Applying Law and Gospel to Victims and Perpetrators of Child Sexual Abuse - Victor Vieth

“Counselors and theologians failing to understand the dynamics of child sexual abuse cases often apply the concept of law and gospel incorrectly. When this happens, perpetrators are emboldened to offend again and many victims leave the church…” . This article presents a thought provoking and refreshing approach on the application of law and gospel to victims and perpetrators of child sexual abuse.

Suffer the Children: Developing Effective Church Policies on Child Maltreatment (Jacob’s Hope) - Victor Vieth

“Although churches, synagogues, temples and other places of worship are increasingly implementing policies to protect children from abuse, the policies adopted are often inadequate and of limited value. This article includes ten concrete suggestions for faith institutions that will aid in developing and implementing policies more likely to keep children safe …”

Insuring Sin (essay) - Joey Mangano

“One would think that the crimes committed by clergy that clearly go against all for which the church supposedly stands for, would have been enough. But even for the church it is becoming apparent clear that only money talks, not morals and values ...”

What Forgiveness Isn’t (essay) -Denise George

“Jamie and I are just two of a legion of Christian women who've struggled with forgiveness because it's difficult—almost impossible—to do … In talking with hundreds of women about forgiveness, I've discovered six myths that keep us from the healing and freedom God desires for you and me.”

Suffer the Children: Developing Effective Church Policies on Child Maltreatment - Victor Vieth

“Although churches, synagogues, temples and other places of worship are increasingly implementing policies to protect children from abuse, the policies adopted are often inadequate and of limited value. This article includes ten concrete suggestions for faith institutions that will aid in developing and implementing policies more likely to keep children safe …”

A Public Statement Concerning Sexual Abuse in the Church of Jesus Christ

Recent allegations of sexual abuse and cover-up within a well known international ministry and subsequent public statements by several evangelical leaders have angered and distressed many, both inside and outside of the Church. These events expose the troubling reality that, far too often, the Church’s instincts are no different than from those of many other institutions, responding to such allegations by moving to protect her structures rather than her children. This is a longstanding problem in the Christian world, and we are deeply grieved by the failures of the American and global Church in responding to the issue of sexual abuse. We do not just believe we should do better; as those who claim the name of Jesus and the cause of the Gospel, we are convinced we must do better. In the hope that a time is coming when Christian leaders respond to all sexual abuse with outrage and courage, we offer this confession and declare the Good News of Jesus on behalf of the abused, ignored and forgotten.

Through the media we have been confronted with perpetual reports of grievous sexual abuse and its cover-up. Institutions ranging from the Catholic Church, various Protestant churches and missionary organizations, Penn State, Yeshiva University High School, the Boy Scouts, and all branches of our military have been rocked by allegations of abuse and of complicity in silencing the victims. And while many evangelical leaders have eagerly responded with outrage to those public scandals, we must now acknowledge long-silenced victims who are speaking out about sexual abuse in evangelical Christian institutions: schools, mission fields and churches, large and small. And we must confess we have done far too little to hear and help them.

Holocaust survivor and author, Elie Weisel, once said, “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim…silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” When we choose willful ignorance, inaction or neutrality in the face of evil, we participate in the survival of that evil. When clergy, school administrations, boards of directors, or military commanders have been silent or have covered up abuse, they have joined with those who perpetrate crimes against the “little ones” – often children, but also others who are on the underside of power because of size, age, position or authority.

It goes without saying that sexual abuse is criminal, but within the Church we also believe that it is the work of the enemy of our souls — evil, horrific sin perpetrated in dark and hidden places, forever altering lives and destroying the faith of the abused. How could such evil be present and overlooked in the body of Christ? Surely as his followers, we would do everything in our power to expose the deeds of darkness, opening the mouths of the mute, the afflicted and the needy. The Church must never hinder those who so desperately need to run to God and his people for safety, hope and truth, while also providing them protection from the great deceiver.

But we have hindered the victims. By our silence and our efforts to protect our names and institutions and “missions,” we, the body of Christ, have often sided with an enemy whose sole purpose is and has always been to destroy the Lamb of God and his presence in this world. Our busyness and inattention have often resulted in complicity in allowing dark places that shelter abuse to fester and survive.

