In order to see just how quiet American Christianity is keeping sexual abuse hidden in the church requires only one google search: Ravi Zacharias. I put the name in a google search to research this discussion, and as I put the name in, I was given the usual 35 suggestions for what I was looking for. The searches were about apologetics, defense of the faith, his biography, his death and even his wife. None of these searches included the word sex or abuse. This is not an attack on Ravi Zacharias or an attempt to prove his guilt or innocence. The point here is that like google, the church wants to talk about anything but its history of abuse, especially among its most well-known representatives. And much worse, the church does not want to deal with these horrific instances, at the cost of victims and the gospel.
Overlooked Abuse Eats Away at the Credibility of the Gospel
In times of research for our podcast, Pulpit Perpetrators, difficulty finding the stories on abuse is a well-known theme we struggle with. We never get the questionable actions first, only the good stuff. This gloss over goes much deeper in the Christian church than just internet searches. Entire denominations have gone out of their way to bury these public embarrassments. But what is the cost of coverup? The cost goes far beyond hush money and severance packages, it eats away at the credibility of the Gospel.
The Coverup is the Tarnish of the Gospel
It’s important to note here that it is not the action that tarnishes the gospel message. Whether the West wants to accept it or not, pastors and church leaders are human beings, and they will error. The damage occurs in the coverup. It is in the coverup that victims’ voices are silenced, its in the coverup when witnesses are bought off with tithe money, its in the coverup where the church denies its knowledge of abuse. You see, its in the coverup where the church finds itself the farthest away from the gospel message.
Churches have gotten to this place of numb and apathetic ministry where it becomes a victimizer instead of a victim advocate. This occurs because we have done what Paul warned us not to do; to trade the truth of God for a lie. Romans 1:25 tells us They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator–who is forever praised. Amen.
Exchanging Truth for Lies
As in scripture, we exchanged the truth of a gospel that protects the victims for the lie of protecting our reputation. We exchanged the truth of a gospel that requires transparency of its leadership for the lie that we cannot question or touch the anointing of a man of God. We further have exchanged the truth of the discipline of love for our leadership for the lie that they are untouchable. And even more importantly, we have exchanged the gospel message of compassion for the lie of comfort. We would rather be comfortable in a blanket of lies than have our churches comfortable in the blanket of truth.
And since we have exchanged the truth for a lie, our entire church structure has now become suspect. If the Gospel of Christ is the foundation and we have grossly cracked that foundation with our deceit and abuse, the house must be torn down and the foundation repaired. And sometimes those houses aren’t rebuilt, and when they are, they will never look the same.
Rebuilding is Hard Work
And because the work of tearing down and rebuilding is hard work, painful work, we simply decide to hide in our silence. We must own what we have failed to do collectively to those around and in our churches. Our silence is deafening to those who have been abused by those who claim the cross of Christ. So, what must we do? We must repent, in thought, in prayer and in action
Thought, Prayer, Action
1. In thought we must be willing to change the way we may think about victims. Victims must be believed until there is proof to the contrary. We must change our line of thinking so that we may truly be present for those hurt by church.
2. Our Prayers must be focused on a communication with the Lord about our leaderships failures as a whole and we must ask forgiveness of victims and of God. An Anonymous 9th Century Irish prayer says this:
Grant me tears, O Lord, to blot out my sins; may I not cease from them, O God, until I have been purified…When I contemplate my sins, grant me tears always, for great are the claims of tears on cheeks…Grant me contrition of heart so that I may not be in disgrace; O Lord, protect me and grant me tears.
We must shed tears with victims, we must also shed tears for times that we have failed victims.
3. And then we must act. We must remove those who have hurt their congregations. We cannot allow those in power to abuse that power and then remain there. If we do this we are approving of their behavior in our silence. We cannot remain silent and remain in Christ, just as we cannot serve to masters.
A Reminder from St Patrick
Finally, St. Patrick warns us of the rejection of the wicked who offer gifts to the Lord. When we allow abusers to lead churches and people, those are wicked gifts from the poisonous tree of abuse, and God will not receive it.
“The Lord rejects the gifts of the wicked, he who offers sacrifices from the goods of the poor is as one who sacrifices a son in the sight of his father” -St Patrick
When will the church stop sacrificing those weakest and wounded among us? When we as a collective body openly and willingly deal with and remove those who abuse Christs people.