In the Aftermath: When Clergy Falls, Part III

How much does it matter that those who bear the name of Christ stand up and do whatever it takes to address the issue of abuse in the church?

If you want to see a very vivid example of the results of just one incidence of clergy sex abuse, please read the comments of “disbelief” to the post Derek Gillett Case.

The words of this father are nearly identical to those being spoken by victims and their family in the wake of abuse in the church everywhere. There are new incidents of clergy sex abuse being revealed almost every day. Most of these accusations are proven to be true, and most of the abusers have assaulted more than one or two victims.

And in most of these cases, the victims and/or their families voice the same rejection of God that is expressed by this father. People make the very logical leap to the conclusion that since a man who claimed to speak for God could do these unspeakable things, God Himself must not mind much. Who wants that kind of God?

But it is not God who is at fault. For everyone who follows God, this should bring us all to our knees in appalled horror. This issue is affecting thousands of people in our country every year. Do we care that God’s name is being dragged through the mud? Whose responsibility is it to stand up for truth and righteousness? If we do not, we are complicit.

It is one thing if we are not aware of the problem. Most believers are not aware of the significance of abuse in the church until it happens close to them. But what we do next, or do not do next, is what matters most. With awareness comes responsibility.

There are some things that the church must do to address this issue.

  1. Every church needs to establish and strictly enforce policies to protect church members from abuse and protect clergy from false accusations. This must include windows in all classroom doors, a strict policy that church staff will never be alone with a child or an adult of the opposite sex (might be an idea to make that anyone, period), and policies that every class includes at least 3-4 adults – there have to be 2 to take children to the bathroom while 2 remain in the class.
  2. Churches need to take the time, trouble and expense for complete background checks for staff.
  3. Churches need to establish a policy for how they will address accusations against clergy. This must include relief of all duties while an accusation is investigated. It also must include permanent removal from church leadership if an accusation is determined to be true. Church leaders must be blameless and a criminal record isn’t blameless.
  4. Denominational leadership needs to keep records of, and publish, names of clergy who have been convicted of abuse. Denominations also need to establish clear and terminal consequences for a church which deliberately choose to hire a convicted abuser.
  5. Church staff needs to have mandatory education about the issue of abuse, probably on a regular basis. Clergy also needs to accept its limitations regarding qualification to judge issues of abuse. Clergy are not trained to deal with abuse. At best, they might get a passing lecture about the issue. So clergy need to make connections with trusted professional who do know how to deal with abuse and refer church members to these professionals, even financing professional counseling if necessary.
  6. Church staff need to accept the responsibility for reporting any allegation of abuse to the civil authorities. Privilege does not extend that far.

I also believe it is not out of order for all of us to go to our faces before God about this issue, consistently and persistently. The church needs to acknowledge that we have a very serious problem. This is not the church as God intended it. Where have we gone so wrong? We all need to own responsibility for the state of the church.

God has answers, but if we can be so blind as to not see the state of the church heading this way, we are missing some very serious root causes. Only God can reveal the truth and the only way we will be able to see those answers is if we will dedicate ourselves to seek Him on our faces for however long it takes.

How serious do you see this situation to be? It is not something rare. It is distressingly common. Not only is it happening with alarming frequency, the church as a whole isn’t talking about the problem. THAT is a problem. Why are we turning a blind eye to a systemic problem? It is easier to take a deep breath and move on than to accept that we’ve got big problems that will destroy the church if we persist in denial.