We must face the truths of our own teachings: To be a shepherd in the body of Christ and blind to the knowledge that your sheep are being abused by wolves in your midst is to be an inattentive shepherd. To judge merely by outward appearances is a failure of righteousness. To fail to obey the laws of the land as Scripture commands by declining to report and expose abuse is to be a disobedient shepherd. To be told that wolves are devouring our lambs and fail to protect those lambs is to be a shepherd who sides with the wolves who hinder those same little ones from coming to Jesus. To fail to grasp the massive web of deception entangling an abuser and set him or her loose among the sheep is to be naïve about the very nature and power of sin. To be told a child is being or has been abused and to make excuses for failing to act is a diabolical misrepresentation of God. To know a woman is being raped or battered in hidden places and silence her or send her back is to align with those who live as enemies of our God. Protecting an institution or organization rather than a living, breathing lamb is to love ministry more than God and to value a human name or institution more than the peerless name of Jesus.

Dear church of Jesus Christ, we must set aside every agenda but one: to gently lead every man, woman and child into the arms of our Good Shepherd, who gave his very life to rescue us from the clutches of our enemy and from sin and death — who rose from the dead and called us to the safety of his side. As we follow this Good Shepherd, we will “eliminate harmful beasts from the land, make places of blessing for the sheep, deliver them from their enslavers and make them secure in places where no one will make them afraid” (Ezekiel 34:25-28). Surely it is for such a time as this that the Church has been empowered to boldly and bravely embody the Good News to accusers and accused alike, and to forsake our own comfort and position to love the hurting with an illogical extravagance.

To all who have been abused, broken, deceived and ignored, we have failed you and our God. We repent for looking nothing like our Lord when we have silenced you, ignored you or moved away from you and then acted as if you were the problem. You are not the problem; you are the voice of our God calling his church to repentance and humility. Thank you for having the courage to speak truth. May God have mercy on us all and oh may the day come when his church reflects the indescribable love and compassion of Jesus, even to the point of laying down our lives for his precious sheep.

Dated this 17th day of July, 2013.

Click here to add your voice and sign this statement along with those listed below.

