Sexual Abuse and Cover-Ups

    Foreword: This article is intended to be from the perspective of legitimate sexual abuse. It goes without saying that accusations should not be taken lightly, but there should also be evidence of the claim presented before any legal action is taken. For in a world where false accusations can ruin people's entire lives it is important that every word is established upon the evidence of any claim. With that being said, let's jump in: 

     This is a topic I have been passionate about for a long time and one that I feel it is my moral obligation to address. As a warning, i'm going to be much more candid in this post. More so than I normally am. Usually I attempt to handle all my topics with a certain level of tact and try to keep it as a calm discussion, but with the gross mishandling of so many issues like this in churches I believe I must be forward in my approach. 

      In my time in ministry, I have personally witnessed the damage that such an issue can cause to a church, and what happens when the administration of a church fails to handle it. I have heard of too many churches that sweep such issues under the rug, cover it up, or even worse, ignore that it's even happening in the first place. For far too long many churches have ignored the severity of this issue and the dangers that it can cause. I have seen families attempt to brush it off in their home as "just another sin" and churches constantly pushing the whole "forgive and forget" mantra. Now, I'm not saying that forgiveness is not important, but to ignore it under this guise is greatly deceiving yourself and dangerous to everyone around you. 

What Does the Bible Say? 

     I don't think it's any surprise that God wants the church to stand on that which is morally pure, to protect one another, and to discourage any sexual immorality. What makes this topic so difficult is how secretive abusers are for they are predatory in nature. Their entire goal is to get others to trust them, be likable, and then get their victims alone. They usually pick those who they have easy access to or those who seem introverted and will not object. The Bible has some very clear commands on the duties of the church in moral situations. First, we are to be the pillar of truth. So therefore we must stand on that which is morally sound and true. 

1 Timothy 3:15if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.

We are to protect the weak and give justice to those who can't protect themselves: *

Psalms 82:3-4 Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.

We are also told to not despise children, but to let lead them to Christ: *

Matthew 18:10“See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.
Matthew 19:14but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”

     Probably the most evident example of this is the story of the defiling of Dinah. Here are a few of the highlights: *

Genesis 34:1-2 Now Dinah the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to see the women of the land. And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, the prince of the land, saw her, he seized her and lay with her and humiliated her.
Genesis 34:7The sons of Jacob had come in from the field as soon as they heard of it, and the men were indignant and very angry, because he had done an outrageous thing in Israel by lying with Jacob's daughter, for such a thing must not be done. 

      After Shechem raped Dinah he desired her to be his wife. Jacob, her father, was angry and righteously so. Instead of Jacob going straight to war with these people he decided to protect his family in a way that seemed much more cunning. The sons of Jacob told Shechem and Hamor that before they can marry any of the Israelites that the men must first be circumcised. Shechem's people agreed to be circumcised so that the women of Israel could be their own. Read the following account: *

Genesis 34:25-26On the third day, when they were sore, two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah's brothers, took their swords and came against the city while it felt secure and killed all the males. They killed Hamor and his son Shechem with the sword and took Dinah out of Shechem's house and went away.
     The family brought justice to the weak and the vulnerable. They plundered their city and claimed everything for their own. Jacob, her own father, was hesitant about this action because he was afraid of the numbers of the Canaanites and Perizzites. When he objected to Simeon and Levi's actions they responded with this: *
Genesis 34:31“Should he treat our sister like a prostitute?”

    That's where the story ends oddly enough. Seemingly to indicate their message to their father resonated truthfully. Now, this isn't a command to bring mortal retribution to all abusers and their families, but we see how seriously this issue was handled in ancient Israel. God's own people dealt with sexual abuse harshly. In fact, just to seduce a woman consensually had its own set of repercussions let alone rape. 

   The point is, God does not condone such actions and He desires us, His church, His Bride, the Body of Christ to stand up and defend those who cannot defend themselves. To protect the victims of abuse, to treat is with severity and importance. It was never to be neglected. The church should be a place that protects the unprotected, loves the unloved, and vehemently fights for the safety of those around them. It ought to be a beacon of truth to the world. 

