When we protect perpetrators, we pervert the gospel

May 28, 2015Heal from the past, Not Marked

Prayer appreciated again. Heart is heavy. And yet I refuse to capitulate.

I will shout it: sexual abuse is soul-killing and the church has for far too long kept it hushed, re-victimizing victims and protecting perpetrators under the guise of cheap grace, while simultaneously chucking grace when it comes to the victims whose lives will bear the scars for years to come.

We see this kind of pattern in the recent news. The ones who perpetrated get instant grace from segments of the Christian community, but the victims often times experience shunning or silence from those same folks.

The church of Jesus needs to do better, to shed light on darkness, to be champions for the voiceless, to dignify the marginalized no matter how powerful the perpetrators are or what titles or fame or positions they hold.

Let’s Leave our Naive Ways

We also need not be so naive about the human condition, particularly when it comes to sociopaths, psychopaths, and people beset with narcissistic personality disorder. Simply forgiving and dismissing sin will not deal with the deeper psychological issues involved in sexual abuse, particularly pedophilia.

Let’s Listen and Protect the Innocent

The gospel consists of paradox, the first being last, the greatest becoming least. I think we’ll be shocked on the other side when we see the actual heroes of the faith who were humble, out of the limelight folks who dared to shed light when the church preferred darkness.

Doesn’t James mitigate against treating the “rich” in this present world with favoritism? It’s time we stop treating perpetrators as the rich and sexual abuse victims as if they were the poor. Consider reading this passage in James 2 with the sexual abuse paradigm in mind:

“My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism.  Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong? If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,”[a] you are doing right.  But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers” (1-9).

Too often we force victims to “stand there” or “sit at the floor by my feet” by demanding their silence, choosing not to report crimes to the authorities, and sweeping the whole sorry mess under a very large rug under the guise of reputation protection. In doing this, we are guilty of favoritism toward the perpetrators, shielding them from prosecution.

Let’s Let Go of Fear of Reputation

Oddly, church or ministry leaders think naively that hiding sexual sin (and crime) solves the problem of the church’s reputation. But instead, it causes folks outside the church to cry “hypocrisy” (as they should).

Why not, instead, entrust a church’s reputation to Jesus, come what may, and dare to boldly bring the darkness into the light? I actually trust a leadership that doesn’t hide. I distrust one that hides and covers up. Just because someone on your staff or someone affiliated with your church does something heinous does not mean you’ve done something wrong. And even if it does, why not just admit it? “We made a terrible mistake not checking into _________’s background. We are deeply sorry, and as of now we are complying with law enforcement.”

Church should be a place for sinners, yes. But that does not mean it is a place to harbor criminals who by just laws should pay the penalty for their crimes.

We can offer grace and justice simultaneously, and when we do that, we say to the victims, “You are valuable, and what that person did to you devalued and harmed you.” We say to the perpetrator, “We love you too much to let you cover this up. We love you too much to let you hide this in darkness. We love you too much to leave you to wallow in this sinful and criminal behavior.”

Let’s Remember Jesus

When I think of Jesus and how He interacted with the religiously powerful versus the marginalized masses, I can’t help but think He must grieve over the way we’ve treated sexual abuse victims. It’s why I’m grateful for ministries like Netgrace who offered this amazing statement entitled, “A Public Statement Concerning Sexual Abuse in the Church of Jesus Christ–Multiple Authors.” The more posts and PDFs we have like this, the closer we’ll be to honoring Jesus in the way we deal with sexual crime.