Is your church a welcoming community?

Most of us attend churches that strive to be open to visitors, and friendly to people at different stages of their faith journey. But a lot of us forget this means all sorts of church-goers with all sorts of struggles are sitting next to us in the sanctuary, reaching for coffee cups with us in fellowship hall, and sharing in classroom discussions.

It’s a perfect environment for predators to breach the protectionist walls we want to exist around our fellow worshippers. And yes, even though it may sound sexist, women can be particularly vulnerable. Men who prey on single women know churches provide prime hunting grounds, because we’re all supposed to be loving and accepting, particularly of people who, outside of church, we’d be wary of.

Trouble is, identifying predators isn’t easy, and fraught with variables. Some guys make a habit of infiltrating churches and exhibiting intimidating behavior toward single women. But other guys are simply socially awkward men who may not even realize they’re giving off all the wrong vibes.

For lack of a better term, let’s call them the “balkers.” As opposed to “stalkers.”

The difference between them dictates our approach to dealing with them. Some balkers whose mannerisms make women uncomfortable may benefit from a discrete “word in the ear” and some helpful coaching in interpersonal interaction. But genuine stalkers have likely played this game before, and a firmer resolve on our part may be necessary to dissuade them. Yes, it sounds unpleasant, but if their behavior is left unchecked, not only are the rest of us abdicating our responsibility to protect our sisters in Christ — at our church, or the next church they target, but we’re not doing the stalker any good, either.

After all, does caring for victims absolve our duties in ministering to the perpetrators?

The Balkers

First, however, is identifying the balkers from the stalkers.

Believe it or not, ladies, but plenty of churched men these days still don’t have a clue regarding how women want to be treated in our post-sexual-revolution culture. Some guys may have been raised in a home where their father abused their mother. Today, those boys from socially dysfunctional homes have become men grappling with how to mesh true standards of appropriate behaviors into a mindset they weren’t trained for growing up. It’s also possible that some nice guys were emotionally abused by a woman they’ve previously dated, leaving them befuddled as they try to reconcile that bad experience in a new relationship.

Perhaps one of the reasons some awkward guys are still single is because, up until now, nobody has bothered to invest the time it takes to help them interact well with members of the opposite sex. Some guys are genuinely intimidated by women, and after they’ve worked up the nerve to try and talk to one, the way they do it ends up intimidating the women by whom they’re intimidated.

All of this can make for some socially disadvantaged males. To them, the term “social butterflies” aren’t people who flit from party to party, but the dreaded upheaval they get in their gut when they try to talk to a woman.

Women who are the target of balkers might consider taking the opportunity to pray for grace to tolerate this learning curve on his part. Not that women need to interact with socially clumsy men out of mere obligation. That could be patronizing for both of you. Quietly bringing the situation to the attention of a trustworthy man in church might be the better option for all sorts of reasons. At least knowing a socially clumsy man doesn’t pose real harm could be incentive enough to try and help provide beneficial opportunities for interpersonal interaction which might help change his behavior. And maybe even — eventually, at least — groom him into a suitable suitor.