Sexual abuse: church coverups don't justify witch hunts...

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[NOTE: After reading this post, Mary Lee was confused about whether or not I thought Marie Collins's resignation was justified or not? I have no idea, and that's my point in writing this post. Concerning sexual abuse and its coverup, the truth is harder to come by than we think or wish—and certainly harder to come by than those fomenting witch hunts would have us believe. Thus my recommendation of hard investigatory work and careful procedure.]

There's a witches brew of websites stirring steaming cauldrons of rebellion and mockery against male church officers faithful to Scripture. On these sites, no theme is more popular than sexual abuse committed by men—unless it is the coverup of male sexual abuse by male church officers. But note: you will never read about the sexual abuse committed by women on these sites. The women who write and comment are uninterested in any abuse that fails to strengthen their narrative of male oppression, so sexual abuse committed by sisters and mothers never shows up. And this despite female sexual abuse's steep growth curve.

Before we get to the point of this post, let me make it clear that nothing has consumed more time and tears among our pastors, elders, and Titus 2 older women at Clearnote Church, Bloomington than the sexual abuse of children and young people. We've done this terribly sad and difficult work for many years now, both in our own congregation and as advisers and helpers to other congregations around the country. We've worked with congregations from the Pacific Northwest to the Southeast... 

as well as points in between. Last week, for instance, three of our session members travelled to Philadelphia to take part in the censure of a church for its coverup of sexual abuse by a prominent staff member close to twenty years ago. This trip brought to an end work we started over three years ago with that church, doing everything we could to force them to admit and repent of the evils they spent almost two decades covering up.

Nevertheless. Yes, that's what I said: nevertheless.

We must not allow these websites and the media's feeding frenzy over sexual abuse to throw out our judicial processes, which is to say we must not cave in front of the witch hunt. Contrary to the anti-Puritan narrative that sells so well in our debauched nation today, during the Salem witch trials, Cotton Mather was a calming voice of reason promoting proper process and rules of evidence.

This is what's needed today. We must not jump on the bandwagon. Time after time across history, witch hunts have proved to be just that—witch hunts. So avoid them.

Yes, be firm in your investigation. If you don't make men and women cry as you investigate the charges, you're not asking the right questions. If you don't report the crimes to the civil magistrates right away, you're in rebellion against God's proper authority. If you don't take the coverups committed by church officers to the session, elders board, and presbytery, you're in rebellion against God's proper authority. If you don't sit and cry with the victims, and do everything you can to verify their account and bring their oppressors to justice, you're loveless. If you allow their mother to stop your work of exposure, you're clueless concerning how victims come to be healed. (You're also likely clueless about how much the mother knew about the abuse during the years it was committed.)

But avoid witch hunts. Follow proper process. Test the testimony. Gather evidence. Document everything, and not just in your brain.

No witch hunts. I write this after reading an article about the resignation of respected sexual abuse survivor and advocate Marie Collins from the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors over what she claims has been the refusal of the Roman curia to accede to Pope Francis's directives concerning the discipline of bishops involved in coverups. The article on this controversy is worth reading in order to come to a better understanding of the difficulty of this work and the neccessity of observing proper process. I gained wisdom from the article and hope you'll take the time to read it. Here's an excerpt:

If a bishop could be judged to have acted negligently in the 1990s according to the standards of 2010, was that reasonable and just - and who, then, would be innocent?

Tim Bayly

Tim serves Clearnote Church, Bloomington, Indiana. He and Mary Lee have five children and big lots of grandchildren.

Want to get in touch? Send Tim an email!