We love to live in a world we understand, where children are not preyed upon, where we can trust our leaders. We would rather pretend all is well than confront what is reality.
I wish this was the reality: churches as safe places. While that is often true, it’s not always true. (Thankfully, ministries like Grace are working tirelessly to help churches employ policies and procedures around child safety).
Similarly, we would like to believe all pastors and church leaders are safe people. While that is often true, it’s not always true. To highlight the negatives is not to negate those churches and people who act honorably. (I’m entirely grateful for many, many godly leaders in my life). It’s purely this: telling the truth because it’s the right thing to do.
Pretending all is well when it is not ushers us into trouble and brews a toxic coffee of denial and re-victimization. Burying truth rarely works, and it has that pesky ability to grovel and cry its way into the light.
This week you may have read the story of a pastor of a megachurch accused of past sexual assault of a minor. After his church leadership spoke of his past indiscretions and framed his failure as a moral lapse over twenty years ago, the congregation is reported to have given the man a standing ovation. You can only imagine the news press coming out after that event. Headlines like:
Some repercussion happened in the area of business: Baker Books has pulled the man’s marriage book and Right Now Media has similarly taken his content off their popular site. In the church world, one pastor who was involved in the possibly alleged cover up of abuse has been put on leave.
Here’s where I get mad. And I mean MAD.
The world is watching, and it’s not likely appreciating what it sees. From the outside it observes a congregation preferring grace over justice, one powerful man’s word over the cries of a victim. I cannot help but wonder what Jesus would do in this situation. Would He stand to His nail-scarred feet, give a hall pass to the poor pastor who crossed a potentially-criminal line, and heartily applaud? Or would he walk out of that church, turning over tables as He left?
Jesus beautifully aligns Himself with all, yes. And His grace is sufficient for all. But in matters of justice and oppression and crime? He reminds us to obey our governing authorities (who are best to handle criminal issues), encourages payment of taxes (to fund law enforcement), and jumps out of line in order to pursue outcasts and unnoticed ones left in the wake of abuse and crimes. I can’t help but imagine Jesus leaving the applause-filled room, finding a sexual abuse victim, and listening to her story with empathy.
I fear that the American church has lost the justice side of Jesus.
We embrace the Jesus who glosses over victimization with a grace-bandaid, and we shy away from the Jesus who asks for radical repentance and restoration (submitting to governing authorities, making amends, participating in restorative justice, not caring about reputation anymore). I’m reminded of the Rich Young Ruler who appeared to do everything right on the outside. He said all the right Christian words–and quite persuasively–but he lacked one thing. Repentance for him meant forsaking position, power and wealth in order to radically follow Jesus and give to those in need. Instead, he chose to walk away.
Who suffers when we applaud perpetrators? We all do. Our children do. The vulnerable do. While we can absolutely extend forgiveness and grace to all who repent, this extension does not magically remove the penalty for an offense or erase its effects on the victim. Nor does it allow perpetrators who are caught to continue on in positions of authority over others, when that very position of authority empowered them to prey on others.
Glossing over victimization, using language that minimizes its devastating effect, hurts us all.
Remember this: a perpetrator may have hurt someone for a few minutes of his/her life and may even regret it, but a victim lives with the pain, triggers, shame, and fear for a lifetime. For the perpetrator? It’s an incident. For the perpetrated upon? It’s a life-long battle.
It’s time we look at the reality of our world, even our church world where #churchtoo is sadly true. Church should be the safest and most restorative place on earth for those who have suffered from any kind of abuse. But often, it is not. It’s time this changes–for all our sakes.