Sexual Abuse, Pedophilia And The Church

Mar 23rd, 2019 | By | Category: Featured Issues, Politics & Current Events

In mid-February 2019, The Houston Chronicle published a series of articles exposing with “painfully specific documentation,” hundreds of sexual abusers who have worked within the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) over the last 20 years.  Here is a summary of these findings:

  • In the past 20 years, about 380 Southern Baptist church leaders and volunteers have faced allegations of sexual misconduct. They were pastors, deacons, and ministers. They left behind more than 700 victims.
  • At least 35 Southern Baptist ministers and volunteers were accused of sexual misconduct — but that did not end their ministry at local SBC churches.
  • More than 100 former Southern Baptists described as youth pastors or youth ministers are now in prison, are registered as sex offenders or charged with sex crimes.

Russell Moore, President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, argues that “When churches do cover up abuse, they often justify it by acting as if they are preventing the world from seeing ‘scandal.’  If the public saw such a dark reality, they say, they might not want to hear the Gospel, the reasoning goes.  Nonsense.  Jesus does not need the church to protect his reputation.  And Jesus was, and is, enraged by those who would seek to blame him for empowering atrocities.  Those who would use religion to prey on those looking to hear from Jesus are more than just criminals who use their cunning to traumatize people, as if that weren’t awful enough.  They commit spiritual rape of the most incestuous and violent kind.  The stakes for the church are high, and they are about far more than organizational survival.  The church is to be the place that previews for the world a picture of what the kingdom of God is like—a place where sinners are reconciled to God and to one another, where the weakest among us are loved and respected.  Jesus announced a reign in which children and the vulnerable are not just cared for but are first in the kingdom of God.  Predators are awful and should be held accountable wherever they are found.  But nothing is worse than those who would abuse the vulnerable under the name of Jesus Christ.”

In addition, in May 2018 Beth Moore, a prominent SBC teacher, published a letter addressed to the SBC entitled a “Letter to My Brothers,” in which she recounts decades of being “demeaned, dismissed, ignored and patronized by colleagues.”  She states that “I came face to face with one of the most demoralizing realizations of my adult life: Scripture was not the reason for the colossal disregard and disrespect of women among many of these men.  It was only an excuse. Sin was the reason.  Ungodliness.”  She continued, “The dignity with which Christ treated women in the Gospels is fiercely beautiful. . . I’m asking that you would simply have no tolerance for misogyny and dismissiveness toward women in your spheres of influence.”

Finally, within Roman Catholicism a massive scandal of historic proportions has created a serious crisis of confidence that reaches down to the layperson in the pews.  Priests, bishops and even archbishops have been involved in pedophilia and/or efforts to cover-up such predatory abuse of children.  And, recently, Pope Francis even admitted that many priests have seduced and abused nuns.  Furthermore, a secular, gay French journalist, Frederic Martel, has just published a book, In the Closet of the Vatican, which argues that “The prevalence of gay liaisons in the Vatican means that clerical celibacy is a failure and a fraud, as unnatural and damaging as an earlier moral consensus believed homosexuality to be.”  As Ross Douthat suggests, Martel is in effect (incorrectly) arguing that “Instead of celibacy making men deviant, celibacy is the deviance, and open homosexuality the cure.  Celibacy used to offend family-value conservatism; now it offends equally against the opposite spirit.”

As we think biblically about all this, it is important to remember that such predatory and reprehensible behavior does not occur in a vacuum.  Few would disagree with the conclusion that we live in a sex-saturated culture with few boundaries.  Pornography abounds and is institutionalized on the Internet and in all forms of entertainment.  Ross Douthat comments that “When the sexual revolution started, its conservative critics warned it would replace marriage with a divorce-go-round, leave children without fathers, and expose women to more predation than before . . . The cascade of revelations about powerful men [abusing women] is a continuation [of that] . . . But so far the process has not substituted successful marriages for failing ones, healthy relationships for exploitative ones, new courtship scripts for the ones torn up 50 years ago.  Instead as Weinsteinian or Polanskian excesses have been corrected, we’ve increased singlehood, sterility and loneliness.”