Carol Ajamian - Retired Jim Arcieri Pastor of Community Bible Fellowship Church in Red Hill, PA
William S. Barker - Professor of Church History, Emeritus at Westminster Theological Seminary (PA)
Steve Brown - Professor, Emeritus of Preaching and Pastoral Ministry at Reformed Theological Seminary, President of Key Life Network, Inc., and Author
P. J. (“Flip”) Buys - Associate International Director of the World Reformed Fellowship, South Africa
Rebecca Campbell -  Member of the Board of Trustees at Biblical Theological Seminary
Alan Chambers - Founder, Speak.Love
Kelly Clark - Attorney with the law firm of O’Donnell Clark and Crew, LLP in Portland, OR
Julie Clinton - President of Extraordinary Women
Tim Clinton - President of the American Association of Christian Counselors and Professor of Counseling and Pastoral Care at Liberty University
Wentzel Coetzer - Professor of Theology at Northwest University (Potschefstroom, South Africa)
James Courtney - Ruling Elder at Trinity Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Rye, NY
Margaret Courtney -  Co-Director of Family Ministries at Trinity Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Rye, NY
Glenn Davies - Bishop of North Sydney, Australia D. Clair Davis Chaplain at Redeemer Seminary
Chuck DeGroat - Associate Professor of Counseling and Pastoral Care at Western Theological Seminary and Senior Fellow at Newbigin House
Mary DeMuth - Author and Blogger
David G. Dunbar - Professor of Theology at Biblical Theological Seminary
Diana S. Durrill - Pastor’s wife and Sexual abuse survivor
Michael J. Durrill - Pastor of Valley Community Church in Louisville, CO
William Edgar - Professor of Apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary (PA)
Rob Edwards - Pastor of Mercy Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Forest, VA
Mr. Rinaldo Lotti Filho - Ruling Elder in the Presbyterian Church of Brazil (Sao Paulo)
Elyse Fitzpatrick - Counselor and Author
Ryan Ferguson - Pastor of Community Connection at North Hills Community Church in Taylors, SC
E. Robert Geehan - Pastor of The Reformed Church in Poughkeepsie, NY (RCA)
Shannon Geiger - Counselor at Park Cities Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Dallas, TX
Douglas Green - Professor of Old Testament and Biblical Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary (PA)
Fred Harrell - Senior Pastor of City Church in San Francisco, CA
Robert Heerdt - Chief Investment Officer at BenefitWorks, Inc.
Walter Henegar - Senior Pastor of Atlanta Westside Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Atlanta, GA
Craig Higgins - Senior Pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Westchester County, NY and North American Regional Coordinator for the World Reformed Fellowship
Justin Holcomb - Author and Adjunct Professor of Theology and Philosophy at Reformed Theological Seminary
Lindsey Holcomb - Author and former case manager for sexual assault crisis center
Peter Hubbard - Pastor of Teaching at North Hills Community Church in Taylors, SC
Carolyn James - President of WhitbyForum
Frank James - President of Biblical Theological Seminary
Karen Jansson - Board member of the World Reformed Fellowship Board Member and Treasurer of the Russian Orphan Opportunity Fund, USA
Kathy Koch - President and Founder of Celebrate Kids
Matthew Lacey - Development Director for GRACE
David Lamb - Associate Professor of Old Testament at Biblical Theological Seminary
Diane Langberg  - Clinical Psychologist and Author
Daniel N. LaValla - Director of Library Services and Development Associate at Biblical Theological Seminary
Samuel Logan - International Director of the World Reformed Fellowship, President Emeritus of Westminster Theological Seminary (PA), and Special Counsel to the President at Biblical Theological Seminary
Tremper Longman - Robert H. Gundry Professor of Biblical Studies at Westmont College
Kin Yip Louie - Assistant Professor of Theological Studies at China Graduate School of Theology
Fergus Macdonald - Past President of the United Bible Societies (Scotland)
Todd Mangum - Academic Dean and Professor of Theology at Biblical Theological Seminary
Dan McCartney - Professor of New Testament at Redeemer Seminary
Scot McKnight - Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary and Author
Jonathan Merritt - Faith and Culture writer
Pat Millen - Member of the Board of Trustees at Biblical Seminary
Philip Monroe - Professor of Counseling and Psychology at Biblical Theological Seminary
Amy Norvell - Director of Classical Conversations in Bryan/College Station, TX, Pastor’s wife, and Sexual abuse survivor
Thad Norvell  -Pastor at Community Church in Bryan/College Station, TX K.
Eric Perrin - Senior Pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Cherry Hill, NJ
Michael Reagan - President of the Reagan Legacy Foundation
Matthew Redmond - Author
Nathan Rice - Director of Middle School Ministries at First Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) in Bellevue, WA
Tamara Rice - Freelance Writer and Editor
Adam L Saenz - Clinical Psychologist and Author
Karen L. Sawyer - Vice Chair and Chair Elect of the Board of Trustees, Biblical Theological Seminary and Adjunct Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Arcadia University
Scotty Smith - Founding Pastor of Christ Community Church in Franklin, TN
Ron Scates - Preaching Pastor at Highland Park Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) in Dallas, Texas
Andrew J. Schmutzer - Professor of Biblical Studies at Moody Bible Institute
Chris Seay - Pastor at Ecclesia in Houston, TX
Mike Sloan - Associate Pastor at Old Peachtree Presbyterian Church in DuLuth, GA
Basyle J. Tchividjian - Executive Director, GRACE and Associate Professor of Law at Liberty University School of Law
Laura Thien - LMHC and Board Chairperson of the Julie Valentine Center in Greenville, SC
Jessica Thompson - Author
Rick Tyson - Senior Pastor at Calvary Presbyterian Church in Willow Grove, PA
John Williams - Ruling Elder in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Washington Island, WI
John Wilson - Pastor in the Presbyterian Church of Victoria, Australia
William Paul Young - Author

The True (and False) Persecution of the Church

Geronimo Aguilar, a Richmond pastor who recently stepped down after being charged with sexually abusing two children, recently issued a statement listing all the accomplishments of his ministry and noting “my family and I have been facing difficult trials and persecution.” Many of his parishioners have publicly expressed support for their “persecuted” pastor.

