When church leaders choose to defend one another rather than those who are most vulnerable, it is a time of darkness.
When the church rushes to defend an abusive leader before asking what has become of the victim, it is a time of darkness.
When an abusive church leader is given a forum recount all that he has lost without a moment’s reflection on what he took from everyone around him, it is a time of darkness.
When respectfully dissenting comments are removed from a leading evangelical Christian website, it is a time of darkness.
Last week I joined the many voices online who spoke out against the great darkness of sexual abuse in the church. In case you missed it, a former youth pastor, now sentenced sex offender, wrote a lengthy moralistic post essentially recounting his errors and pleading with readers that it could happen to them. However, the article misconstrued his relationship with an underage student as “an affair,” and the article failed to take into account the grave damage caused to the student, his family, and his church.
When dissenting voices spoke up early in the week, Leadership Journal failed to remove the post. All dissenting comments were deleted—even the respectful comments from former victims of sex abuse who had to suffer the indignity of knowing their voices were not welcome in yet another corner of the church. An editorial comment added later in the week acknowledged the strong push back to the post, but noted that the article was important because sex abuse was the primary cause of lawsuits in the church.
You know… because money and institutional preservation outweighs the value of people.
While the post was taken down either late Friday night or early Sunday morning, Leadership Journal did immense harm to the church, showed a significant lapse in awareness about sexual abuse victims, and handled a matter involving sexual abuse in the precisely wrong way.
Although I personally have no interest in reading a journal dedicated to leadership, I don’t want to see Leadership Journal go under. It’s my hope and prayer that this dramatic failure becomes an opportunity for renewal and resurrection in the church.
Whether they want to know about it or not, this situation has once again put pastoral sex abuse on the radar for evangelicals. We can’t really avoid it when the number publication for pastors dramatically fails to write about it. Here, then, is our moment to properly engage this topic.
Leadership Journal has an opportunity to lead the way.
Whereas a convicted felon was given a forum to speak about sex abuse, Leadership Journal can invite credentialed experts, victim advocacy leaders, and pastors who have led congregations through a sex abuse scandal without taking part in a cover up.
Whereas the comments of former sex abuse victims were silenced on the Leadership Journal website, their voices can be honored and protected by enforcing a strong comment policy that deletes any comments that question the integrity of victims or attempt to silence or shame them.
Whereas Leadership Journal’s editors passed the buck and offered vague contact information when confronted on Twitter, they can provide a simple, clear point person who is empowered to handle any immediate concerns with the content of their website.
Whereas Leadership Journal emphasized the legal implications of sex abuse, its leaders can develop books, articles, and white papers on the human cost of sex abuse. Leadership has a chance to become the leading advocate for victims, for healing congregations, for guiding pastors through this difficult season, and for restoring fallen pastors.
Churches are all over the map with how they handle the prevention of sex abuse and its aftermath. Leadership Journal can become the new standard bearer.
Leadership Journal can become part of the solution to the evangelical culture of sex abuse—providing an unequaled forum for healing, restoration, and wholeness in the church.
My prayer throughout Leadership Journal’s time of darkness has been for resurrection.
When church leaders drop everything to help the victims of abuse, it is a time of resurrection.
When church leaders choose to defend the vulnerable rather than one another, it is a time of resurrection.
When the church rushes to defend victims when a leader steps out of line, it is a time of resurrection.
When an abusive church leader submits to counseling so that he can understand the gravity of his failures and the path to healing, it is a time of resurrection.
When the church, despite our failings, disagreements, and frustrations, can come together to support victims, pastors, and congregations, we have a chance to become resurrection people.
We can mourn with those who mourn, pray for those who are discouraged, and provide safety for those who don’t know how to trust again. We can practice resurrection because resurrection will always beat darkness.
NOTE: There were many excellent responses, but I suggest beginning with Mary Demuth’s Dear Man in Prison. Check the Twitter hashtag #TakeDownThatPost for more perspectives.