The Church’s Abuse Problem
Sexual abuse in the church is not just a Catholic problem. I’ll tell you about a very sobering report from WORLD magazine. You’ve no doubt heard of the Pennsylvania grand jury detailing how, during a 70-year period, some 300 Catholic clergy had sexually assaulted 1,000-plus victims. It’s a horrifying tale of clerical sex abuse—but awful as it is, it’s not the full story. According to a recent WORLD Magazine cover story, Protestant clergy are also guilty of widespread sexual assaults. And just as the Catholic hierarchy has done—Protestant churches as well cover up the abuse, and “pass the problem on to others.” So how bad is the problem? According to WORLD, in the U.S., 260 instances of child sexual abuse are reported every year to the three largest companies that insure Protestant churches and nonprofits. I was appalled to learn this, and it’s a problem our churches cannot afford to ignore. The WORLD story reveals that Protestant abuse frequently occur in three situations: within congregations headed by pastors who have “unchecked authority;” by conference speakers who fly in for a day or two of teaching and assault women before flying home; and within megachurches, where church authorities go to great lengths to keep reporters from learning about accusations of inappropriate conduct. For example, WORLD reports that one woman attending a Christian writers conference volunteered to pick up one of the speakers at the airport and take him to his apartment. They had a friendly talk on the drive, and when the speaker invited her in to continue their talk, she thought nothing of it. But once inside, he “pinned her against the wall and began kissing her.” She shoved him away, escaped, and ran for her car. But he followed, jumped into the car, and tried to kiss her again. He left only when she blasted the horn. WORLD also tells of youth pastors who take advantage of their positions, and if young girls complain of their behavior, church authorities often blame THEM for “tempting” men. Some commentators—especially those outside the church—claim that if churches would just get rid of those pesky teachings prohibiting homosexual behavior, and sex outside of marriage, the abuse problem would go away. Really? As National Review writer David French notes, there is no evidence whatsoever that increasing sexual tolerance within the church will reduce sexual abuse. As evidence, he points to the abuse scandals emanating from Hollywood—one of the most sexually liberated places on earth. As for the rest of the culture—in particular, secular college campuses, French observes, “As the relentless drumbeat of scandal demonstrates, sexual libertinism has not created sexual utopia. Instead, it has created…. a ravenous culture of sexual entitlement, exploitation, and abuse.” We should not be surprised that sexual sin infects the church; why wouldn’t Satan target the bride of Christ? The question is, what are we going to do about it—before it drives victims out of the church forever? For starters, we need to tell our children that abuse can happen even within the church—and that they need to speak up if church leaders cross the line. We need to assure our kids that we will believe them if they come to us with stories of inappropriate conduct, whether it takes place at a Christian school, a Christian camp, or within the walls of the church. Second, we must encourage our churches and schools to write up detailed policies on how to handle accusations. Those policies should call for independent investigations by people trained in handling allegations of sexual misconduct. I encourage you to read the WORLD cover story, titled “Crouching at Every Door,” and pass it along to friends. We need to learn everything we can about potential predators within our churches—and make sure they have no place to hide.