For years it was happening to THEM. THEY were in the spotlight, not US. But things change… and it is about time.
For years the Catholic Church has taken a lot of hits for cases of priests taking sexual advantage of parishioners… especially (but not exclusively) young ones. I must be honest that I have heard some from the Evangelical tradition revel in these stories. Multiple times I have given the warning about this sort of “schadenfreude”:
“Be careful about embracing this attitude. We know that we have problems as well. Right now the cameras and microphones are all pointed at the Catholic Church, but one day they will swing around and point at us. We should be found doing a better job than they.”
But we haven’t done a better job. We still tend follow the age-old practice:
- We don’t hold leaders accountable. “Aren’t they Men of God?”
- When leaders sin, we cover it up. “We aren’t supposed to bring our hand against ‘God’s annointed,’ right?”
- When cover up is impossible, go to witchhunt mode to identify and punish a scapegoat. In so doing, the system and overall leadership are shielded from responsibility and need for change.
And then the situation repeats. It reminds me of a cartoon (I really wish I could remember the context) where a bad and expected thing happens to someone being careless, followed by a panel showing that same person expressing relief, “I’m sure glad that will never happen again!” while making no changes to his behavior.
I actually think it is this pattern that makes the church look schizophrenic at times. They treat sinners as saints at times and then treat them as demons at other times. It is hard to effectively create wise and rehabilitative Christian discipline when we keep yielding to the desire to either cover-up or witchhunt.
Eventually, the media comes in and starts digging around. In the US, some digging into the sexual abuse in the Southern Baptists (my denomination) and in a number of missions organizations have come to light.
There has been positive signs of response in recent years as some leaders have owned up. Still, there seems to be a couple of responses that are still quite troubling:
- Church members still often yield to the temptation to sympathize with those in power over the powerless. (Since this happens in politics as well, I have to assume this is a sociological malady, rather than one merely linked to churches. In High School, there appears to be a “natural” temptation to blame the one who “rats out” the bully, rather than blame the bully in the first place.)
- Church members (and political folk) tend to blame the media for unfavorable portrayals of their church or political party.
On this latter point, media is blamed as portraying “fake news” even though commonly it is not fake— they simply don’t like the spin. Sadly, these Christians have no issue with “spin.” In fact, many love spin as long as the news spins their own way. When it doesn’t spin their way, they blame the media as opposing God’s work— demonizing the institution or at least the specific broadcaster.
But here is a different thought. <Clearing my throat for a minute.>
What if news media who criticize abuse and other sinful behavior in the church are actually serving God?
This should hardly shock anyone. After all, many Christians, and many Christian leaders will say that “God is my judge,” meaning that they do not feel that they are answerable to anyone else. But if God is judge, what methods might God use to execute judgment? If the church does not embrace its role to critique and hold people accountable, then God must look outside of the church to do that.
This brings up a second, perhaps more troubling, thought.
What if “friendly” news media, including so-called “Christian News” is then on the side of ‘darkness’?
After all, if God is looking to hold the church accountable, then institutions that cover up the failings of the church, pandering to the messages that the church members want to hear while failing to carry out its God-given role to hold the church accountable, are simply not on God’s side.
If this is the case, and it seems pretty evident to me at least that this is exactly what is happening, are we willing to say, “Thank God for news media who shine a light on our failings and hold us accountable!”?
A recent article by Craig Thompson points out the situation with Evangelical missions. Click on the title if you wish to read it: