazine, Ascend, under the title "Is TFT Safe?". Click the button below to download your copy.
Download the Autumn 2020 edition of Ascend