    What's sad, is that the opposite has happened. Many look at the church as a safe haven for such predators and that the church welcomes them. My associate pastor has worked in law enforcement for years and he told me that many legal personnel view the church with the eyes of scrutiny due to the many abusers they have had to arrest within such organizations. 

     This is a massive failing on the church's part. Granted, things will happen that the administration can't always control and things will happen in secret that many won't know about, but what happens when those things are exposed? How should the church respond? Many churches will use 1 Corinthians 6 as an excuse to not press charges against these people and to "handle it within the church" but the issue is that this passage is dealing with 'trivial' cases (vs. 2) and primarily due to small civil disputes. This is not a trivial topic, this is a topic that Simeon and Levi went on a killing spree with. The Bible makes it very clear how we should respond. 

Romans 13:1-2Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.

     The government requires that we report such issues to them or else we could suffer repercussions. The church ought to be full of exemplary law abiding citizens. This particular topic is one that makes sense. The government wants to protect its citizens from abusers and separate them from mainstream society. The government is taking a moral stand here and the church ought to as well. We are to submit to the authorities unless they contradict God's Word. The governing authorities are a tool of God's. Notice what the Bible says a few verses after: 

Romans 13:4for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer.

     This should be a clear call to the church that covering these issues or dealing with them "internally" is in direct violation of scripture. If you are handling such issues internally and not bringing it forth to the government you are not only violating scripture, but you are confirming the negative testimony that world has with the church. Only proving their point that the church doesn't properly handle sexual abusers and instead covers them up for someone else to deal with or to protect their own reputation. 

Spreading the Cancer 

     When churches are negligent in dealing with abusers it only allows the tumor to grow. If you simply choose to excommunicate them you're just letting them be someone else's problem, and enabling the abuser to continue his/her behavior elsewhere. This means that each continual victim from here on out is not only because of the abuser's actions, but also because of the church's negligence.  The Bible stresses the importance of warning others of incoming danger, and if not, their blood is on your shoulders. God demands that we remain vigilant and that we warn others of incoming danger. This is not to humiliate the abuser, but to protect the potential victims. Do not enable abusers with silence. (This applies to all areas of abuse.)

Ezekiel 33:6But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, so that the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any one of them, that person is taken away in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at the watchman's hand.

     Although this is part of the Old Testament the morality of this rings true. We are told to protect the weak, to defend the innocent, to bring justice and truth, then it makes sense that when we fail to do those things we are like the watchmen in the tower who failed to signal the city of the incoming danger. We are practically opening the doors for abusers to walk into our fellow Christians' churches and homes to abuse their friends and families. I will never understand the why churches would choose simply to kick-out a church member for this abuse rather than bring this abuse to the law. 

     The issue is that many churches say "it's just another sin like all the others" and in many ways that statement is correct. It is another sin and all our sin is deplorable before God. This sin, however, is not like many of the others. This sin affects people on a very deep level. If done to children it can shape and change their view of sexuality for the rest of their lives. It can make people scared, paranoid, insecure, and have a constant feeling of being dirty. Many constantly feel as if they have been defiled by their abuser and have a hard time shaking this feeling for years. This is often a burden victims carry with them every single day. What's odd to me is that Paul discusses the seriousness of sexual sin in his epistles and very few leaders seem to want to acknowledge them. 

1 Corinthians 6:15Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never!

1 Corinthians 6:18Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.

     The point here is that most every other sin doesn't hurt people directly. A lie might hurt someone's feelings, stealing from someone may hurt their wallet, insulting someone could hurt an ego, being arrogant can hurt your reputation, but sexual sin? That deals with two separate parties. This is why murder, assault, and sexual immorality are often times looked upon as 'greater' sins because it causes much more hurt amongst a larger group of people. In the context here Paul is talking about consensual sex, let alone sexual assault or rape. Bottom line is that all other sins don't have nearly the amount of repercussions as those that involve physically hurting someone else. Sex was only intended for marriage, but no matter what, it should always be consensual.

