One afternoon in the first grade, I refused to get on the school bus. It was an uncharacteristic act of public rebellion, so I remember the details well: sitting at my desk in the classroom with my head down until Mrs. Spencer, the principal, came through the door. When she knelt down next to me and asked why I didn’t want to ride the bus, I told her the driver drove too fast.
That wasn’t true. But he did raise his voice often and used language more suited to the rowdy eighth graders in the back than the nervous first grader up front. Mrs. Spencer, who at six feet tall towered over nearly everyone at school, walked me out of the classroom and to the door of my bus, where she introduced me personally to the driver. “We want all our boys and girls to feel safe, don’t we?” she said. It wasn’t a question.
I’ve thought of Mrs. Spencer more often as my own children have started their school years. There are now adults in their lives whose primary purpose is to protect them. They need those teachers and administrators because, as children, they’re naturally vulnerable. I need those caregivers because sending children into the world puts parents in a vulnerable position. We need fellow adults who will serve as a shield and actively foster an environment of protection.
At the Southern Baptist Convention in June, key decisions were made to reinforce Baptists’ commitment to protecting the vulnerable. Voters approved a resolution to abolish abortion, and also strengthened the denomination’s stand on sexual abuse. One Illinois pastor told me that while some of the controversial issues debated at the annual meeting don’t hit home with his church members, preventing abuse is one that definitely does.
Over the past few years, abuse survivors and advocates have shared the Scriptures that inform their work to prevent future abuse. One verse referenced is Proverbs 31:8—a call to speak up for those who have no voice. Mrs. Spencer did that one day in 1987, and likely every other day that year. My children’s teachers and caretakers do that every day now.
As we move into back-to-school season, I’m compelled to pray for all the Mrs. Spencers, past and present, and to look for opportunities to renew my own commitment to use my voice to protect those without one.
Meredith Day Flynn is a wife and mother of two living in Springfield. She writes on the intersection of faith, family, and current culture.