This post is full of links–that is because all the leg-work of exposing these many instances of sin and corruption (and in some cases, just laziness) in the church has been done by other people! Credit given where credit is due, especially to the less well-known writers in the discernment and pursuit -of-justice arenas. (Apologies too for the odd ellipses here and there; I had serious formatting issues in constructing this post.)
Now, then, onto the bumpy dirt road…
The clergy as a class have never been perfect. Naturally, since they’re made up of not-fully-sanctified human beings with a (defeated?) sin nature. But they should at least have been, and be, upright.
If ever there were negative stereotypes about clerics, they have included a propensity toward theft from those in their care and embezzlement from their parishes, tendency towards ‘killjoyness’ or a degree of pharisaism mixed with hypocrisy, and craving for power or recognition. Dante writing about Christian whitewashed sepulchres may as well skip over the usual, plain old vanilla sexual indiscretions of past generations, because if we’ve learned anything from the recent evangelical scandals, it’s that something about contemporary protestant groups’ power structures (for lack of a better term) and priorities have made them as susceptible to (founded) accusations of deviancy, such as child molestation, and of covering up reported cases of it, as the Roman Catholic Church. How can this be? What about the systems in place first makes groups like SGM appealing to predators, and what about them drives the non-deviants to hide the evil and themselves victimise the abused by denying them first help and then justice? (Head to Brent Detwiler’s blog for all you could possibly [not] want to know, and/or Google ‘SGM survivors blogs’.) I don’t have the answer to this question, though the cause is probably related to the structure itself, the group’s theology, their priorities (relationships over morality? or at least over church discipline), and the dangerous presumption that all who name themselves Christians (especially of the group’s stripe) actually are.
The Man pointed out last night that mass media makes us more aware than before of such people and events, and it may be that, statistically speaking, there aren’t actually more sex predators after children and youth than there used to be. It’s just that we hear about them, and a lot more about them. While this is probably true, I can’t help but think that SGM (though I don’t know their fluctuating numbers of members over the years) has more than their share of deviants, and of conscience-challenged people to enable them. At any rate, it’s more the nature of the phenomenon than the bare numbers that concerns us here, though I am curious about the proliferation of this kind of evil in general. These are the last days, so it’s entirely possible that such proliferation is inevitable, both inside the church (and what calls itself the church) and outside of it.
With their years of what has probably become compulsive covering up of such egregious sin, SGM has opened itself up to suspicion and ridicule like this, which hitherto has been much more associated with the hierarchical self- and magisterium-protecting and mutual back-scratching of the RCC. And this ridicule need not be expected only from secularists (who may, if they’re not too influenced by Richard Dawkins, have taken better care of their children and charges), but from the victims and those who have demanded leadership at SGM, erm, change their MO. Perhaps repentance and resignation would be in order for many at the top.
No, SGM and churches and other ministries like them under scrutiny for systematically hidden and/or excused sin, have lain themselves open to the critique, challenge and ridicule of their fellow protestants and evangelicals (assuming men like CJ Mahaney and Grant Layman do have a real Christian commitment). SGM could fittingly be the subject of a cartoon or satire about supposedly spiritual men in positions of social influence and moral authority stealing children…
When I saw the photo of one of the pastors newly dumped, I started to cry. He is entangled in, and has been dismissed due to some kind of sexual sin–it’s not clear if it is assault on minors, and the gist is rather that it is something different. So… Why cry? Well, because these men who have been enabled in all this– even they have been done a disservice by SGM’s hypocrisy. Because they still have souls, and for others to overlook their sin, and therefore encourage it, has served to increase their shame and guilt. They should have been both reported to the authorities and called to repent, which is what will matter in eternity, particularly to the abusers. And in eternity, the sin committed by their enablers will also be a topic of conversation when those men themselves come before the Seat.
We could go on at length about the ‘friendships’ that cause people in the blogosphere to jump publicly to the defense of the accused, and the fact that they’re so careless–not only of their own reputations, but also of the well-being of the victims, especially if what the victims say is true. Todd Pruitt (and others, on Tom Chantry**), Kevin DeYoung (and others, on CJ Mahaney), Chris Rosebrough (on Daniel Emery Price [H/T puritangirl]; at least Rosebrough has posted a statement about why he had to remove all his Tullian Tchividjian-related material; perhaps he can bring himself to follow his own instruction and backpedal [i.e., repent of having gone to the mat for Price and withdraw his threats of lawsuits]), and many others, several of whom have benefitted evangelicalism in different ways, have struck an imbalance when asserting more than simply, ‘The law requires proof of guilt via proper judicial proceedings, and we should assume innocence until proven otherwise; let’s just see what happens at trial.’ That’s all anyone should say. And then pray that the truth comes out. To say anything more after people credibly allege that these ‘leaders’ have lived free under the sun for years after committing acts of various kinds of abuse can be construed by true victims as joining the voices of the excusers and defenders who actively helped to keep things hushed up (like the SGM leadership).
