When the Church prefers perpetrators

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One of the great privileges of child advocacy is the opportunity to meet the real heroes of life. These include those who were victimized as children and have come to a point in their life where they are able to advocate for so many others who suffer in silence. Mary DeMuth is one such hero. As I take a short hiatus from my blog to enjoy some time with my amazing family, I was thrilled that Mary agreed to write this guest post.   Let’s hope and pray that the Church listens to her powerful and convicting words, and that those suffering in silence may get a glimpse of authentic love and hope. Thank you, Mary. – Boz

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Something is wrong when churches protect perpetrators and marginalize victims. In recent months, we’ve seen a bit of the underbelly of covering up sexual abuse, demanding victims forgive and forget instantly for the sake of the poor offenders whose lives might be ruined if they were found out.

Cover up that exalts the “ministry” or a ministry personality over the well being of one who has been sinned against does not represent the Jesus I follow.

Jesus looked for the outcasted. He dignified the marginalized. He stooped (in the sweetest, gentlest way) to side with the woman caught in adultery, against her prosecutors and (perhaps) her sexual partner. He confronted sin in his closest group of ministry partners, even telling Satan to take a backseat. He noticed the woman with the issue of blood—a victim of biology and the probably shunning of the crowd. He clearly listened to the downtrodden. He identified, by coming to earth, with those bent beneath their loads. He welcomed scampering children while the disciples scoffed. His lap was safe.

Nature Power - courtesy of Andreas Kretschmer via Flickr

Nature Power – courtesy of Andreas Kretschmer via Flickr

And He said this: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea” (Mark 9:42, ESV). When a ministry adult or congregant pursues his/her own sexual deviance and violates a child sexually, how is he/she exempt from the millstone? And why do we try to alleviate the weight of that millstone by covering up?

The Church does far better when it acknowledges its sin, living fearlessly and honestly, than when it prefers to show a pretty, unadulterated face to the world. Unfortunately, we have become so enamored with the ministries we have built, forgetting that God Himself builds His Church (and thinking it weighs on our shoulders), that we have lived in depraved fear, preferring the words of perpetrators over the words of those abused. We wrongly believe that we are in the business of reputation management.

Problem is, ministry at its heart is about freedom. Truth is what sets us free. Honesty, authenticity, humility—all these should typify the church we all love. If someone one our watch or in our ministry hurts another one, particularly a child, then full disclosure along with the legal system being alerted is the least we can do. Corporate pain and a willingness to rebuild the one destroyed should be the story we live.

Never covering up. (link: http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2015/06/05/in-a-duggar-world-the-real-victims-take-a-back-seat-to-their-parents/)

Never demanding cheap grace or forcing easy forgivism. (link: http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2015/05/22/why-we-cant-expect-sex-abuse-victims-to-generate-instant-forgiveness/)

Never forgetting the trauma of sexual abuse and its lasting implications to the victim. (link: http://www.marydemuth.com/what-if/)

Never vilifying victims who risked everything to admit to the shameful acts.

I have written this before, and I stand by it: One of Satan’s most devious schemes on this earth is the sexual abuse of children. It ruins. It degrades. It impoverishes. It darkens understanding of God’s goodness. I can write this because I experienced it, hellish and pervasive, during my fifth year of life. Not one person saved me, though I asked for help. Not one hero stepped in to say, “This is wrong, and you will be held accountable by the law.” And I was left believing that the only person who could protect me on this earth was me.

Mary DeMuth - courtesy of Mary DeMuth

Mary DeMuth – courtesy of Mary DeMuth

After I told my babysitter and nothing was done to stop the abuse, I became scrappy—feigning sleep, saving myself. And then we moved far, far away. But the haunting stayed with me. The secret came out ten years later, soon after I met Jesus. By then the statute of limitations had long run out, and I would never (in this life) see the perpetrators brought to justice.

When we create church structures that do not listen to children who have been violated or believe their parents who stand horrified and broken, and instead prefer the perpetrating adults, we essentially hang the millstone around the family’s neck.