Genesis 2:24Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

     When I was a youth pastor at a church I discovered an individual, through an extensive series of events, with a history of abusing under age girls. He had abused his sister at a younger age and had an explosive/violent temper. After college he stayed at his mom's house where his sister lived, only now, his sister was a teenager. She felt unsafe at home and expressed this to my wife and I through many tears. She told us she had no ill will toward her brother, but she felt unsafe (rightfully so.) She informed us it was a few years prior when he was caught, and he hadn't tried anything since. She then expressed that she didn't want to press charges on her brother, she simply wanted him out of the house so she can feel safe again. My wife and I both understood and respected her position. So, I went to the senior pastor at the church and told him everything I had discovered (and more) and that he should talk to her mother about getting him out of the house. Well, both mom and pastor chose to sympathize more with the abuser than the abused. So they started dragging their feet and giving one excuse after the other why this man couldn't leave home. Meanwhile, the girl was getting increasingly distressed. Through a series of events, and the help of a fellow youth pastor, we got the law involved. As promised, she never pressed charges, but he was evicted from the premises and she is now entirely safe. The pastor condemned me for my actions, publicly shamed me, and to this day (for sake of his own reputation) denies that this poor girl was ever molested. This caused a small church split and many to this day blame me for the division, but this all took place due to the negligence of the administration and their desire to ignore such a dangerous issue. If such issues are ignored the cancer will spread and eventually have an effect on the rest of the Body of Believers. 

     Let it be known, that such abuse and behavior should never be tolerated by the church. As a youth pastor, I was the man in the watch tower and I had a simple choice: to act or not to act. I did what was necessary to protect a young girl and I have no regrets regarding that situation. Some to this day treat me with disdain from that church because they bought into the lie and have been deceived, but that doesn't matter. Sexual abuse should be treated seriously and with action. Not with sitting on of hands and a passive attitude. 

Too many churches empathize more with the abuser than the abused.

     I do not share this story to make myself out like a selfless hero. I share this story because the entire situation was about protecting the victims and empathizing more with the victim than with the abuser. No person should be forced to live with their abuser. No person should have to relive those experiences every day. This was about removing the cancerous tumor and preventing it from festering. There is a real need in churches today to realize the damage that can take place when we insist on showing mercy to the abuser instead of showing justice to the weak and powerless.  

Remember the Victim

     Whenever the destructive power of sin steps into the church it ought to be the administrations goal to handle the issue and to restore those who have committed sin in the church. To bring them to repentance before God and have them turn away from their sin. Paul made it clear that "he who is overtaken in a fault, those who are spiritual, should restore such a one." (Gal. 6:1) but how do we handle this? Well, Paul makes very clear in his letter to the church of Galatia. They had many sexually immoral people in that church and Paul reminds them that sexually immoral people are everywhere and that's normal for the world. However, among the church it is unaccaptable and ought to be avoided. 

1 Corinthians 5:11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one
     He then continues along these lines and ends this thought with, "purge the evil person from among you." This makes very clear to me that it's not the church's job to attempt to restore the abusers as much as it's our responsibility to protect the victim. We are told to cast them out and not even to eat dinner with such a one, let alone to fellowship and welcome them into our fold under the guise of "restoring them." We are told to obey the authorities, and the authorities tell us to report such abuses. That much is simple. Then, once the abuser is out of reach of potential victims, start the restoring process. Protect the people, protect your church, and please protect the victims. 

Proverbs 17:15 He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the Lord.

     Since churches are often so concerned with restoring the abuser they tend to forget the damage that such a tragedy can have on a victim. To attend church in shame or embarrassment as their abuser sits in the crowd. How can a person worship in peace and feel safe in the house of God with their abuser in the very same room with nothing but a slap on the wrist?  It's disgusting. Worse yet, often when a scandal is exposed and charges are pressed the church in which such a scandal takes place is silent. They make no open statement condemning the action. So many churches have fallen prey to this "if we remain silent we may keep our reputation" idea, when actually it's just the opposite. Remember, the victims here. Publicly state that you are in full support of the victim and entirely condemn the abuser's actions and that such behavior is abhorrent. It is not difficult to call it what it is. Maybe if more churches did that we would hear more praise on how churches handle abuse rather than scrutiny. Maybe then churches would be looked upon as a safe haven where the weak and powerless are protected and supported, and that evil will be openly and profusely condemned. 

