It is difficult for us to grasp and accept the fact that the evil of child sexual abuse exists in our midst — it is even more difficult to accept the prospect that it is prevalent today — yet that is what the statistics are showing. Consider the following reports:
1. "It is estimated that one in three girls and one in six boys will experience some form of sexual abuse before they are eighteen years old" (U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, 1993).
2. "The typical child sex offender molests an average of 117 children, most of who do not report the offence" (National Institute of Mental Health, 1988).
3. Research indicates that most child sexual abuse takes place in the home, but news reports constantly remind us that such abuse can even be found in churches, and that even some pastors and church leaders perpetrate such abuse.
This is especially egregious because the violation has taken place at the hands of those who are entrusted with the responsibility to lead and protect the sheep. It is particularly abominable when the protector becomes the predator. It fulfills the warning of Jude 4: For certain men, who were designated for this judgment long ago, have come in by stealth; they are ungodly, turning the grace of our God into promiscuity and denying our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. This verse clearly warns of evil men coming into the church and committing sexual sin — and then using the beautiful gift of God's grace as an excuse or license to commit one sexual sin after another.
Therefore, we are faced with this question: "How do we as believers deal with this sin?" Here are five essentials stops if we are to ever succeed in confronting and removing this cancer from our churches. We must stop denying the sin, stop excusing the sin, stop minimizing the sin, stop breaking the law, and stop hurting the victims. This inital post will address the first two stops.
Stop Denying the Sin
Our first response when faced with evidence that members of our church family or leadership are guilty of these horrible offenses often is disbelief and denial. We do not want to believe that such a thing could happen in our midst — so we convince ourselves it never really happened. Tragically, when we deny the sin, it enables offenders to continue in their sin and further intimidates victims into not speaking up. They fear no one will believe them.
Consider the example of King Saul in 1 Samuel 15:20. And Saul said to Samuel, 'But I have obeyed the voice of the Lord, and gone on the mission which the Lord sent me, and brought back Agag king of Amalek; I have utterly destroyed the Amalekites (NKJV, emphasis added). God had commanded Saul to destroy all the inhabitants and animals, but he chose to disobey. When Samuel confronted him with his disobedience, Saul's first response was denial. Despite of the fact that Samuel could hear the bleating of the sheep and the lowing of the oxen (1 Samuel 15:14), Saul continued to deny his disobedience.
The Lord expects His people to take appropriate action within the church when a member sins (Matthew 18:15-20; 1 Corinthians 5). We might be tempted to report that we are fully obeying the Lord, but the cries of the victims of sexual abuse and the emotional heartache of those ravaged by this sin can be heard and seen all around us. When it comes to the issue of sexual abuse, too many pastors and church leaders are living in a state of denial; meanwhile, the sin destroys souls and devastates churches.
Stop Excusing the Sin
Once believers are confronted with the evidence of this sin and they are no longer able to deny it, they may be tempted to excuse the behavior. This is especially true when the offenders are prominent members, or even leaders in their churches. Their flawed reasoning holds that because the accused leaders have done so much good for the church, they should be excused.
On the other hand, some Christians will overlook the behavior because of the potential consequences of dealing with this sin, such as scandal, embarrassment, loss of revenue, civil lawsuits, and criminal punishment. Some even claim that they are concerned that exposing such sin will bring reproach upon the name of Christ. However, it is this very sin, and the failure to address it biblically, that brings shame to the name of Christ, not exposing it.
Once again let's look at the example of Saul. When Samuel indicated to Saul that he knew Saul had brought back the animals and Saul knew he could no longer deny the sin, he chose to excuse the sin by saying: The troops took sheep and cattle from the plunder (1 Samuel 15:21). Saul excused his disobedience by blaming others for his sin. When they can no longer deny their sin, many offenders will excuse it by blaming the victims, or others, or their circumstances. In one recent case involving a pastor, the church people were blamed because "they were not praying hard enough for their pastor." When God confronted Adam with his sin, Adam blamed Eve — and, by implication, God — for his disobedience (Genesis 3:12).
As hard as it is to believe, many offenders who claim to be Christians will blame God for their vile behavior. They say "God made me this way" or "God gave me these desires." In each of these, the assumption is that because of various external circumstances, their actions are understandable and excusable — but that reasoning will never stand up before God. Excusing sexual abuse is neither loving nor forgiving. We must quit making excuses and start holding offenders accountable. 1 Corinthians 5:11-12 teaches that we are to judge those who are within.
Dale Ingraham is a pastor and co-founded Speaking in Truth Ministries with his wife, Faith. Together they work to educate and provide guidance to churches and individuals dealing with issues of sexual abuse.