We ought to acknowledge that abuse happens. In speaking with Ministerial colleagues from time to time, one of the constant battles we face is counseling (predominantly) men who struggle with addiction to pornography. Harvey Weinstein may be in jail, but he is very much in our homes as well. Even a cursory glance at many of today’s movies will find an appallingly low view of women, treating them largely as sex objects.
Social media has been ablaze (once again) with people weighing in on the latest scandal to hit the church: Allegations of abuse within the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and the inaction of some of its pastors. The report makes for sorry reading; the responses to it make for sorrier reading.
Let me be quite clear that this post is aimed at neither the writer of those articles nor those written about in the articles. The question before us is this: What do the likes of you and me—those not intimately involved in the actual facts of the matter, or the judicial cases that may or may not arise from said allegations—what do we do and think when allegations of abuse arise?
I want to make a few observations before I answer this question.
First, we ought to acknowledge that abuse happens. In speaking with Ministerial colleagues from time to time, one of the constant battles we face is counseling (predominantly) men who struggle with addiction to pornography. Harvey Weinstein may be in jail, but he is very much in our homes as well. Even a cursory glance at many of today’s movies will find an appallingly low view of women, treating them largely as sex objects. Those movies and far worse are in the homes of church members. And in truth they are in the homes of ministers.
Should we be surprised when we see men, having been raised on a diet of sexual immorality of one sort or another, struggling in their own lives to maintain a holiness appropriate to their calling as Christians? In light of this, do not be surprised that unholy behavior comes from unholy men.
Second, what happens if these kinds of allegations should happen in our church? This matter ought to be clear to all, and a non-negotiable in the lives of church leaders: Every allegation of abuse, sexual, emotion, physical or other, ought to be treated with the utmost seriousness. There is no room for equivocation, there is no room for procrastination, and there may well be a great urgency to provide protection (of various kinds) to those in need. There may be pressing matters at hand:
- Is there immediate risk to the victim if they return to their home?
- Do law enforcement agencies need to be involved immediately?
- Does your state require the reporting of alleged abuse, especially in the case of minors?
- Can you commence the Matthew 18 process, or do you need to take more radical action first (extractions from homes etc.)?
In short, we must all take such matters seriously and be prepared in advance.
Third, wherever abuse takes place, churches ought to deal with it as a matter of urgency. Whether in ecclesiastical courts or the criminal courts, and where they are prosecutable (not all are!), charges should be brought especially against ministers, providing the biblical requirements can be met. Moreover, there needs to be a pastoral rallying-around those injured by abuse. It’s not simply that we can and should prosecute such matters in the courts of the church; rather, we need also to minister to those who are injured.
However, in the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, we do not want to resort to the standards of the world. As much good as the Me Too movement did (and as Christians we ought to rejoice when wickedness is uncovered and overthrown), it also created injustices. For some, indeed for many, an allegation of abuse is an immediate assumption of guilt on the part of the accused. Equally for others, accusations are not given sufficient weight because of their apparent frequency, or the manner in which they are raised. Furthermore, both sides, when questioned regarding the authenticity of their position, often resort to the same argument: “You’re part of the problem.” Does accusation equal guilt, or does accusation equal “trouble maker”?
The public show at the confirmation hearings of Brett Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court confirmed this reality. Even before Mr. Kavanaugh had been questioned on the allegations at hand, his accuser was told by certain committee members “you have the right to be believed” and “we believe you”. That is not to say the accusations were false. They may have been true. Am I prepared to believe them to the point that I can act on them judicially as a churchman? Of course, provided that certain well-established procedures—some of which Scripture itself lays before us—are observed.
This leads me to the main point: The world tells us there is a right to be believed. Some in the world tell us an accusation is a sign of guilt, while others tell us accusation is a sign of gossip. And we are told that any who question either of these positions are part of the problem.
Frankly, Christians ought to be above such behavior.