Posts tagged ‘Sexual Abuse’

More Sexual Assault in Churches Comes to Light

Although I find my theological and confessional home in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, I have long been partial to the Southern Baptist Convention.  I admire its commitment to the primacy of the gospel, the authority of Scripture, and the need for evangelism.  This is why it disturbed me deeply when, last Sunday, the Houston Chronicle, in conjunction with the San Antonio Express-News, published a bombshell report chronicling decades of sexual abuse by hundreds of leaders inside the SBC.  The report opens with the heart-shuddering story of Debbie Vasquez:

She was 14, she said, when she was first molested by her pastor in Sanger, a tiny prairie town an hour north of Dallas.  It was the first of many assaults that Vasquez said destroyed her teenage years and, at 18, left her pregnant by the Southern Baptist pastor, a married man more than a dozen years older.

How did her church’s leadership respond when they learned she was pregnant by their pastor?

When Vasquez became pregnant, she said, leaders of her church forced her to stand in front of the congregation and ask for forgiveness without saying who had fathered the child.

She said church members were generally supportive but were never told the child was their pastor’s.  Church leadership shunned her, asked her to get an abortion and, when she said no, threatened her and her child, she said.  She moved abroad soon after. 

The reporters who worked on this story uncovered 700 victims of sexual abuse in SBC churches over a 20-year time period.  But, as the president of the SBC, J.D. Greear, noted in a blog post:  “700 is not the total number.”  He knows that for every case that has been uncovered, there is likely a case that remains under-cover.

Sexual abuse scandals in churches seem to be everywhere these days, and victims are left with lives that are shattered and, in some cases, lives that are ended.  The report goes on to tell of Heather Schneider, a 14-year old girl who:

…was molested in a choir room at Houston’s Second Baptist Church, according to criminal and civil court records.  Her mother, Gwen Casados, said church leaders waited months to fire the attacker, who later pleaded no contest.  In response to her lawsuit, church leaders also denied responsibility.

Schneider slit her wrists the day after that attack in 1994, Casados said.  She survived, but she died 14 years later from a drug overdose that her mother blames on the trauma.

“I never got her back,” Casados said.

This abuse is evil and it must stop.

The question, of course, is: How does it stop?  Here are three thoughts that, though by no means exhaustive, may provide a starting place to address and curb sexual abuse.

Care for victims.

A common denominator in so many of today’s sexual abuse stories is that victims, rather than being supported and cared for, are dismissed, or worse, blamed.  A congregation grappling with a sexual abuse scandal becomes so focused on protecting itself as an institution that it forgets about its people.

Jesus’ care for sexually broken situations can serve as our model when we are confronted with cases of sexual assault.  In John 8, a group of religious leaders drag a woman before Jesus who has been “caught in adultery” (John 8:3).  Even if her encounter with this man was consensual, as it seems to be, the fact that the religious leaders do not bring the man to stand trial with her speaks volumes.  In a patriarchal culture such as this one, men could engage in sexual exploits and conquests, often, without repercussion.  It was, in fact, a boys’ club.  This case is no exception.  The “boy” is nowhere to be found while the religious leaders are howling for this lady to be stoned.  Jesus, however, sees through the religious leaders’ hypocrisy and cares for this accused woman by protecting her and ultimately rescuing her from her would-be executioners (John 8:7-11).

If this is how Jesus addresses a situation where a woman seems to have had some willful role in a sexual encounter, how much more should we seek to protect and rescue those who have had no willful role, as in cases of sexual abuse?

Bring darkness to light.

Sexual abuse continues because it is allowed to remain under the cover of darkness – many times for decades on end.  Bringing it to light may be the single greatest strategy to stop sexual abuse before it starts.  It sends a clear and present warning to any abuser that they will be brought to justice.  President Greear’s invitation to victims to “get help” is supremely important.  His list of crisis hotlines is worth reposting here:

  • The National Hotline for Domestic Violence number is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).
  • The National Child Abuse Hotline number is 1-800-422-4453.
  • The Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network number is 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Again, Jesus can serve as our model for what bringing dark hurt into the light looks like.  In Mark 5, when a woman who suffers from a form of hemophilia seeks to secretly steal a healing from Jesus by touching the edge of His cloak, Jesus will not let her remain in the shadows.  He wants to speak to her in her pain.  He wants her to come into the light.  So, He seeks her out and, after she reveals herself, He tenderly calls her, “Daughter” (Mark 5:34).  May the victims among us be met with the same tenderness as they bring their darkest secret hurts into the light of open truth.

Recommit ourselves to a biblical sexual ethic.

There is no way around it:  the hypocrisy between what we who attend church say about sexuality and what we live out in our own sexualities is sometimes stunning.  The Christian sexual ethic is good.  It exalts commitment.  It encourages tenderness.  It dignifies humanity.  Sadly, many in our churches have spent so much time criticizing what happens sexually “out there” in the world that we overlook the sexual assault happening “in here” among our congregations.  Let’s remove the redwood-sized sin from our own eyes before trying to help others with the sawdust-sized sin in theirs (Matthew 7:3-5).  Each one of us in the church should be asking ourselves:  How am I falling short sexually?  How am I tempted sexually?  How can I get help?