Another pastor, Paul Washer, delivered a message claiming that Christians “have a wrong idea of martyrdom” because we believe we will be persecuted for our “sincere faith in Jesus Christ. “ Although our faith is the “real reason” for our persecution, Washer contends the government will publicly claim the persecution is because we are “enemies of the state” or even “child molesters.”

Aguilar and Washer are not alone. In the 26 years I have worked in the field of child protection, I have routinely encountered accused clergy and their flocks who claim “persecution” as the real reason they are facing an allegation of sexual abuse. This is done even when the evidence is strong and the pastor has confessed to sexually abusing a child. For example, Pastor Jack Schaap pled guilty to transporting a minor for the purpose of sexually abusing the girl, but many of Schaap’s parishioners nonetheless wrote the judge pleading for mercy and accepting Schaap’s distorted logic justifying or at least excusing his criminal conduct.

The claim that the church is being persecuted whenever child molesters, or those who harbor them, are brought to justice contradicts scripture and common sense. It is true that Christ said persecution of the church will include instances in which “people falsely say all of kinds of evil against you because of me” (Matthew 5:11-12). In this same passage, though, Christ made it clear he was speaking of “false” claims of evil. In other words, a credible, truthful claim of child sexual abuse is not a persecution of the church.

Although there have been instances of false accusations, studies repeatedly find that false allegations of child sexual abuse are extremely rare. In fact, there is some evidence that allegations of sexual abuse within the church may be particularly credible. This is because studies find that most sex offenders are religious and that our country’s most egregious sex offenders are often active in churches. Ironically, the sex offenders themselves tell researchers the reason they like to go to church is because if they mouth the right words, and perform a mountain of good deeds, the church will almost certainly support them—including accepting their claim they are simply being persecuted for their faith.

Martin Luther said the “church is not to be assessed by the high or spiritual vocations in it, but by the people who truly believe.” Luther contended there would “always be such a people on the earth, even though it may be but two or three, or only children.”

When viewed as a company of believers, it is clear there is a widespread persecution of the church—though not the type of persecution Aguilar and Washer speak of. Instead of a false persecution of alleged sex offenders, there is a true persecution of the abused children sitting in our pews. This persecution of believing children takes place in at least two ways.

First, sex offenders operating in our churches routinely use religious or spiritual themes in the sexual abuse of children. Jack Schaap, for example, told his victim that the sexual abuse was “exactly what Christ desires for us” and said Jesus wanted Schaap and his victim to become “eternal lovers.” The preaching of this sort of twisted, false doctrine to justify sexual abuse is arguably the penultimate persecution of children.

Second, believing children face persecution in the aftermath of a disclosure of sexual abuse. This happens when a church discounts the child’s allegations, blames the child for the abuse, urges immediate forgiveness, and shields the child molester from any meaningful consequences. Under these circumstances, the child is often ostracized from the faith community and the offender is emboldened to strike again.

Sexual abuse in the name of God, and the church’s common, perhaps routine failure to support the victim often has devastating consequences on the child’s faith. Christian psychologist Diane Langberg writes:

The sexual violation of a child can have many spiritual effects. A distorted image of God coupled with a distorted image of the self creates several barriers to experiencing God's love and grace. When children are betrayed by those who were supposed to protect and love them, they find it very difficult to grasp that God loves them ... God is often perceived to be punitive, an impossible taskmaster, capricious, impotent, indifferent, or dead.

Jesus told us not to persecute children in this way. Indeed, Jesus had grave warnings for anyone who hurts children—telling his disciples that the angels of children have direct access to his Father and that being tossed in a sea with a millstone around their neck would be a better choice than to harm a child (Matthew 18:6, 10).

This is the persecution of the church, a persecution that values clerical charm more than children that Jesus unequivocally condemns. It is this true persecution pastors and parishioners alike should exert every effort in ending. Let that reformation begin with each of us.

Victor Vieth is a member of the GRACE board of directors.  He is a former child abuse prosecutor and a nationally recognized expert on child abuse.  

