It is possible to be "for the church" and "stand with victims" at the same time.
They are not mutually exclusive. In fact, I would argue that Jesus did just that. He stood against the power hungry religious monopoly choosing instead to stand with the least of these. And yet, he was not against the church, in fact he ordained the church. He was the architect and its chief cornerstone. But I digress...
There are so many issues to address but I'm going to focus on one in particular. I continue to be amazed at how Christian organizations and churches position, posture, and protect themselves in the midst of wrongdoing. When a scandal breaks, what generally follows is a firestorm of defense. Many have written about the challenges a victim faces when finally deciding to come out with the truth. It is a harrowing ordeal that takes immense courage and involves grievous pain and suffering all over again. I tend to believe that the majority of abused individuals would not speak up if their stories were not true. [For resources and information about abuse check out GRACE - Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment] If churches and Christian organizations remain unwilling to come clean and admit their part in abuse situations (everything from sexual abuse to spiritual abuse), they must be willing to accept their part in the crisis of faith that victims usually experience as a result. Healing begins by way of honesty - on both sides. When denial of wrongdoing is at play, continued pain and withdrawal is sure to follow.
Now more than ever we need people willing to stand up.
- Stand up to leaders in your organization advising you not to.
- Stand up to a budget that needs to be met.
- Stand up to your reputation and risk losing it.
- Stand up to your pride that's fighting for itself.
- Stand up and don't back down.
I plead with you, if you are a church or a Christian organization, follow these three simple steps. I say simple but make no mistake, they will be hard. Rest in the truth that Jesus stands for you.
1. Admit wrongdoing
As I said, this is simple not easy. To admit wrongdoing is to put it all on the line. It swallows pride, it takes a back seat, and puts everything ahead of itself. If the gospel is true there is freedom awaiting those who confess wrongdoing. We expect it of our kids. We want it in our marriages and relationships. You're free. Free to give up and give in. Free to be last and least. If what's stopping you from confessing is some sort of legal action that could be taken against your church or organization as a result, refer to #3.
2. Apologize for actions
Apologies often include that little annoying word but. However, what signals a true apology is the absence of but. Psychology Today gets it right when they say, "A true apology does not include the word 'but' (“I’m sorry, but …”). 'But' automatically cancels out an apology and nearly always introduces a criticism or excuse." Sadly, apologies from the Christian world are few and far between - here is one example from a recent headline.
3. Accept consequences
This last step is not necessarily something you do, it's something that will happen as a result of coming clean. You may lose members and attendees. You risk losing your reputation. You could lose money, donors, support. You may lose partnerships. You'll likely lose credibility. There may even be legal ramifications. If there is anything to do here, it's probably the difficult decision to continue steadfastly in your commitment to owning wrongdoing. You've admitted, you've apologized, and now you need to stay focused amidst temptation to recant, to soften the apology, to add a but.
We need the church to stop with the public relations program.
We need the church to take the lead.
We need the church to be honest.
We need the church to make loving your people more important than idolizing your authority.
The consequences you might face will never compare to the consequences of abuse that a victim faces. Church, be the church. Stand for those Jesus stood for. The least, the forgotten, the beat up, and the ones with no voice. Be encouraged - Jesus says to you, "I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you."