Are We Ruining the Church’s Image by Speaking Out?

There was a comment on my Church Background page to which I started to make a brief response.  But it turned rather long, so I decided to make it a separate blog post.  I want to be clear that I appreciate the commenter’s viewpoint!  However, while I understand and appreciate it, I have some other concerns as well.

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…It saddens me to see such abuse and saddens me even more that we think by announcing each incident to the world only allows that tainted vision of the church as a whole grow. People read these stories and don’t see individuals who are abusing, they see the church as a whole as a evil, abusive, malicious place. I think it is important to put emphasis that these individuals are acting on their own accord. But this is a blog and blogs are not even sided battlegrounds…

First of all, the blog sites I have seen, as well as my own, only re-post public information, such as news reports. I feel there is value in compiling these articles in centralized locations because most Christians tend to think incidents of clergy sexual abuse (or other abuse in church) are isolated, extremely unusual events. My audience is hopefully largely Christians and there is no “Christian” venue where this information can be disseminated where only Christians will see it.

The problem is that these incidents of abuse in churches are not rare. In posting this information on my blog, my purpose is not to bring individuals to justice. If it’s on my website, that process is probably already in action. My purpose is to shine a light on the fact these are not rare incidents and on the fact that church leadership has an overall pattern of not taking the problem seriously. I believe the problem of abuse in all its forms in church (I think the problem of all forms of Christian abuse is ultimately one interconnected issue) is epidemic and unfortunately, if we don’t announce it, the church continues to sweep abuse in the church under the carpet. I know this is true because I have personally seen it happen many times, consistently and persistently, across denominational lines, for nearly 30 years. I don’t know why I’ve been in a place to see it for myself repeatedly, but I don’t think it has been accidental, from God’s perspective, and I think I have a responsibility since I have seen it first-hand.

There is no even-sided battleground. Inside the church it is definitely not even-sided. Taking it public is the only possible chance of balancing the scales. If the world sees the church as evil, abusive and malicious as a result of public exposure that is not the fault of the individuals who are speaking out against clergy abuse. It is the direct result of church leadership that has refused to fulfill it’s Biblical responsibility for judgment within the church and submission to civil authorities. The problem isn’t new – there has been ample opportunity for church leadership to do the right thing long before now.

If the church would return to its original intended purpose I believe there would be respect from most people, including non-Christians. But unless and until those within the church will stand up and demand the church self-regulate, the church will continue on its self-destructive path. When the world criticizes the church, the church claims it is “persecution.” It is the responsibility of those within the church to stand up and speak out.

I understand that abusive individuals should be personally held accountable. However, there is complicity by the church as an organization because authorities within the church think it is necessary to protect “God’s reputation” by keeping individual offenders from the consequences of their actions. Many people have tried to go to these church authorities, myself included, to plead for justice. Not only have we been ignored, we have been attacked. The only way left to address the situation is to take it public. This is the unfortunate consequence of the actions taken, and not taken, by the church as an organization.

One of the tragedies of this situation – and again, this is something for which I lay the blame on the church as an organization – is that innocent people are also sometimes accused. In my personal experience, I’ve seen that happen once – as opposed to many just accusations swept under the carpet. For that one who is unjustly accused, it is a horrific and earth-shattering event; life changing. This injustice is, in fact, the biggest excuse I hear clergy use for discounting accusations of abuse, whether against clergy or church members.

But how many just accusations are ignored for the sake of the few unjust accusations that are avoided? What about all those shattered lives? That doesn’t make the pain of the one unjustly accused any less painful. But fear of unjust accusation cannot stop us from daring to investigate and press charges any time an accusation is made. God can be trusted to use the experience for His purposed in the life of one unjustly accused. And we have been given a mandate by God to stand up for the afflicted.

If the church as an organization will not stand up for the afflicted within its own doors it is the responsibility of all of us to do so as individuals. That’s what this blog is about. One of the things I struggle with personally is that I don’t wish the church as an organization ill. I wish I could fix it – but I have no authority there.

I know so many people who have left the church and Christianity, and turned their backs on God, because of this issue. Some of these people have been my close friends, one is my own family, my own children have been deeply scarred. It is wrong, wrong, wrong to stand by and watch people being hurt, even destroyed, because the church as an organization has been grossly negligent.

Bottomline, I have to stand up for those individuals. The organization of the church and the religion of Christianity don’t need my protection, even though I care.

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3 Responses

  1. Danni, excellent post and well stated. You have come to be one of the most respected bloggers on my RSS feed. Thank you for all you do to give victims a voice.

  2. BTW, I need to think more on all you said. But I am definitely going to say more.

  3. Amen, Danni! Very, very well said.

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