Depreciating Humility: The importance of being the best at being right

Shortly after I posted, Where are the Voices?  The Continued Culture of Silence and Protection in American Evangelicalism, I received an email from a pastor of a church in College Station, Texas.  Thad Norvell's email moved me in a profound way as he expressed deep concern about the manner and spirit some evangelicals have approached recent issues relating to claims of child sexual abuse and institutional "cover up".  In short, I think Thad hit the nail on its head.  I invited Thad to share his thoughts in greater depth in this guest blog post.  Thad, thank you for being another voice. - Boz Tchividjian

_____________________________________________________________________________________

I haven’t slept well in a week. I just cannot shake some of the recent developments in the unfolding saga of apparent abuse and, by many accounts, systematic breach of pastoral trust within Sovereign Grace Ministries. So in my bleary-eyed, restless state, I have two confessions:

I am a bit annoyed that this story is keeping me up at night.

I am just as annoyed that this story isn’t keeping more of us up at night.

See I have no real affiliation with anyone involved — not the victims, not SGM, not C.J. Mahaney, and not Together for the Gospel or most of what is commonly referred to as the neo-reformed movement. While I have many friends who travel in those circles and we share some common roots, I’m far enough removed that I should be able to grieve over the harm done and move on. To be frank about it, I honestly don’t have time to be preoccupied with the drama of other churches. I am a pastor among a beautiful, healthy, but predictably flawed community of believers in Texas, and we have plenty of drama all our own, thank you very much.

Still, I can’t move past this one, and not only because of the horrendous nature of the sexual abuse allegations. I’m stuck because this is not just a story about one church or one pastor or one ministry. This is a story about what could become of any church and any pastor and any ministry. More to my point (and insomnia), it is a story about what is becoming of many churches and many pastors and many ministries.

Let me be clear, the allegations of sexual abuse in this story are horrifying, and stories like these are more personal to me because my wife was abused as both a child and a teenager. By God's mercy she lives in remarkable freedom from the weight of those experiences, and she graciously and gracefully tends to others who are hurting and broken in those (and many other) ways. But for her and any survivor of abuse, the journey toward freedom is long and indescribably grueling. For those of us who know that road, whether from our own pain or from sharing in the suffering of those we love, stories like these still cause us to ache in a different way. There is little that simultaneously grieves and angers me more than abuse, oppression, and the perpetuation of shame by those claiming to be the Body of Christ.

But that’s not what’s keeping me up at night — at least it’s not the whole of it.

As soul-churning as the stories of abuse are, and though I have every reason to be consumed by them, there is another scratch on the record of my heart and mind that won’t let me move on, and the line that keeps playing over and over is this:

It is better to be of a lowly spirit with the poor [oppressed] than to divide the spoil with the proud.

This is the killing-me-softly, lesser known sentence following one of those verses from Proverbs we’ve paraphrased and misused for so long it no longer has much bite for us (“pride cometh before a fall”). It is a sentence that haunts me.

That began the night that Al Mohler, Mark Dever, and Ligon Duncan released their statement regarding C.J. Mahaney and the partial dismissal of the civil suit against him and SGM (of which he is a named defendant). Just before I went to bed, I read their words on the Together for the Gospel Facebook page, along with dozens of comments that were removed from public view a few hours later (a bizarre, suspicion-arousing move given that almost all of them were simply civil expressions of disappointment from folks within the camp).

I read. I reread hoping I had missed something crucial. I hadn’t. And then Proverbs 16:19 began its relentless march...

It is better to be of a lowly spirit with the poor [oppressed] than to divide the spoil with the proud.

The chasm between these words and the statements released by both Together for the Gospel and The Gospel Coalition is immense. Boz Tchividjian’s important response to the two statements rightly diagnoses much of that gap, and I applaud his courage. Like him, I believe both statements reflect either naiveté or overt blindness to the need for a deeper humility on the part of Mahaney and his friends, even if only a fraction of the accusations are true — even if only what already has been acknowledged is true.

I fear those public statements reflect the private thoughts of men who, whether by will or ignorance, are clustering around the spoils of the proud when their calling is to be of a lowly spirit with the poor and oppressed. Even if Mahaney is a victim of some false accusations, his rush back to the platform and the efforts of his friends to protect his place at the head table ought to prompt some deep, Gospel-driven questions about how insulated some of these men seem to be from the thousands of sincere, Gospel-loving followers of Jesus they lead, formally and informally.

