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PSU, Power, and Pastoring: Protect the Children

Maybe it is because of the young people I have spoken to at camps who have suffered through abuse—their faces, their tears, their stories of pain.

Maybe it is because I have people in my life I care deeply for who have been abused.

Maybe it is because of the weight of teaching a generation of student pastors and other pastoral leaders and a desire to help them see the danger of power and the need to care for the helpless.

Maybe it is because I know my own depravity, and while I could not conceive of hurting a child, I know before a holy God I too am a guilty sinner and need God’s grace.

Maybe it is because I am a dad.

Regardless, all this week I have been troubled by the events at Penn Stste University. From the early reports to the termination of Joe Paterno and the president of the school last night, this thing has been at the front of my mind.

Let’s be clear: this is not about football. This is about abuse of power, neglecting the broken, failure to care for the helpless, and a reminder of how easily we can fail to value those things that matter most. A legendary coach has no more value than a ten-year-old boy. If anything, a person’s fame makes them more accountable in a situation like this, not more immune. We who serve as ministers of the gospel have a higher accountability to protect victims more than the reputation of those who have greater “influence.”

We have seen too much of this sort of thing in recent days. We have seen this in religion also. In a gut-wrenching article posted yesterday, ESPN senior writer Howard Bryant reminds us of similar abuses in the Catholic Church, the LDS, the LA Police Department, and the Boston Red Sox . You can read his article here. Sadly, I know of cases in the Evangelical Church where such abuses have occurred.

That is why CNN, Headlines News, MSNBC, as well as ESPN covered the events at PSU extensively last night. The fact that FoxNews hardly dealt with it, given its focus on politics (I switched channels a lot watching the coverage last night) is troubling in itself to me. I would think the more conservative news network would be leading in the coverage of something as morally disgusting as this. But then again, sometimes we conservatives also confuse power for importance, do we not? To their credit, the home page at Foxnews.com had this story as the lead this morning.

This probably bugs me more than it should, but we who uphold conservative values should be at the forefront of a story like this. We should not be protecting people because they have influence or we “like” them. We should have a much greater regard for truth and righteousness.

Character matters more than celebrity.
Integrity is greater than influence.
Fear of God is greater than fame.
We cannot let a person’s position keep us from doing the right thing, nor can we let a relationship with someone for whom we care cloud our judgment when they have done something so morally repugnant as what was virtually ignored at Penn State regarding sexual violence to children.

Another feature of this story concerns the many PSU students who immediately gathered in support of Paterno. Raised in a culture that virtually deifies our sports icons and too often raises children to be self-centered more than mature, why would we be surprised that some college students are more concerned about the ramifications of events this week on their reputation or that of their school? I wonder how many young adults in America have never had a parent or significant adult explain to them the importance of protecting the helpless, of caring more for the innocent than being infatuated by the popular. When we obsess over our sports team more than we speak out for children, we do not help matters.

But what about us? What about the church? Do we do enough to protect children? Do we defend the defenseless? Are we concerned about those who live daily in fear? I think the PSU events should cause us to do a little self-analysis. This week I met a young lady who has virtually nothing. That night after I met her she was physically assaulted. The body of Christ came around her to care for her. I am grateful to see my students and local churches help the broken. But am I outraged at this event at Penn State, yet not concerned enough about the children in my community?

We who lead the church cannot be ignorant of the hopes, fears, and outrage of the times. We must be able to take the gospel and demonstrate its power in the face of moral confusion. God forbid that we who follow Christ be more concerned with political change than the power of the gospel to rescue the broken, to stand for righteousness, and to change us as well.

If you are a student pastor, help your students understand that children matter more than sports figures, musicians, or movie stars. If you hear of abuse, report it. Do not sit on it. Take every measure possible to protect the children in your local church ministry. Next week my colleague Ken Coley will speak to my student ministry class about legal issues. We should know both what is legally expected of us and what the gospel demands of us. The book Better Safe Than Sued can help with the former, while the Word of God is sufficient with the latter. Read Matthew 18 and Mark 10. Study the Word regarding the protection of the helpless. Stop talking about sports figures like they are one of the apostles. Help those you lead understand the value of one soul, no matter whether that one will ever be famous or not.

Red and yellow, black and white, children really are all precious in His sight. And they should be in ours as well.

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Alvin L. Reid (born 1959) serves as Professor of Evangelism and Student Ministry at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, where he has been since 1995. He is also the founding Bailey Smith Chair of Evangelism. Alvin and his wife Michelle have two children: Joshua, a senior at The College at Southeastern, and Hannah, a senior at Wake Forest Rolesville High School. Recently he became more focused at ministry in his local church by being named Young Professionals Director at Richland Creek Community Church. Alvin holds the M.Div and the Ph.D with a major in evangelism from Southwestern Seminary, and the B.A. from Samford University. He has spoken at a variety of conferences in almost every state and continent, and in over 2000 churches, colleges, conferences and events across the United States.