Sexual Abuse in Christianity
One of the earliest aspects that alienated me away from Christianity was the lack of fallout, punishment and repercussion for Christians who deviated from the set standard – those that engaged in a lifestyle or pattern of sin. For example, if a given pastor was found out to be pilfering money from the church and using it to pay his credit card debt, there was no dedicated means of discipline and reproach for said leader. Scripturally, there is outlined ways to perform church discipline, excommunication, rehabilitation and reinstatement, but the following was also the case:
- It wasn't practiced widely
- It wasn't practiced accurately
- It wasn't always applied
- It didn't exist as a standard part of church structure
- It wasn't levied against those in power – especially if they were able to cover it up, sway their members or downplay the seriousness. I found that most applications of church discipline resulted in a church split or dissolution.
The proposed solution, according to my understanding when I was a Christian of the Scripture, was several steps:
- Admonishment by a brother in the church. This wasn't necessarily a member in your specific church, but it looked like a private conversation between the brother and the member in breach of their commitment to God, where the brother would point out the sin and issue a warning to repent (acknowledge, ask for forgiveness, and not re-offend).
- In the event the personal admonishment did not work, several members – typically to include a leader within the church – would perform the admonishment as a group, with the same intention: achieve repentance in the life of the sinner and bring them back to communion with God and the Holy Spirit.
- Third, where the above two have not had success, bring a condemnation before the members of the church as a public reproof of the member's actions being in violation of Scripture. This was meant to be a revelation to the congregation, a further reproach against the member by way of public mortification and a caution to other members to no longer entertain fellowship or acceptance of the offending member. This is called excommunication by most sects of Christianity, but may differ in how strongly the ostracization is practiced.
Why It's Inadequate
I have already mentioned the practice of the above approach is very rarely used. It is neither widely used or accurately used. Also from my experience, for the churches I attended that did practice it, it seemed to me to be practiced only for very specific sins – in other words – practiced irregularly. The most common examples where church discipline was used, was against sins of a sexual nature, like a women living with her boyfriend before marriage (shocking!!) or adultery or pornography. Meanwhile, we have church members that continued to gossip, exhibit pride, use belittling language or many other areas, that were completely glanced over. It was only the shocking sins that got attention.
Secondly, for why church discipline was inadequate, it didn't have a standardization. One would think that the Bible would have this explicitly lined out, but this is not the case. Every church practically authored their own version of this discipline. One only has to look at the way the Catholic Church uses excommunication versus the evangelical churches versus churches that don't practice it at all. One would think that a God that "is not the author of confusion," (1 Corinthians 14:33) and wants to "keep his church pure," (Ephesians 5:27) would be much more definitive in the guide for church discipline.
Thirdly, in churches with no oversight over the head of the church (usually called a pastor in evangelical churches), discovery that a pastor was in sin almost never resulted in the pastor receiving condemnation or excommunication. The usual result, if any, was the pastor would "step down" from leadership – which really meant they wouldn't be preaching but still participate in the church – or a second possibility is the church would experience a division with some members siding with the pastor and some not, resulting in the church splitting. Again, for a God that seems to care so much about the proper application of Scripture and truth, and proper leadership of the flock, one would think that there would exist a means for the pastor to receive just punishment for the crime, whether God himself would intervene, or the pastor would receive personal trauma by way of events in his life to show God's disapproval.
Now on the other side of Christendom and able to view this with a more accurate lens, it is apparent that such a model would not work. There doesn't exist any accountability at the topmost level of Christian structure, and this has been evident time and again throughout history.
Secondly, I can understand why the use of church discipline is so unevenly distributed and unevenly used, and where the fallout often results in the crimes of members being glossed over – sin is viewed as a transgression against God, not against another person at the end of the day. This is what @iblamebill on TikTok refers to as a "vertical rather than horizontal relationship," where our relationships are always colored by our relationship with God and don't rely on empathy or understanding of how our actions impact other people, but how it is viewed in God's eyes.
Finally, I want to show the extent to which this has played out in Christian churches recently and ask my Christian readers to seriously consider: why does this happen so often in Christian churches? Why doesn't God intervene directly if he cares about his church and its reputation? This should cause serious pause and contemplation.
A pastor I personally admired as a Christian and consumed both his sermons and writings, it was revealed quite recently that John MacArthur ignored and even actively covered up the sexual abuse by another pastor at his church. That pastor's own daughter was the one abused and tried to reach out to MacArthur for help and did not get it. For the full and bleak story, see here: https://julieroys.com/john-macarthur-covered-up-pastor-sexual-abuse-witnesses-say/
Southern Baptist Convention
Recently leaked is that the SBC (Southern Baptist Convention) has for years been covering up sexual abuse within the church, involving multiple clergy and higher-up leaders within the organization. Read more here: https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/southern-baptist-members-detail-grooming-sexual-misconduct-clergy-new-rcna30081
The most recent story I've seen and honestly the hardest to digest, is pastor John B. Lowe of New Life Christian Church in Warsaw, Indiana. If one can watch this and still find view this church as followers of God, then you should question what kind of God this is. The deaf handling the church showed towards the victim and her story, and the immediate forgiveness and support they showed their pastor, looks more like a cult than a church. More details here: https://julieroys.com/in-pastor-resigns-over-alleged-sex-with-teen-decades-of-cover-up/