While the temptations to love being right, to yield to pride, and to tolerate or even celebrate arrogance are always lurking for the Church universal, I believe that they present some unique challenges among a group who assumes a vanguard identity (in this case the preservation and resuscitation of the true Gospel). In other words, in a movement where correcting error is a central task, these temptations loom large. And, when they are indulged, they easily can be mistaken for virtue and become almost self-sustaining.

The cycle goes like this: The urgency of the cause reinforces the importance of being right, which further fuels the notion that the most important people in the cause are those most skilled at being right in front of the most people. And if that is true, then those people must be protected and kept on stage at almost any cost.  Question them without an air-tight case of disqualifying sin, and you risk being sacrificed for the greater cause.

It’s all very logical. And it’s very common. It just isn’t biblical.

I don’t intend to imply that this is a significant struggle for all (or even most) churches who would place themselves somewhere in this particular camp, but I believe it is sufficiently prevalent, chronic, and serious to demand a wider conversation. While the details of this case and its context matter, again, this is not an anomaly of the neo-reformed movement. Other local churches may be free of the sexual abuse stories apparently so prevalent in SGM's history (though these too are painfully widespread), but there are many, including some of our flagship evangelical churches led by beloved, well-known personalities, who are following very similar plot lines. The church’s identity becomes deeply entangled with the names and teachings of popular Christian leaders who members of the church will never truly know (and therefore whose authority is rooted as much in personality and skill as personal character). Narrow, extra-orthodox notions of what one must believe and do to be "right" crop up. Pastors, elders, or deacons sit at the head of a relatively impermeable and inaccessible group of leaders, and, often with success and mission as justifications, become either removed or authoritarian (or, far too regularly, both).

When shepherds refuse or fail to live humbly among the people - when leaders are consumed by agendas (however noble those agendas may be) other than caring for the community of God’s people “like a nursing mother taking care of her own children” (1 Thes. 2:7) - when pastors are inaccessible, unapproachable, or just too busy to listen to and know their people...these are not secondary ecclesial breakdowns. They are an abandonment of primary pastoral calling that signals a stunning disconnect from the evangelical ethos Jesus declared (Matt. 22, Jn. 13) and prayed into being (Jn. 17) and that John affirmed as central to Gospel identity (1 Jn. 3).

Our zeal and skill for expanding the doctrine of the Gospel simply cannot obscure or replace our humble submission to life in the crucible of the Gospel’s work — the community that the Gospel creates where the greatest become least and the last become first. (And if that does not mean that the vulnerable, the weak, and the exasperating folks in our churches get at least as much attention from us as our successful friends and heroes, I do not know what it means.)

The Church is not first and foremost an audience for our sermons and our books; it is the people of God among whom we are our real selves. If we live above or apart from that Church in any way, our doctrines and words about the Gospel become theory and conjecture, not a testimony to a truth we know by experience. As pastors, teachers, leaders, and authors in the Church, for the sake of our churches and for the sake of our own souls, we ought to weigh carefully the words of the Lord delivered through Obadiah:

The pride of your heart has deceived you,
   you who live in the clefts of the rock,
   in your lofty dwelling,
who say in your heart,
   “Who will bring me down to the ground?”
Though you soar aloft like the eagle,
   though your nest is set among the stars,
   from there I will bring you down,
declares the Lord.

If those words expose us to be drifting from the simple and clear message of Jesus, the time for coming clean — that time was yesterday. Yet by God’s mercy we have been given another day, so may we heed the prophetic call:

Repent, for the Kingdom of God, which belongs to children and the lowly of spirit who dwell among children, the poor, and the oppressed — that Kingdom is at hand.

 

Thad Norvell is a pastor at Community Church in College Station, Texas.  When Thad is not doing pastor stuff, you can read some of his life's musings at Home Anywhere.

 

Where Are The Voices? The Continued Culture of Silence and Protection in American Evangelicalism

This past week, I have fluctuated between anger and tears as I read about Christian leaders who proclaim the Gospel with their voice, but remain silent and/or defensive about the horrors of child sexual abuse within the Church.  These leaders have once again, and perhaps unwittingly, demonstrated the art of marginalizing individual souls for the sake of reputation and friendships.

