Greetings Gospel Alliance. I am tasked to write on matters of diversity and inclusion, but felt compelled to write on an issue that is very serious, significant and important. I submit this blog very humbly recognizing that there are many who could write on this topic more winsomely and substantively than I. However, this is one of those issues that I, and I don’t think we can ignore at this time.
I believe we are in the midst of a profound cultural moment… the #MeToo movement. While abuse of power and sexual exploitation and violence is sadly, nothing new, perhaps never before has this issue been so publicly exposed. Literally, millions of tweets have revealed countless victims of harassment, exploitation, violence and assault. It is absolutely heartbreaking to see not only celebrities and sports stars, but so many women, children and men wounded and abused. We can praise God together because the weight of this movement has empowered, emboldened and encouraged so many victims to come out of silence and even shame, to speak up about their abuse, and the process of healing and hope can begin for them.
I believe what makes this such a profound cultural moment is that for perhaps the first time, at least in my memory, the culture is very powerfully speaking against sexual sin and perversion. We have lived in a culture that has often advocated an “anything goes”, “boys will be boys” sexual ethic that is sinful, criminal and wrong. As a result too many people, particularly men in power (and some women) have gotten away with atrocities against countless victims. A few minutes of selfishness has led to lifetimes of hurt and brokenness to so many. It is so powerful that so many are standing up for morality and saying – no more. This isn’t ok, this must stop, and justice must be done. That is powerful.
Sadly, the church does not always have a very stellar record of dealing with these matters in a very wise and winsome way. Yes, that is probably an understatement. We are all familiar with countless examples of clergy abuse, scandals, and far too many issues of impropriety by prominent leaders bringing sham to the church of Jesus Christ in the eyes of our culture. Furthermore the ways that we have handled these offenses has been poor. For example, the first woman to accuse Nassar said in an article to the Huff post that the church can be one of the ‘worst places to go for help’. She saw that the Biblical teachings about grace and repentance were being weaponized against victims, pressuring them into offering an easy forgiveness to their abusers, wanting to sweep the matter under the rug, and not calling abusers to pay for their crimes.
The famous teacher Beth Moore shared with Saddleback church recently – that she was abused in her home growing up – and there was this culture of, “we protect the family,” and was herself shamed for revealing what had happened to her. It was put on the victim for speaking out about this. She said the church is often the last to expose, and the first to cover up sexual abuse. Why is that?
Beth Moore has a theory, which I think is very interesting. She said, “Christians are afraid that speaking out about sexual abuse will reveal their own sexual sins. We have this invasive and pervasive guilt about our own sexual sin. We have to get clarity. We have to be able to differentiate between sexual immorality and sexual criminality – one is sin, one is a crime. Both need proper action. One needs repentance; the other needs police and intervention. Then we can move forward.”
A Personal Story…
This is where it gets personal and painful for some precious youth group members, our staff, the church and myself. Not long ago we had a youth group member at the church I serve accuse another youth group member of sexual assault to our Youth Pastor. He immediately called both of the students and their parents in for a meeting. There were two very different stories shared of what happened in the incident. It was heated, confusing and difficult to know how to proceed. Of course we have dealt with confessions of sexual sin before, but never an accusation of assault. This led to perhaps the biggest mistake of my ministry tenure. We thought we could and should handle this matter “in-house.” We believed in the power of a community of faith, and the power of Christ to heal, save, redeem and reconcile. We thought through the collective wisdom of the families, pastors and church leaders we could navigate an appropriate solution. In most instances, this is a noble and great fundamental belief. Not however in an instance of sexual assault (even allegations)! Again, there is a difference between sexual immorality and criminality, and the two need to be handled differently.
What happened after that was a blur of five months of a hellish nightmare for everyone involved… it was a mess! Even though every effort was done to hear all parties, protect the innocent, hear and listen, get wise counsel, and sort through the issue in a loving, God honoring way, we were over our heads and out of our league. The parent of the victim went ballistic and wanted to “burn down the church,” and threatened all kinds of dramatic actions, the poison of gossip spread like a wildfire through the youth group, the victim did not feel validated or protected, and the alleged abuser and family did not feel that both sides were adequately heard (they felt wrongly accused), and massive amounts of kingdom time and energy were consumed. Through endless conversations, prayer, lawyers, and engaging professional mediation the matter was finally resolved (to a degree)… but much damage was done. Much of this could have been avoided if the first thing that was done was to call the appropriate authorities and experts, and let them sort out the allegations. In hindsight we recognized that we were too close to the individuals, and too inexperienced to navigate the complexities of sexual assault.
Towards Some Steps of Appropriate Action:
So, as pastors, church leaders, and as a church of Jesus Christ, what do we do? Let me offer some steps I have learned through hard experience. 1) The church needs to be a safe place where sexual criminality (and sin for that matter) can be revealed, exposed, and acknowledged in an environment of compassion and safety. 2) Appropriate action needs to be taken. Again, sexual sin needs to be confessed, and transformation can be sought through appropriate spiritual disciplines, healing prayer, accountability, and loving community. Sexual abuse and assault is a crime and should be reported immediately to appropriate authorities – DCFS or the police. This is the wise, loving and appropriate thing to do for all involved. 3) As the church of Jesus Christ we have something unique to offer our community and world – hope, healing and restoration in Christ. Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, and to release the oppressed” (Luke 4:18). As an extension, this is what the church is uniquely called to do. To acknowledge an abuse is the first step in healing, but then to invite Christ into those places of brokenness and hurt in the context of a loving community of faith brings hope, healing and restoration.
My hope is that the #MeToo movement continues until every story is heard and each and every church becomes a place of healing and restoration for all who have been treated as anything less than worthy of one made in the image of God.