     No one wants to see someone's life ruined, but think about how such lack of action hurts the lives of those who have been affected by such an incident. No matter what happens in such a situation, someone's life is about to be turned upside down. Someone's life is about to get worse. Let's be sure it is the abuser's not the victim's.

Acts 7:24 And seeing one of them being wronged, he defended the oppressed man and avenged him by striking down the Egyptian.
Proverbs 21:15 When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers.
    Christians would do well to remember that sexual abuse is a compulsive habit that abusers fall into. The abusers often know that it is wrong, yet they continue to do it, almost like they cannot help themselves. Dr. Anna Salter said that sexually offending is a "highly compulsive and repetitive behavior, the tenacity of which is truly impressive." There is no known cure besides intense treatment programs where the individual has to go under an entire restructuring of their impulses, entitled beliefs, and go through a literal renewing of their mind. (Rom. 12:2) This is why it is important to first restrain the offender while protecting the victim. The abusers will continue to abuse if nothing is done causing many more future victims. Consider them before you consider anyone else. 

Forgive and Forget?

     Many people in churches state the phrase "forgive and forget." Oddly enough, you will not find such a phrase in the Bible. The Bible commands us to forgive, but never to forget. That would be impossible, for how can one wipe their own memories (without a neuralizer?) This is where we get the Biblical concept of forgiveness a bit mixed up. Forgiveness should mean, “I choose to forgive the offender for the sake of Christ and move on with my life.” This means not dwelling on the sin, the sinner, or holding bitterness. Being cautious doesn't mean you haven't forgiven. Remember, forgiveness is different than trust. A victim will never be able to trust a rapist again (nor should they) but they can move, they can adjust, and they certainly can be rid of the power the abuser holds over them physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. 

     We forgive so that we can move on and not live within our hatred, bitterness, and scorn from wrong doings done against us. Not so that we will be foolish enough to run back to destruction. We can forgive, but we will never be able to forget. Just because you can't forget though doesn't mean you should harbor bitterness. For bitterness is an acid that only eats the vessel in which it is held (Jms. 1:19-20, Eph. 4) Bitterness can easily consume us, so remember to forgive the attacker, love your enemies, pray for those who despitefully use you, but do not fall into the belief where you "pretend it didn't happen." Because that is definitely not what the Bible says. In short, one can choose their sin, but not their consequence. If someone sexually assault someone, they will inherit some form of unseen consequence and it's our duty to report it. 

Scary Statistics and What You Can Do About Them 

     The reality is that such occurrences are all too common within our society and apparently even higher in the church. The National Center for Victims of Crime reported the following statistics: 

  • 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys is a victim of child sexual abuse.
  • Self-report studies show that 20% of adult females and 5-10% of adult males recall a childhood sexual assault or sexual abuse incident.
  • During a one-year period in the U.S., 16% of youth ages 14 to 17 had been sexually victimized.
  • Over the course of their lifetime, 28% of U.S. youth ages 14 to 17 had been sexually victimized.
  • Children are most vulnerable to criminal sexual assault between the ages of 7 and 13.
(read the full report here.)

     Apparently in churches the risk is even greater and they tend to be a target for predators. However, due to poor reporting there are no concrete numbers on such in church incidents. A particular alarming quote from a child molester Dr. Salter warns us to keep a vigilant eye. 

I considered church people easy to fool…they have a trust that comes from being Christians. They tend to be better folks all around and seem to want to believe in the good that exists in people.
    Other statistics:
  • For every pedophile victim reported there are on average another eight that were not reported. (this is a modest statistic) 
  • Among these victims there are nearly 100 accounts of molestation among them. 
  • 80% of pedophiles begin with family members or those they are close to (neighbors, friends, congregant members.) 
  • Roughly only 5% of child molestations were ever reported. 
(more info here.)