Earlier this week, I read the second amended complaint filed by eleven plaintiffs against SGM, two churches, and a number of individuals, including a man named CJ Mahaney.  I won’t go into the factual details of this complaint here (if interested, you can read it here), but it is one of the most disturbing accounts of child sexual abuse and institutional “cover up” I have read in my almost 20 years of addressing this issue.  Besides the horrific accounts of child victimization (some of which allegedly occurred on church property), what struck me most about these allegations is the systematic efforts by these churches to discourage and sometimes prevent the families of children who had been victimized by church officials from speaking out and reporting to law enforcement.  Another aspect that struck me as I read (and re-read) through this complaint were the myriad of common threads related to the efforts made by these SGM churches to silence these survivors.  As a former prosecutor, much credibility is given to disclosures made by more than one person that have distinct and unique similarities…these did.

I think it is fair to mention at this point that besides being one of the founders of SGM, CJ Mahaney was the senior pastor at one of these two churches during the period of this horrific abuse.  CJ Mahaney is a founding member of an organization called “Together for the Gospel” (T4G) and close friends with the other founding members who are evangelical leaders.  Let me be very clear, I have never met CJ Mahaney and have not at all followed the internal “issues” that have been written about concerning SGM.  I have absolutely no personal animus against Mr. Mahaney or anyone else related to SGM.  I am simply expressing grave concerns regarding the manner in which some in the Christian community have handled this very dark matter.

After reading this complaint and doing a little bit of additional research, I searched online hoping to find statements by Christian “leaders” speaking out about this case or at the very least expressing grave concerns regarding the very disturbing facts alleged in the lawsuit.  I was never looking for, or wanting, anyone to throw CJ Mahaney under the proverbial bus.  I was simply hoping to hear statements that expressed horrors about child sexual abuse and with institutions that are not transparent about such offenses.  Initially, all I found was silence from these leaders.

What I did find was a lot of statements by Christians claiming that all of these individuals were innocent until “proven guilty by a jury”.   Sadly, that is not the only time I have heard such a response from the Christian community when allegations of child sexual victimization are brought forward.  What is ironic, or better yet, down right disturbing is that these same individuals don’t approach any other sinful crime in such a distorted manner.  For example, so many Christians will cry about against abortion doctors who have been alleged to have killed babies outside of the womb (horrific), but when a person alleges child sexual abuse by someone in the Church, these same Christians cry out that a person is innocent until proven guilty by a court of law? Of course a person or institution can only be held legally responsible under civil law when that has been determined by a court of law.  I don’t think anyone has suggested otherwise.  However, does this mean that a jury is required in order to determine the existence of evil?  Seriously?  Think about the ramifications of such a distorted viewpoint.  Does that mean that since a jury acquitted OJ Simpson of murder, he is factually innocent?  Is that what we heard from the Christian community at that time?  How about a person who commits first degree murder but the crime is not discovered until after the expiration of the statute of limitations and thus case is subsequently dismissed by the court. Does this mean they are factually innocent? In fact, most Christians who advocate such a viewpoint don’t apply it in any other areas of sin.  Adultery? Gossip?  Are you beginning to see the fallacies of this perspective?  Such an approach to sin is incredibly damaging to so many precious individuals who were sexually victimized for years and manipulated by perpetrators and church leaders into remaining silent.   It tells them that their voice and experience doesn’t matter nearly as much as the voice of a judge or jury.  It tells them that the reputation of the institution is more important than the beauty of their soul.

The silence from Evangelical "leaders" regarding the issue of child sexual abuse within the Church was deafening and spoke volumes.  Why no statements about the horrors of child sexual abuse and the apparent horrors of the abuse that occurred in these two churches? Why no statements from Evangelical leaders that express grave concern that there is even a possibility that these church leaders instructed victims and their families to embrace the horrors of silence?  We are now told by some that the silence was because of pending litigation.  Really? Since when have Christians allowed pending civil litigation to silence them over sin?  How does pending litigation prevent Christians or anyone else for that matter, from making a generic statement denouncing child sexual abuse or those who cover it up?

And then these leaders spoke…(link)…which is what finally prompted me to write this response.