The apostle Paul says that Jesus treats His Church like His bride (Ephesians 5:25).  What does this mean?  It means He loves her.  It means He is faithful to her.  It means He honors her.  It means He exalts her.  It means He seeks her purity.  It means He is willing even to die for her.

To address and defeat sexual abuse, go and do likewise.

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February 18, 2019 at 5:15 am 1 comment

2018 in Review

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Another year is drawing to a close.  Here’s a look back at some of the stories that caught my attention in 2018.

January
President Trump sparks a controversy by making, behind closed doors, vulgar comments about places like Haiti and Africa, and expresses concern about accepting immigrants from nations like these.  His comments are part of a long-running debate and disagreement over the kind of immigration policy this country should pursue.

February
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida is shot up by a gunman who kills 17 and wounds 14.  The shooting gives rise to rallies across the country that debate the efficacy of stricter gun control policies.

March
A mystery bomber sparks terror across the city of Austin by leaving and mailing package bombs to apparently randomly selected people across the city.  As law enforcement officials close in on the subject, he blows himself up, killing himself and injuring a police officer.

April
The CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, travels to Washington DC to testify before Congress and answer questions about how his company protects users’ data and what it did to stop Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

May
The nation of Ireland, which has been historically informed by Roman Catholicism in its national stances on various moral issues, votes to legalize abortion-on-demand when it votes to repeal the Eighth Amendment to its Constitution.

June
Two celebrities, Kate Spade, an iconic fashion designer, and Anthony Bourdain, a foodie and CNN adventurer, tragically take their own lives.  The suicide rate across the country continues to rise.

July
Justice Anthony Kennedy announces his retirement, effective the end of the month.  A so-called “swing” vote on the Supreme Court, his retirement sparks many questions and debate about who will replace him.

August
The New York Times publishes a bombshell report chronicling the abuse of over 1,000 children in the Dioceses of Pennsylvania by over 300 priests there.

September
Confirmation hearings for Judge Brett Kavanaugh, President Trump’s nominee for the man to replace Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court, explode after he is accused of sexually assaulting a woman while in high school.  He is eventually confirmed.

October
In the scope of one week, a bomber sends a series of explosive packages to public detractors of the president, and a gunman, armed with an AR-15 and three rifles, walks into a synagogue in Pittsburgh on the Sabbath and kills eleven.

November
The midterm elections are held.  Republicans keep and increase their lead in the Senate while Democrats flip the House of Representatives and give themselves a comfortable majority, leading many to describe the election as a “blue wave.”

December
The 41st President of the United States, George H.W. Bush, passes away.  A state funeral at the National Cathedral in Washington DC is held in his honor.

Needless to say, it’s been a busy year.  There were many more stories I wrote about that I didn’t include in this brief retrospective.  Along with the above stories, in 2018, the famed televangelist Billy Graham died, a columnist for the Washington Post, Jamal Khashoggi, was brutally murdered, a famous evangelical pastor had to step down after accusations of sexual impropriety surfaced in the Chicago Tribune, two major hurricanes crashed into continental United States, the deadliest and most damaging wildfires ever ravaged the state of California, the Hawaiian volcano Kilaeua spewed lava and destroyed homes, the US moved its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and the stock market took us on a wild ride.

So, what can we learn from all of these stories?  Here are a few thoughts.

First, there is a lot outside of us we cannot control.  From volcanos that erupt to hurricanes that flood to wildfires that scorch, the year’s events remind us that, for all our technological achievements and manpower, there is plenty we cannot control.  Indeed, there are many natural disasters to which we cannot even adequately respond.  The limits of our power should keep us humble in the face of the cosmos.  It is big.  We are small.

Second, there is a lot inside of us we cannot control.  Mass shootings, dangerous bombings, accusations of sexual harassment, and tragic suicides have become commonplace events.  Evil is grimly efficient, it seems, at infecting and overtaking people.  It is difficult to stop tragedy when it turns out that the perpetrator of the tragedy is us.

Third, all this means we need something or someone bigger than the cosmos’s brokenness and bigger than human sinfulness.  We need a Crafter of the cosmos to step in and reorder what has gone wrong.  We need a Helper for humanity to step in and rescue us from our willingly wicked ways.  In short, we need Jesus.  2018 needed Jesus.

My guess is 2019 will need Him, too.  So let’s not only hope for a good new year, let’s pray for one.

