Are all sins created equal? I used to think so.
Then I watched the movie Spotlight. It should be required viewing for any church leader, paid or volunteer. Spotlight details the Boston Globe’s uncovering of sexual abuse in the Catholic church. I threw up in my mouth at least three times by movie’s end.
You can’t watch that movie and conclude stealing candy and sexually abusing children are equal. Well, you can. But don’t expect me to hang around while you explain why. Check, please?
Granted, all sins flow from the same source (a broken heart), but not all sins leave the same collateral damage. Combine power, no accountability and vulnerable people, and the ceiling on collateral damage is high.
I begin this way for a reason. Pastors, volunteers and anyone in a leadership position in the church have a responsibility to steward our power well. God doesn’t delegate power without accountability. This, I believe, is the idea behind James 3:1.
“Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.”
Abuse of power, whether it’s flippant teaching or refusing to lead those under our care with the humility of Christ, leads to serious problems. Real people, no less loved by God than you, are hurt. And the result, unfortunately, is quite serious: God’s image is tainted and the bride of Christ, the church, becomes a symbol a shame rather than hope.
Several weeks ago, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations (TBI) arrested 32 people for “prostitution and human trafficking-related charges.” This should be a cause for celebration in the church. Then you read the details. Of those arrested, only two face significant jail time for responding to ads for sex with an underage girl.
Both are pastors.
Reading the story brings a flood of emotions. Few are positive. God’s people should give power to the powerless. This is God’s heart, something he echoes over and over in Scripture. We should protect the helpless, not prey on them.
How does this happen?
Yes, this is heinous. Anger is normal. I don’t pretend to know what God thinks. But if God expresses anger over anything, I think it would be stories like this.
But, too often, Christians stop here. We don’t address the deeper issues. I know why. It’s easy.
“Another Christian allows evil to consume their heart. The church is broken. This is exactly why I don’t do the church thing.”
I’ve chosen this road many times. I throw my hands in air rather than get them dirty. The truth is a story like this gives the church a chance to ask redemptive questions.
“What is my church doing to give a voice to the voiceless? Are we part of the problem (and not doing anything is part of the problem) or the solution?”
“Am I, as a leader, creating an authentic, transparent culture, one where someone struggling with porn or impure thoughts about children can find healing?”
“In our churches, are we protecting the “least of these”? Are we a place where former addicts and felons are restored?”
These questions aren’t easy to ask (or answer). But if we are the bride of Christ, they seem like important ones to ask.
We can’t eliminate evil. The church needs to put that fairy tale to rest. It’s actually counter-productive to our mission. Evil will always be around.
While we can’t eradicate it, we can fight it. We can’t save the world, but we can be vehicles of light wherever we are. In doing so, maybe men and women seek help rather than seek the vulnerable. Maybe a few people are rescued from trafficking and slavery, or better, maybe they never experience either.
Regardless, we must go beyond anger and disappointment. We must move beyond coffee shop, church-bashing conversations, and move toward healing.
I love you all. To God be the glory forever. Amen!