By Danni Moss
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What about that wife and those children whose husband/father is accused? Sometimes guilt is obvious. Sometimes the lines are blurred. Guilt or innocence may not be clear. Or maybe someone claims to be a “victim” while the accused says they were a willing party. There are two separate courses here.
First, if guilt or innocence is unclear, it is reasonable for friends and family to stand by their own. By innocence, however, I mean when there is a question whether sexual involvement or abuse of any kind occurred. When a person in a position of authority is inappropriately involved with someone in the church in any way, there is only guilt. Even a single slip of judgement entirely eliminates someone from qualification for church leadership. And that person needs to go away from the church where it happened for discipline and restoration. This cannot happen validly in the church where the incident occurred.
Anytime there is a confession or clear evidence that any inappropriate involvement has occurred there is only guilt. It doesn’t matter a whole lot whether that guilt is a sin of adultery with a willing party or a sin of adultery with an unwilling party, complicated by assault and, perhaps, pedophilia, etc. It is still guilt. I have seen that people want to qualify “levels” of guilt. It is all equally wrong. Yes, it is. The reason it is all equally wrong is because the basic wrong in both cases is 1) adultery has been committed and a marital covenant has been violated, and 2) the position of church authority has been violated, resulting in broken trust against the entire body of believers and an insult to the name and reputation of God. Different actions carry different legal consequences. But in the eyes of God it is all equally wrong.
Of equal concern to me is the fact that people seem to buy into justifications made by the guilty party. It doesn’t matter if the other person was a willing participant, a person in a position of church leadership or even just family leadership as a husband, bears the ultimate responsibility. What did Joseph do when accosted by Potiphar’s wife? Did he say, “Well, she threw herself at me. I know I shouldn’t have, but I just couldn’t help myself. She’s such a tramp!”
If you don’t want to get burned, don’t play with fire. And don’t play with matches. And if you really want to be sure you don’t get burned, make sure there aren’t any matches in the building. In other words, every pastor knows (Pastoring 101, here) to never be alone with a woman or child. It doesn’t matter if that pastor would never do anything wrong. Accusations are made possible by just the opportunity.
We do the guilty no favors by letting them excuse or diminish their responsibility by claiming it was a slip in judgement they will never do again. If they did it, there’s a very serious problem that needs very serious consequences and in-depth counsel for reparation to be possible. We make matters worse by quickly extending “grace” and “forgiveness” (topic for another post, I think). While, in the spirit of God’s grace, or at least our human emotions in the name of grace, we want to quickly restore someone who appears repentant, there are consequences which cannot be circumvented because we “feel” like it. Even while God forgives, He does not release us from the consequences of our actions.
Consequences of any sexual misconduct by a person in authority in a church must include 1) acceptance of any legal judgment, 2) removal from church leadership, probably permanently because of the abuse of the role rather than because of the particular wrong done, 3) removal from the church where the actions took place because that church needs to focus on healing the victims, including it’s corporate body, 4) personal professional counseling for an extended period of time, and 4) professional marital counseling for an extended period of time.
To accept anything less is to cheapen God’s grace. God’s grace is not extended indiscriminately. He freely extends His grace in the face of genuine repentance — which inherently includes acceptance of responsibility and complete life change. It is not our right as the church to do anything less than God Himself does.