People must recognize that they lose credibility when they get on their computers to say, ‘Don’t judge, don’t gossip, nothing is proven, what would Jesus do?!’, after they have been palling around as ‘friends’ and conference associates with the accused, or recommending their blog articles, for years. Best to say as little as possible–and the same goes for anyone in the blogosphere who does not have first-hand knowledge.
At any rate… How many people really know their ‘friends ‘like they claim they do on the internet, when they either tell other people to be quiet, they are certain these allegations are false and their friend pastor x would never do such a thing, or when they tell people to stop talking about x, he’s repented and so very sorry and broken about all this, and we should be moving on and talking forgiveness now? Notice these aren’t in quotes, and I’m not attributing them to anyone–this is the gist of some of what is being said or has been said (e.g., about Tullian Tchividjian–that was real repentance…) People are so superficial, so in a hurry… as a side-note, one must wonder if there’s a certain level of inevitability about putting one’s foot in one’s mouth when anyone becomes a big shot, even when becoming known for critiqueing the culture that allows for Christian big shots and celebrity in the first place, because over time the standards to which they hold themselves begin to drop, which is manifested in poor arguments, hasty and uninformed judgments, or offering criticism without evidence.
And then of course, there are cases like Mark Driscoll’s (the sobering remarks in this article about the ‘good ol’ boys’ club’ that comprises the ‘Neo-Calvinist’ movement are difficult to read), the discovery of whose plagiarism was such an explosion that the
unchurched heard about it everywhere, I’m sure. But long before that BOOM, the testimony of those who were abused at Mars Hill, and the sober critique of his sub-biblical methods, attitudes, and teaching were readily available, just like all the legal documentation concerning the sexploits of those associated with SGM and the likes of Doug Wilson are freely, readily available. But people choose not to inform themselves (of course, the above-linked article about conferences asserts that there is an awful lot of mammon involved in these ‘networks’), to their own detriment as well as to that of the victims of the ministers and their ministries, and unto the continued ‘free pass’ granted to the reprobates because not enough, or not the right, people are taking a stand. And so Mark Driscoll, without even the lip service of ‘repentance’ given in Tullian’s case, can skitter away from Seattle, and turn up again like a bad penny in Phoenix.
It should be pointed out that the electronic trail of proclaimed support for ne’er-do-wells does tend to disappear (just like some jailed or fallen pastors’ sermons off of church websites) once the ne’er-do-wells are arrested. As a result, we are indebted to watch blogs who provide screenshots of posts, articles, and talks which are no longer available on their home sites (is it to TGC’s credit that this is still available, or is it a sign that they still don’t get it?). Often, unlike in the case of F4F and the Tullian materials mentioned above, these items are deleted without explanation or acknowledgement. It’s as if they were never there. And, those who defend too vociferously without knowing what they’re talking about (while spending an awful lot of time attacking other people for much more egregious things, like being continuationists) may have to resign from ‘talking’ online altogether.
Why this detour from the mini-series at hand? Because I’ve been distracted by others’ writing, and because I find it so strange, all this messy business, with folk looking the other way when ‘pastors’ and ‘church leaders’ do something really heinous, like fondling 14-year-old boys and then forcing those boys to accept their ‘apology’ and ‘forgive’ them and thereby swearing them to silence… And a pastor in Northern Michigan who does nothing but preach the trustworthy word as taught and try to live with integrity is first kicked around by his council and church (including people he thought were his friends), and then by the collared brethren who are supposed to support him. Cancer, physical affliction, is nothing compared to hopes disappointed by fellow Christians, and trust betrayed daily over the course of two years.
And there is none with integrity.
But while the contrast is an irony–other people wreak havoc on young lives and are excused and covered for, while truth-speakers are maligned and abused, the cover-up is in fact a common factor between Simon Templar’s case and that of, say, SGM.
A professed ‘love for the church’, and probably pragmatic self-interest, both in the sense of avoiding, a., a tarnished reputation and b., the cognitive dissonance that comes with seeing that reality and people around you are far other than what you’ve always believed, has led to a sick expenditure of lots of energy to quash the testimony and voice of victims of abuse (spiritual and verbal [slander & libel] in one case, all kinds in the other), and lots of bureaucratic conspiracy among ‘officials’ to just ‘make it (the truth and the consequent obligation to do something about it) all go away.’ But if you’ve read this blog, you know we’ve already tread this ground many times. I rest my case.