     This makes perfect sense since many go to church want to believe in the best parts of people. It is a place where children should be safe (as they should,) but the reality is that we must always be vigilant. In the church I pastor we do everything we can to be sure that our children are safe. All children's workers go through a background check, all our classrooms have windows, none of our doors have locks, and we always have multiple workers with children and youth. In many ways this automatically discourages any such actions from taking place. God forbid that anything should happen, let it be known that our administration will stand behind the victim and show nothing but love and support to them and their family. 

    There are many sources on how to spot abusers so here are a few traits of abusers and things to watch our for: 

  • They are groomers: Remember, they are predatory by nature. As Dr. Jordan Peterson points out, they will actively seek out children as their friends. They will choose the quiet and insecure children through observation and become close to them in order to take advantage of them, but at this point the child will likely not object. They will constantly want to define reality and control the perspectives of those around them. 
  • They are flatterers: They also attempt to make the victim feel special in such a way that only the victim can satisfy them. Always volunteering their time and telling you just how "special" you are to them. 
  • They often attempt to isolate their victims: It can be seemingly innocent, so be mindful. They will even find ways to place distrust between the victim and their loved ones. 
  • They are masters of the puppet strings: they will play on their victim's pity and compassionate nature in order to deceive them into thinking that to report them would be to betray them. 
  • They are professional liars: They also tend to lie a lot. Over small things or big things. 
  • They are self-promoted victims: in most everything they do. They will do this in such a way that they can even manipulate others into sympathizing with them despite their horrendous actions. 
  • They are entirely entitled: they can think, say, and do whatever he wants to do, no matter what. They tend to be narcissistic, control freaks, and authoritarian in nature. (hence why this festers a lot within certain types of churches.) 
(More info here)

     The reality is, predators have the advantage. For they are master manipulators. Many act like other friendly people in the world, many have perfected the art of being the puppet master. So it is important to remain vigilant and be sure to always be mindful where the vulnerable victims could be and always to keep an eye on the horizon for any warning signs of such things.

In Conclusion

     At this point it is obvious that the Bible tells us to remain vigilant, protect the innocent, cast out defilers, and surrender them unto the authorities without being bitter toward these abusers, but instead with compassionate prayer. There should be an initial righteous indignation amongst the victim and the loved ones. That is normal and understandable, but we are to forgive and move on. 

    We see that sexual abuse is a very real danger that faces every single person every single day, but it is our children who are most in danger. Remember to empathize with the victim before you empathize with the abuser. Every abuser will try to manipulate you and your heart to gain pity from you. Do not let this happen. You are called to defend the innocent not to sympathize with the guilty. 

     For too long the church has had far too many stigmas slapped on it regarding this issue. How many pedophile Catholic jokes have you heard? Molesting minister jabs? Odds are you have probably heard many. This is because the vast majority of churches have not handled these issues properly and instead of condemning this behavior as we should, we push the idea of "forgive and forget" and "we all make mistakes" or "none of us are perfect." Instead of saying what Paul did, "purge the evil person among you." These are strong words used in scripture dealing with intense sin. It's time churches and pastors banded together across all denominational lines and took a strong stand against this issue. No more tolerated unrepentant abusers, no more silenced victims, no more pastors afraid to do that which is right, no more families forcing the abused to be in the same room as the abusers, this behavior must stop. We are stomping on the testimony of Christ every time we sweep these topics under a rug. I do not wish to grieve the Spirit of God, nor do I want to trample on the blood of Christ by allowing such wickedness to go unchallenged in our churches. 

    Remember, we as the church are to be the pillar of truth. We are to be that which the gates of hell cannot prevail against. In order to do that we must be firm against unrighteousness and therefore unapologetically defend the innocent. I hope and pray that this article helped equip someone out there on how to handle this sensitive topic within their own lives. 

1 Corinthians 15:58Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

For more information on the Biblical approach on how to handle such click on the following article. Let it be known I am not familiar with any of this author's work besides this single piece.

Ignoring the Sin of First Baptist Church in Hammond

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