WACO—The way churches treat confidential information reveals just how much they value the person who has provided it, a veteran inner-city missionary told participants at a Baylor University workshop.
While ministers, counselors and social workers have professional standards that may determine their attitudes toward confidentiality, scriptural principles should govern the conduct of all Christians when it comes to handling privileged information, Beth Kilpatrick said at a workshop sponsored by the Baylor School of Social Work, Truett Theological Seminary and the Leadership Network.
“We are created in God’s image. The word is powerful. God cares about how we use our words. … Confidentiality is based on the dignity of each human being,” she said.
At its most basic level, confidentiality means handling each person’s story—any small or large piece of information known about someone’s life—with care, Kilpatrick explained.
“How we handle each other’s stories reveals how much we truly care for each other,” she said.
Church members gain confidential information about other people in their congregation through a variety of ways. Some privileged information—personnel files and financial records, for instance—should be locked away in a secure place, and confidential files on computers should be password-protected, she suggested.
But perhaps the most prevalent way church members share confidential information is through prayer requests that may be posted on a website, printed in a newsletter or Sunday worship guide, transmitted by e-mail or discussed around a Wednesday evening meal table, she noted.
Kilpatrick recommended creating a culture in a congregation where people feel in control over their own stories. That way, they can communicate as much or as little information as they wish.
“Let the person who holds the story have the power to tell their own story,” she said. “Give people the power over their own story.”
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