Theologian Albert Mohler maintains that Hugh Hefner, Playboy’s founder and relentless advocate, not only promoted a lifestyle of sexual libertinism; he also sponsored a theology.  In an interview, Hefner declared that he was a “spiritual person, but I don’t mean that I believe in the supernatural.”  He believed in God as creator but not in “the God of the Bible.”  He championed that “I urge one and all to live life as if there is no reward in the afterlife and to do it in a moral way that makes it better for you and those around you, and that leaves this world a little better place than when you found it.”  Hefner’s moral philosophy and “theology” of libertinism and exploitation are now mainstreamed in American culture.  Hefner was not a moral revolutionary but a peddler of smut in the name of freedom.  His “freedom” produced bondage and enslavement to a sexual fantasy that has destroyed both men and women.  Hefner personified the sexual ethic that now pervades American civilization—a lifestyle without boundaries and without many checks on behavior—until now!  The predatory abuse and blatant harassment of men toward women is now being challenged—and it is long overdue.

What should be the response of the Church of Jesus Christ to all of this?

  • First of all, we must forcibly and confidently condemn such behavior as sin. These scandals cover the entire political spectrum—from liberals such as Harvey Weinstein, Louis C.K. and Senator Al Franken to conservatives such as Roy Moore and Donald Trump.  This is not a political issue.  This is an issue of depravity and sin and evangelical Christians should be condemning such sin all along the political spectrum.  Evangelical Christian leaders should take on the role of the Old Testament prophet and call out such egregious sin, not condone it, hide it or dismiss it.
  • Second, we must affirm the clear teaching of the Bible about both men and women. The Scriptures affirm the equality of men and women, both in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27) and in their position in Christ (Galatians 3:28).  Men and women who trust Christ will share in the privilege of being joint-heirs with Christ (1 Peter 3:7).
  • Third, the church should lead the culture in both teaching and modeling the proper behavior of men toward women—in the family, in the church and in the broader culture. It is the firm obligation of men who love Jesus Christ to treat all women with dignity, respect and honor.  Regardless of the situation, coarse jokes, demeaning statements and any form of sexual abuse or harassment are completely unacceptable.  Jesus Christ challenged the old and established traditions of the first century culture.  Contempt, discrimination and demeaning references often characterized rabbinic teachings about women and were also common in the Greco-Roman world.  For example, according to Jewish tradition, women could never be a part of the count needed to establish as synagogue.  But Luke cited both men and women who were baptized and persecuted, and who contributed to the growth of the church (Acts 5:14; 8:12; 9:2; 17:4,12).  In 1 Corinthians 7:1-10, the Apostle Paul challenged the obscene and abusive practices of Greco-Roman men in marriage by affirming the mutual equality and rights of both the wife and the husband.  Women played a significant role in Jesus’ public ministry.  Many of Jesus’ financial supporters were women (Luke 8:3).  Mary, the sister of Martha, sat at Jesus’ feet—an honor normally given only to men.  Several women had the immensely important distinction of bearing the news of Christ’s resurrection—a remarkable honor in light of strict Jewish teaching on valid testimony.  Women were part of the events at Pentecost and were likewise filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 1:14; 2:1-4).  In the early decades to the church, key women played extraordinary roles:  Lydia (Acts 16:14-15); Priscilla, who with her husband Aquila, discipled and taught Apollos (Acts 18:26); Phoebe held a key leadership role in the early church (Romans 16:1-2); and of the 29 people Paul commends to the Roman chuck in Romans 16, 10 were women!

The brokenness and depravity of Western Civilization are evidenced by the sexual abuse and harassment of men toward women and by the widespread pedophilia in Catholicism now coming to light.  Such developments manifest how sick our society really is.  We are a nation under judgment.  The Church of Jesus Christ must vehemently and forthrightly condemn such behavior as totally unacceptable and counter to everything the Bible says about men and about women.  In all conceivable situations, a godly man is to treat women with respect, dignity and honor.  The Church must lead the way in restoring these virtues to our desperately sick and needy civilization.

See Michael Gerson in the Washington Post (7 May 2018); Russell Moore in the New York Times (15 Februayr 2019); James P. Eckman, “Significant Women of the New Testament, Confident Living (February 1991), pp. 18-19; Peggy Noonan in the Wall Street Journal (2-3 December 2017); Ross Douthat in the New York Times (3 December 2017 and 24 February 2019); and Albert Mohler in www.albertmohler.com (14 October 2015).

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