Heavenly Father, thank You for Your blessings in 2019. We ask You to guide us in righteousness in 2019 and guard us from sinfulness. Protect us from calamity, foster in us charity, and give us hearts that live in light of eternity.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

December 31, 2018 at 5:15 am 3 comments

A Senator, A Pope, And A Shooter

This past weekend was a busy one in the news, to say the least.  Friday, it was announced that Senator John McCain would discontinue treatment for his brain cancer.  24 hours later, he passed away.  Around this same time Saturday, news broke that Pope Francis may have known of accusations against one of his closest confidants, former Washington D.C. archbishop Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who resigned this summer after it was discovered that he may have sexually abused a minor some 50 years ago.  Then, yesterday afternoon, a gunman opened fire in a Jacksonville, Florida bar during a Madden 19 video game tournament, killing three and wounding eleven.

After a weekend like this one, it is easy to be left reeling and restive.  When cancer takes the life of an American hero, when a spiritual leader is accused of covering for sexual abuse, and when another – yes, another – mass shooting unfolds on another soft target, it can be extremely difficult to take everything in, much less to make sense of much or any of it.

So, how do we process any of this?

During relatively peaceful times, which seem fewer and farther between these days, we can be lured into a false sense of security.  We can be tricked into forgetting that, in the words of God to Cain, “sin is crouching at the door” (Genesis 4:7) and it can rear its head at any moment.  However, during tumultuous times, which seem to have become all too common, we can become drawn into alarmism and catastrophism.  We can have a false sense that, in the words of Chicken Little, “the sky is falling.”  Both senses are false.  Generally, things are never quite as bad or quite as good as we think they are.

The message of Christ can provide us with a reality check after a weekend like this one. Jesus has no problem warning the world of the full damage and devastation that human sinfulness can wreak.  Jesus warns that, in this age, there will be an “increase of wickedness, and the love of most will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12).  But Jesus also is clear that He has come to overcome sin.  In the words of Jesus’ dear friend John, Jesus is “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).  Sin will not ultimately get its way.

Christians can respond to the tragedies of our world with both a sober realism and an indefatigable hope.  The death of a man as well regarded and as widely celebrated as John McCain can serve as a reminder of the brokenness of our political system and the often illogical rancor that eats away at any generative discourse.  The promise of the man Jesus Christ is that He has come to bring peace between divided peoples and parties.  The alleged secrecy of a man like Pope Francis in the face of a terrible crime like the one allegedly committed by Theodore McCarrick reminds us that sin runs for cover so it can continue its damaging and damning work.  The promise of the man Jesus Christ is that He has come not only to reveal sin, but to heal those ravaged by it.  The murderous intentions of a man like Jacksonville’s mass shooter is a reminder that death comes for everyone – sometimes at the times we least expect it.  The promise of the man Jesus Christ is that by His death, He has conquered death.

Every tragedy yearns for a Savior.  Christianity promises that every tragedy has a Savior.  And after a weekend like this one, that’s what we need to know most – and believe deeply.

August 27, 2018 at 5:15 am 1 comment

The Dioceses of Pennsylvania

In what is the biggest sex scandal to rock the Roman Catholic Church yet, a report from a Pennsylvania grand jury, released last Tuesday, found that over 300 priests from across six dioceses in that state abused sexually abused more than 1,000 victims over a period of 70 years.

As The New York Times explains, the report:

…catalogs horrific instances of abuse: a priest who raped a young girl in the hospital after she had her tonsils out; a victim tied up and whipped with leather straps by a priest; and another priest who was allowed to stay in ministry after impregnating a young girl and arranging for her to have an abortion.

Even more tragically, the report also notes that there are likely many more victims who were and are too afraid to come forward.

How was this able to continue for so long among so many?  According to the grand jury, church officials seemed to have a method of intentionally and even maliciously obfuscating what was happening.  For instance, the grand jury reports that when a sexual assault came to light, church records would never clearly identify a horrific crime like rape.  Instead church officials would employ euphemisms such as “inappropriate contact” or “boundary issues” to describe the crime.  Many priests who sexually assaulted children, instead of being defrocked, would simply be moved to another parish where their sins were not known.

This is gut wrenching stuff.  But it is more than that.  It is downright wicked.  It is godless.  It is satanic.  But it is also, terrifyingly, human.

What humans are capable of is truly shocking.  History is littered with numberless testaments to the bottomlessness of human depravity.  The prophet Jeremiah aptly describes the horrifying proclivities of the human heart when he says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it” (Jeremiah 17:9)?  Jeremiah is not being hyperbolic here.  The human heart and all it entails – emotions, desires, and drives – really is deceitful above everything else.  There is nothing so dangerous as the human heart.

Jeremiah’s question of the heart – “Who can know it?”, or, as another translation puts it, “Who can understand it?” – takes on fresh meaning in light of this scandal.  It seems nearly impossible to fully understand how any heart can commit this kind of sin for so long against so many.  But even if we could understand the darkness in the hearts behind these crimes, it would, ultimately, do us no good.  Understanding cannot undo a crime, restore a violated little body, or comfort a crushed soul.  What we need is not understanding, but change.  We don’t need to analyze the human heart; we need to guard our own hearts.  In the words of Solomon, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (Proverbs 4:23).

Yes, indeed.  What we do flows from what’s in our hearts.  That is why our hearts must always be Christ’s home.

August 20, 2018 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


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