Part of the Christian life is being loving and forgiving. These are qualities I pray for daily because they are so much not a natural part of me. In my effort to distill down doctrine and make sense of it for me personally I go with the statement from First John 4: “God is love.” Likewise, I understand that if we don’t forgive others (Mt. 6:14-15) then we are not forgiven. For me, these are two basic tenets of the faith that I have to remind myself of daily. Keeping statements like this utmost in my thoughts simplifies things for me. However I wonder if one can go overboard in trying to live out certain important aspects of the gospel like love and forgiveness, and are there some situations where those qualities were not meant to be applied?
I haven’t read the recent Rob Bell book Love Wins but I know it’s sparked a whole lot of commentary and controversy. I have read the some of the blogs and commentary about the book. I gather he’s been charged with preaching “universalism”–the “heresy” that in the end everybody will be saved–even folks like Hitler. The idea that individuals who have caused millions to suffer could somehow be redeemed in the end offends my sense of justice–and that of most folks.
One of the client populations I currently work with is juvenile sex offenders. I see them in groups and individually, and in the past I’ve counseled adult sex offenders as well. Most of the juveniles are just sad, needy kids from lousy families who did something dumb–horny, powerless young boys who committed a crime of opportunity like fondling their younger sister, cousin or neighbor. With one or two notable exceptions they are not likely to become dangerous, serial adult predators. But the whole going to court and going to treatment rigmarole is definitely something they need to have happen to convince them of the seriousness and consequences of what they’ve done. In some cases I think the punishment is truly restorative.
One of the things we work on is called “victim empathy.” It is trying to get the kids to see that their victim is a person with feelings–just like them–and that the acts committed against them have serious and lasting consequences. One of things the court requires is a letter of apology. In reading those letters its apparent that some “get it” but that many do not–it’s all about them and not their victim. In doing this, the letter is a confession of sorts and I play the role of a priest. I don’t absolve them of their sins but I listen to them and let them know they can grow up to be good people–especially if they become protectors of those smaller and weaker instead of predators.
It is not that hard for me to excuse (or forgive) a 14-year-old from a crummy, loveless home. But adults, especially adults who are clergy, I have more of a problem with that. My Fb friend and blogger-in-arms Jim Wright has been seeking an icon in the organic church movement to come clean on some alleged predation from his past–but to this point he’s done nothing but evade and deny the allegations–that and have some of his cronies in organic church circles make veiled threats to Jim, who btw is an attorney and therefore I suspect not likely to make serious charges without good evidence.
I have also been following the ongoing Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM) scandal. SGM is a denomination of sorts founded by C. J. Mahaney a few decades ago. I gather their dogma is rather legalistic and heavy-handed patricentric (dad’s in charge). They describe themselves as Reformed in doctrine and charismatic in worship–sort of Calvin on worship steroids I suppose. At one time there were over 100 SGM churches but that has now shrunk down to around 80. There have been many credible allegations of sexual abuse by clergy and staffers occurring and being covered up within that body. Instead of coming clean, SGM has circled the wagons and gotten statements of support from various heavyweight evangelicals like Al Mohler.
But SGM’s problems are small potatoes compared to the sex abuse scandals that have rocked the Roman Catholic Church in the past decade. The RCC is finally being forced to come clean on the hundreds of priests who have abused thousands of victims for literally millenia. They have been brought kicking and screaming into the light by exorcists disguised as attorneys, and their denial is costing them plenty. The RCC has engaged in a pattern of transferring priests to other parishes after a tap on the wrist and a little counseling. The RCC is late in getting the message that serial pedophiles are pretty much untreatable. Pedophiles are often highly intelligent, and thus clever at disguising their behavior, and insidious in “grooming” their victims. I recall reading once that the average pedophile had something like 53 victims.
Sadly, part of the motivation for notable evangelical believers supporting the pedophile perps is power and money–they are in bed together with book contracts, publishers and fund-raising. It’s a kind of I’ll scratch your back while you scratch mine type of good old boy network.
Another motive behind the cover-ups is a misguided notion about fostering harmony or unity within the Body–live in peace, be forgiving, etc. Plenty of scriptures can be trotted out to support the notion that believers should do that at all costs.
But I see the another motive as misplaced empathy. Many folks are viewing the “pain” of the accused instead of seeing the far greater pain of the victims. They are identifying with the accused and not the victim. They know the accused either personally or by reputation, but they do not know their largely faceless victims. Misplaced empathy is why hundreds will turn out to protest an execution rather than do something proactive to help the murder victim’s family.
Beyond the Pharisees and the other self-righteous, Jesus’ sternest rebuke was for those who would “cause one of these little ones to sin” (Luke 17:2). Generally speaking, the victims of childhood sexual abuse have been set-up for a lifetime of misery and sin. And what’s awaiting their abusers is worse than having a millstone hung around their neck and being thrown into the sea.
Like I said, I can “forgive” the sins of a 14-year-old kid and care for them, but I have a lot more trouble with an adult with status and power who has every bit as much denial as an adolescent, and is in a position to re-offend because he has been given an endorsement by supporters.
Who did Jesus identify with–victims or perpetrators?
And can there be forgiveness and restoration without confession?