I was devastated when I read the Fort Worth Star Telegram and Houston Chronicle multi-part investigations into sex abuse (and the failure to report it) in the independent Baptist movement and the Southern Baptist Convention.
These sex abuse scandals question the Gospel-preaching church’s moral voice and have destroyed the faith of many. One sex abuse victim, David Pittman, states: “So many people’s faith is murdered. I mean, their faith is slaughtered by these predators.”
So, how should we respond? How can we ensure that such stories (or at least such a widespread trend) never happens again?
Well, child protection policies are important as are a knowledge of reporting laws and general accountability for leaders. But, they are not enough.
As a pastor’s kid, a pastor and an attorney that has assisted churches in responding to allegations of abuse, I have observed three “cultural” issues in the church that have at least contributed to this sex abuse scandal. They are:
- A dangerous identity. Spiritual power comes with great responsibility but also great temptation. We should remember this personally and set up leadership structures with this in mind.
- A difficult standard. We often (unintentionally) communicate that church leaders are and must remain exempt from sexual temptation. But, overcoming temptation and not the absence of temptation is the proper measure (Hebrews 4:15). The above standard often leads to a double life and prevents any form of accountability and early prevention out of fear of exposure.
- A dark instinct. Why, when faced with allegations of sexual misconduct, is the church’s instinct to hide the allegations? We must change the reflex on this.
- A story about Catholic priests using cross necklaces as a way to “mark” boys who had been desensitized to abuse and why such practices are especially devilish.
- Why Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic The Scarlet Letter (about an adultress in Puritan New England who was marked with the letter A on her dress and shunned by her community) is especially applicable now.
- A great story from Bob Goff about living authentically.