On May 23rd, a joint statement by the founders of Together for the Gospel was released. Some leaders of the Gospel Coalition released a similar statement this morning.  Without addressing both statements in detail, let me make four quick observations:

  1. Neither statement makes mention that the heart of this lawsuit is about a systematic church effort to discourage and eventually prevent the families of children who were allegedly (and repeatedly) sexually victimized by church officials from speaking out and reporting to law enforcement. A statement that fails to mention that this lawsuit is less about the abuse and more about an institution that took steps to protect itself and its reputation over the victimized souls and bodies of little ones. Omitting such fundamental facts from these statements speaks volumes about the inability of the authors to grasp the eternal significance about which they write.
  2. Neither statement mentions that CJ Mahaney was actually the Senior Pastor at one of these churches where all of this horrific abuse allegedly occurred AND where these families were discouraged from bringing this matter to the God ordained civil authorities? Including this would simply state a known fact without implicating Mr. Mahaney in any wrongdoing.  Omitting such a fundamentally important fact from this statement is extremely disturbing to me and very disheartening to so many others.
  3. The statement by T4G fails to mention that this lawsuit was dismissed for one reason and one reason only...expiration of the statute of limitation. Isn't it tragic that the reason why this suit was dismissed - taking too long to file - was the very objective of these church leaders allegedly had when they discouraged these individuals and families from stepping forward.
  4. The statement by the members of the Gospel Coalition says the following as it relates to the statute of limitations and the dismissal of the case:
    So the entire legal strategy was dependent on a conspiracy theory that was more hearsay than anything like reasonable demonstration of culpability. As to the specific matter of C. J. participating in some massive cover-up, the legal evidence was so paltry (more like non-existent) that the judge did not think a trial was even warranted.Does this sound like a statement that even appears to make an effort to be objective?

Many of these men have not hesitated to write (or tweet) on the Penn State horrors, homosexuals in the Boy Scouts, and universal healthcare, but have been conspicuously quiet on this issue. And when they finally speak, what is omitted speaks more than what is said.

Where are the voices? Where are the voices from the Christian community?  Where are the voices from other Christian and institutional leaders who should be stepping forward to unequivocally denounce such horrid abuse and anyone who encourages silence? Where are the voices from pro-life Christians? Where are the voices from pro-family Christians? Where are the voices?

The response of the Christian community about the horrors being perpetrated upon children by those who profess Jesus is perhaps the greatest horror of it all.  What these men and so many others don't realize is that their silence and failed responses are pushing a large group of precious souls farther and farther from our glorious and gracious God and his church.

On the T4G it states, “T4G is convinced that the gospel of Jesus Christ has been misrepresented and marginalized in many churches and among those who proclaim the name of Christ.”  I couldn’t agree more.    The Gospel is all about a God who is approachable to the hurting.  He is approachable because He listens to the cries of hurting people and empathizes with their deepest pains.  The Gospel is about those of us in our darkest hours discovering an indescribably loving God who relentlessly pursues us, listens to us, empathizes with us, weeps with us, cares for us, and even gave Himself for us so that we can enjoy Him forever.

Ultimately, the Gospel is about a God who didn’t remain silent in the face of sin, but took self-sacrificial action in order to openly confront sin and redeem those He loves for His ultimate glory.   A Gospel-centered response to child sexual abuse begins with our understanding that silence is not an option.  We must be willing to openly confront abuse and its surrounding silence and give of ourselves so that those impacted can experience the healing and transformative power of Jesus.  This is a powerful framework for how the Church must willingly struggle alongside of survivors, even to the point of sacrifice.  However, this is not limited to just abuse survivors.  In fact, oftentimes it is the institutions that are in greatest need for healing and transformation.   It is only when Christian institutions and their leaders truly grasp the beautiful and powerful truth that God did his most powerful work when His son was vulnerable and transparent (naked on a cross) that the Holy Spirit will be able to breath new life into their core.  If we are unwilling to sacrifice our agendas, our finances, or even our reputation, on behalf of these precious souls, then we have failed to grasp the powerful countercultural reality of the Gospel.

May we all seek God’s daily wisdom and strength not to misrepresent the Gospel of Jesus Christ and marginalize the hurting children of the High King whose lives and souls are more than precious in His sight.