As I Was Saying is a forum for a variety of perspectives to foster faith-related conversations among our readers with the goal of mutual learning, even in disagreement. Apart from articles written by editorial staff, these perspectives do not necessarily reflect the views of The Banner.
The news of 2018 alone is enough to show that the church is not exempt from sexual misconduct.
On January 5, Highpoint Church pastor Andy Savage was accused of sexual assault by Jules Woodson. She said the attack happened when she was 17 years old and Savage was her youth pastor. Savage immediately went to social media to say he “had a sexual incident with a female high school senior” but responded in a “biblical way.” The following Sunday, Savage confessed his “sexual incident” to the congregation and told them that he “took every step to respond in a biblical way” by seeking forgiveness from her, her parents, and church leadership. The congregation gave him a standing ovation. The next day, Bethany House canceled publication of his book “The Ridiculously Good Marriage.” Savage would resign March 20.
On March 22, the Chicago Tribune reported that Rev. Bill Hybels, founding Pastor of Willow Creek, was accused of sexual misconduct by former pastors and staff. The next day at a congregational meeting, after Hybels responded to the allegations to his congregation, calling them “flat-out lies,” he received standing ovations. He would resign on April 10, still denying the allegations. Elders and pastors would later issue public apologies about the church's handling of allegations.
On April 7, Vatican police arrested the former Vatican diplomat to the United States, Carlo Alberto Capella, for possessing child pornography. He would be sentenced to five years in jail.
On April 28, the Paige Patterson scandal broke when the Baptist Blogger posts an audio clip of an interview. Patterson, a seminary president and esteemed leader of the conservative resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention, said he has counseled physically abused women to avoid divorce and to instead pray for their violent husbands. Then on May 2, The Washington Post published an article noting that Patterson has been named as a defendant in a lawsuit, which claims he knew about child molestation accusations against close friend Paul Pressler but chose to cover it up. On May 22, The Washington Post reported that in 2003 he told a student who said she was raped by another student to not report the allegations to police. He was removed as seminary president.
The Reformed tradition has a robust doctrine of sin. Even the best and most determined of believers are not immune to the worst sins. The apostle Peter was fully determined to never deny and even to die for Jesus (Mark 14:29-31). But that same night Peter denied knowing Jesus three times (Mark 14:66-72). Like Peter, those sins we think are beneath us are the sins we would commit if the situation changed.
All of us are capable of all kinds of evil. Under the right conditions or enough pressure, any one of us would find ourselves sinning in ways we never thought possible.
We can all too easily find ourselves dismissing or justifying misconduct when a pastor or church we love is implicated, as this article from Christianity Today shows.
Instead of shaking our heads at how terrible other pastors and churches can be in committing or covering up misconduct, it’s better to recognize that we all need transparency and accountability. Instead of maintaining confidence in our own righteousness, we must take heed lest we fall (1 Cor/ 10:12).
I’m grateful the Christian Reformed Church has a Safe Church Ministry to equip congregations for preventing abuse and how to respond to allegations appropriately. Being proactive with policies and standard procedures clears the air of assumptions.
In my own church, we have a policy that requires all volunteers to undergo background checks. Initially there was some murmuring about why we needed this when in a small community everyone knows everyone. All volunteers must attend a training on maintaining boundaries and following procedures. While some might dismiss this as common sense, the reality of sin and the capacity of us all to fall gives perspective.
Because all of us are capable of all kinds of evil, we need to prepare in advance so that we can make safe environments to focus on the gospel of Jesus Christ.