Sex Abuse, the First Stone, Judge Not, and All That

On Sunday I put up a post about Voice of the Martyrs’ president, Tom White, who recently committed suicide in the midst of being investigated for allegedly sexually molesting a ten year old girl. This post generated a lot of comments, mostly from conservative religious commenters who are not, to my knowledge, regular readers of my blog. I’ve collected together some of the comments I received and have put them together into a post. I will finish with a short dictionary of arguments that essentially serve as Christian excuses for child molesters.

First, one of my regular readers made an excellent point (and one I intend to remember!):

Smrnda:

I actually think that Christian sexual ethics – which are based on purity rather than consent, are really to blame. When I read lists of ‘sexual sin’ that include say, ‘masturbation, homosexuality and rape’ I get really bothered since most sensible people would know that it’s really inaccurate and insensitive to put those together on a list as if they were equivalent – I mean, the first two being moral issues is a joke, the third is one of the most terrible things you can do. Most people are horrified at sexual abuse and rape and power and oppression – the whole ‘purity thing’ doesn’t seem to single out sexual abuse and assault as special categories worthy of special disdain. The whole ‘sexual sin is sexual sin’ trivializes real wrong sexual behaviors.

Yes. Thank you for making that point, Smrnda! And now we get into the excuse making:

Madelyn:

I am trully saddened in my heart to read about the death of Tom White, especially the way it happened. But those of you who have no sin, throw the first stone! How sick that people so quickly jump to conclusions, WHO SAYS THAT THIS IS TRUE??????? It might just as well be a big lie and Tom might have had already so much on his shoulders that he couldn’t face this false accusation. For those of you who have written negative things about him, how would you have felt “beign innocent”, if you were accused falsely of something like this. Be careful those who judge, as the same measure you judge, you will be judged….. The investigations might show that he is totally innocent, and even if not, I believe it is for NO ONE to go and sit in the judgement seat. As far as I know, God is the ONLY ONE that has that right, not humans…. I am more saddened about the responses of some and this sickening article than hearing about a brother that “might have fallen”….. Do not rejoice with evil but with good…….. It almost look like you are enjoying gossip and slander, just remember, NO GOSSIPERS OR SLANDERERS will enter the Kingdom of God……be careful!!!

In other words, don’t judge, don’t throw the first stone unless you are without sin, and this isn’t about a poor ten year old girl who may have been sexually abused but rather about a brother who “might have fallen.”

Sa:

Thank you, Madelyn. It makes me so angry that everyone assumes someone is guilty, just because a child accused him. He might be, he might not be. But we should stop talking as if this man has been tried and convicted.

Not even gonna respond to this one. Fortunately, Smrnda offered an excellent comment to Madelyn’s comment above:

Smrnda:

Madelyn, this isn’t about a brother who ‘might have fallen.’ Is that how Christians think of sex abuse ? I thought the possibility was that a child was victimized by an adult in a position of authority. This is exactly my problem with how the church handles child sex abuse – it’s never framed as a child that might be victimized, it’s like the victim doesn’t even exist. A ‘brother might have fallen’ is the guy might have bought a lotto ticket. Please. let’s not use euphemisms to trivialize possible sex crimes.

Next we get the all caps comment, of course, this one focused on the “judge not” theme:

SAVED BY GRACE:

oh. .BUT WHO ARE WE TO JUDGE????!!! JUDGE NOT, SO YE BE JUDGE. ONE CAN REASON WITH MEN’S SINFUL HEART. BUT IS IS GOD THE ULTIMATE JUDGE. ONE MUST PRAY SO NOT TO FALL INTO THE SAME SIN AND GO TO HELL TO BE WITH THE DEVIL AND HIS DEMONS.. LET THE ALMIGHTY HAVE MERCY ON EVERY JUDGING PERSON OUT THERE AND NOT BE CAST OUT INTO HELL. WE ALL NEED GRACE TO LIVE THIS LIFE NO MATTER WHO WE ARE.. TITLE OR NO TITLE!! JESUS IS THE ONLY WHO KNOWS THE HEARTS, AND WEAKNESSES. HE IS THE ULTIMATE JUDGE, NOT MERE HUMANS LIKE US.. WHO ARE ALSO WEAK WITHOUT HIM

And then there’s yet more of the “judge not,” this time with an implied threat:

Michael Stubbs:

The Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches recently reported there are around 600,000 clergy serving in churches around the United States. There are not “massive amounts of sex offenders” among them. What have you heard of? 25? 50? 100? I would say there are far less percentage-wise than in other professions or among the unemployed. Another point is that these allegations have not been proven and we don’t know if they are true or just a dark attempt to setup and destroy the ministry of VOM. His suicide proves nothing. I will allow the court of law decide what is true and what is not. I would give you the same courtesy. Judge not or you will be judged was not written for no reason. Maybe it could read, “Don’t judge or you will be given something to be judged for.” It is foolish to judge someone without the facts. My experience is that truth crushed to the ground always rises again. May truth prevail no matter the outcome.

