The Roman Catholic Church.
Let’s be honest…everyone is tired of hearing about sexual misconduct and abuse and all the other deplorable acts maiming our society. We’re particularly sensitive when it happens in Christian sub-culture. But it’s as pervasive as it is perverted. There’s even a Top-10 List of Scandals. You know the names. Ted Haggard. Eddie Long. Jimmy Swaggart. Jim Bakker, Paul R. Shanley. It churns the stomach and makes you want to punch something. It seems like no church is exempt from the stain of sexual misconduct. Even my old church has been embroiled in controversy lately. It’s painful.
Come, Lord Jesus.
Since the Duggar news broke, I observed my normal “it’s-a-crisis-so-wait-at-least-a-week-before-you-write-about-it” rule. I also, sadly, had to hurry up and post this before more similarly sad news broke. And here’s my take:
One thing bothers me almost as much as the abuse itself. The whole dramatic undoing of most of these faith leaders I’ve cited could’ve been avoided with greater transparency on the church’s part. Don’t misunderstand me — there would still be criminals and victims and a life of recovery for those who are harmed. But fewer victims would exist and more healing could happen if churches handled things with more Gospel-centered honesty and less deceitful self-protection.
Here’s the basic outline for most sex scandals in the church:
1. Abuse/inappropriate activity happens
2. Victims are hushed by fear or financial incentives
3. Years later, the criminal or deviant behavior is discovered, church leaders are confronted
4. “Deny, distance, deny, distance,” say the church leaders
5. Proof is presented and transparency is asked for
6. Deny, deny, deny, deny
7. Public pressure is applied because private pressure didn’t work
8. Something substantive finally happens in the way of justice
I hinted at this harmful methodology in a blog about Tom Brady, who suffered the same public scrutiny after being coy and trying to avoid complete honesty. We have much to learn as the Christian community. Greater honesty would lead to greater trust in our churches and institutions. Transparency trumps silence every time. Every time. Especially in this day and age of fast-moving social media where it’s next to impossible to keep a secret anyway.So, let’s be honest. We’ve got some work to do when it comes to dealing with sexual abuse in the church and other religious organizations (and, to be fair, in broader society…churches aren’t the only ones who try to save face and church leaders aren’t the only ones who try to maintain power and control)
Let’s be Honest All By Ourselves
I have spent the better part of the past year struggling with these questions:
1. What do I know to be true for sure?
2. If that is true, what am I obligated to do about it because of the Gospel?
3. When I do those things, what are the possible outcomes?
Those questions may lead us down a difficult path, but that doesn’t mean it’s a hasty one. When we become convinced of what is true, it is our obligation to act. That those actions may cause ourselves or others difficulty does not let us off the hook. We all have to be honest with ourselves: What do we know? What are we called to do with that knowledge? When we do them, what could happen?
If we are paralyzed by inactivity, knowing what we know, it may be that we’re guilty of burying our heads in the sand at a moment when we should be shouting at the tops of our lungs. Some issues in the confines of the church are too serious to be ignored. Our discomfort is not an excuse to do nothing.
Let’s Be Honest In Public
“It is not advantageous for churches to have conflict in the public eye,” church leaders sometimes argue. We hurt the Kingdom when we argue about church stuff on Facebook, for instance. That’s just not the place for that kind of expression, some insist.
Look, I think we must be very careful how we speak online. But that doesn’t mean that social media can’t provide a forum for meaningful dialogue. If we can share funny videos of kittens and snapshots of our lunch, shouldn’t we be able to discuss things that, you know, actually matter? I think so.
It is awful to talk about horrible stuff like child sexual abuse. It’s unfortunate that there are people hearing things about the church that are sometimes criminal. That there is an atheist out there reading about churches who cover up scandals and using that for ammunition to gun down the Gospel is really, really bad. But we have to remember that we have manufactured the bullet by not telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth in the first place.
No lies, no blame-game, no lack of transparency — no ammo.
The best way to keep “outsiders” from having that kind of fire power is not keeping it off Facebook, but to stop allowing this kind of response to happen. We’ll never change that there are abusers, unfortunately. Not this side of heaven. What we can do is ensure that our response is more concerned with the Gospel we believe than the positions we hold.
Let’s just be honest. So far the distancing, dodgy, deceitful way of dealing with these things is only making matters worse.
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Thanks for reading.