Next there’s this:

Eugene:

I am shocked. Both by Tom’s death and by this terribly uninformed post. If your post is true, then we can also assume that everything Jesus was ACCUSED of was true, and make conclusions based on the accusations and act upon them. All those accusations were a staged circus! Are you part of that crowd?

So, now, because I discuss the the suicide of Tom White, who stands accused of sexually molesting a child, I am just like the people who crucified Jesus. Nice.

Not much grace here:

I find it quite sad that you assume Tom was guilty. Allegations and investigations do not equal guilt. Even suicide in the wake of the aforementioned two don’t equal guilt.

Beyond that, recall, there but for the grace of God go I.

1 Corinthians 10:12   Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.

I truly hope none of you are never accused.

Here we have a new theme – “but for the grace of God go I” – which is repeated in another comment:

Steven:

“Whoever has not sinned, cast the first stone.” Why do we always rip on people who fall into sin and call it hypocrisy? Do we not live in a broken world. I think post like this are full of arrogance. Calling someone a hypocrite is not right and you need to look in the mirror. If you cannot admit that we are all capable of ANYTHING, then something is wrong with you and I would be extremely careful in your life. Because some day you might be humbled. We can’t always think, well that would never happen to me or I would never do that. I am sure that Tom White thought that too. I am a minister and watch ministers fall all the time but it gets publicized so much because these are ministers. I see sin and darkness like this everyday, from people in the church and out. We are BROKEN. Instead of calling people hypocritess, why don’t you go out and love on broken people.

And here is Smrnda’s excellent response to Steven’s comment:

Smrnda:

As for anyone being capable of anything, I did a great deal of research on the psychology of sex offenders for several years. Some people are more predisposed to things like that; attitudes about sexuality and gender play a role, but sexual predators are not people with impulse control issues. They plan their crimes deliberately, are highly manipulative and know how to exploit other people’s capacity for trust and are great at presenting a good image to the world so that they’ll escape detection. And if they get caught, they always try to present what they did as a lapse of judgment, not something that they consciously and carefully planned to do to avoid detection. The usual attitude towards ‘sexual sin’ amongst Christians seems to conflate everything to a self-control issue. Read the real research – sexual predators do not have impulse control issues. They have a problem with enjoying power, control and domination of others.

But then another reader repeated the same idea:

William James:

Who am I to judge, there but for the grace of God, go I.

And so I responded:

Libby Anne:

See, this is the logic I have a problem with. It’s simply NOT TRUE. I’m not going to sexually abuse children because I believe doing so is morally wrong – and besides that I have no desire of any sort to do so. I’m not holding off some inner pedophile “by the grace of God.” Saying things like the statement you just made normalize the abusive actions and make it seem like it’s something anyone could do at any time, thus trivializing it. They also get the perpetrator off the hook. I mean what, did he suddenly wake up one day and the “grace of God” was gone so he started abusing children? Sorry, but no. Just no.

And he responded:

William James:

Libby, if you would permit me to reply … By “there but for the grace of God go I,” I do not intend to suggest that I have any inner secret desire to abuse children. Such activity is reprehensible, and must be punished by the full extent of the law. Jesus Himself said, “ts is better that a millstone be hung around one’s neck and be cast into the sea, than to cause a little one to stumble.” So I’m not suggesting in the least that this gets anyone off the hook. What I mean to say is that apart from God’s restraining grace, ANY human being is capable of ANY evil. The only reason you or I are not pedophiles or murderers has NOTHING to do with our sense of morality, but with God’s grace. Now you may not see it that way, but that does not in any way make it untrue. Case in point … Apart from God’s restraining grace, humankind executed the greatest evil to EVER have been done – the crucifixion of the Son of God. So much for man’s inherrant moral goodness.

And I responded again:

Libby Anne:

But doesn’t that make wrongdoing God’s fault? If he’s going around restraining or not restraining as he chooses, then how can humans be to blame for how they act? That makes no sense. What about free will? What you’re saying completely negates the idea that humans have free will.

And just as an fyi, I’m an atheist. So the idea that I’m not a pedophile or a murderer because of “God’s grace” sounds ludicrous to me. I’m not a pedophile or a murderer because I do not sexually molest kids or murder people. Why do I not do these things? Because first, I have no desire to do so, and second, even if I did, I believe that these things are, according to the Humanist code of ethics I ascribe to, morally wrong.

You can go read any additional comments as you like, but I think that’s enough for the point I’m trying to make – a point these comments really make for me. I have to say, I was horrified to read many of these comments. I guess I somehow missed how this all gets talked about in these circles when I was growing up in them. I mean, I grew up hearing these things all the time, I guess maybe what I missed was just how much these phrases sound like what they are: excuses.

So I’ve made a short list of the arguments these comments use to essentially excuse or lesson the horror of religious authorities sexually abusing children:

  • Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.
  • Judge not lest you be judged.
  • We are all capable of anything.
  • We must pray for our “fallen brother.”

Is there anything I’ve missed?

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.


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