Paul’s dealings with the Corinthian man who had sexual relations with his “father’s wife” is instructive here. “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you” (1 Corinthians 5:1-2, ESV). Paul did not ask them to coddle, to hear the man’s story. He didn’t ask them to protect the man or silence the victim. He mandated the man who sinned be removed from their midst because of his egregious sexual sin.

Yet some have settled for keeping the violator within the ranks of the church with no penalty, and even defending him or her. We have “protected” the integrity of the church by violating its integrity through hiding and evasion.

Of course the goal of this kind of church discipline is restoration, but it must first be acknowledged as sin, openly. More than that, we must dignify victims, validating their voices. Our concern should be overspending ourselves, working feverishly toward the victim’s restoration and operating within the legal system to ensure justice is served.

The outcome of the Corinthian man’s situation was beautiful, surprising restoration. (See 2 Corinthians 2:5-11). As the Church of Jesus Christ, we hope for no less. We long to see both perpetrator and victim come to a place of surrender. Jesus died for the sins committed against us and the sins we commit, so that we can all experience His profound grace at the level place of the cross.

But if sin is covered up, never confessed, never called to account, how can grace abound? If a perpetrator is not confronted, how can he/she come to a place of utter brokenness about sin? And if we allow perpetrators free reign in our churches, how can we honestly say we follow Jesus—the One who welcomed children on His lap?

I love the Church. Jesus loves the Church a billion times more. It represents His body on this great, beautiful earth. He doesn’t need us to micromanage its reputation by covering up the acts of sinful people within it. No, He simply asks that we are truthful and handle sin like this with dignity and integrity.

Mary DeMuth is the author of 30 books, including Not Marked: Finding Hope and Healing after Sexual Abuse. She speaks around the country and the world about living a freedom-infused, uncaged life. Find out more at marydemuth.com.

  • One without a name

    “Something is wrong when churches protect perpetrators and marginalize victims. In recent months, we’ve seen a bit of the underbelly of covering up sexual abuse, demanding victims forgive and forget instantly for the sake of the poor offenders whose lives might be ruined if they were found out.”
    What can be done when the offender belongs to a different church than the victim? There is no resource that I know of that would pursue such offenders who are being protected by their religious institutions.
    Here is one example: http://dorightbaptistpioneermission.blogspot.com. Nothing at all is being done about this specific offender other than the fact that he is being protected by the university he attended, his home church and his mission. All have chosen to protect the “godly” man and have cast aside his known victim and any possible unknown victims.
    Is this how christianity works? Is this christianity?

  • One without a name

    The title of this article is meaningful to me, “When the Church prefers perpetrators.” Only five words, yet they hold so much hurt, so much weight. I feel those words in the deepest and loneliest parts of my heart. As a child, I believed that God preferred perpetrators and used them to punish little children who were not perfect enough for him. Now, I see that it is religious institutions who make this choice. In them, perpetrators hold a place of value that victims can never achieve. I have often tried to understand why. All I can think of is that perpetrators are considered strong and victims are considered weak and broken. Perpetrators can be charming, successful at leading and manipulating. Victims are often broken, questioning, struggling. Who does the church value more? The perpetrators are simply considered of more value. Victims are often seen as potentially getting in the way of those perpetrators carrying out their roles successfully.

  • KZ

    Dear One: Heaven help us, ignoring abuse is not supposed to be how true Christianity works, but it is how too many messed up Christian institutions can, have, and do work. I am no expert, but my understanding is that in situations where abuse is happening, civil authorities–not just church ones–must also be told, if only to avoid exactly the kind of problem you’re describing.

  • Sam

    And organized religion wonders why their membership has been in a downtrend ?

    The real problem is, ministry is business – Big Business.

    Big Business and survival of the fittest go hand in hand, not ‘Corporate pain’.

    Regarding ‘the legal system being alerted ‘ to child sex abuse, it’s amazing how ‘religion’ is the legal system in so many states.

    They own the legislature’s across the country, not wanting to do away with the clergy-parishioner privilege in protecting children in sex abuse cases to preventing laws that eliminate the civil statute of limitations for all victims of child sex abuse they employ the best of the best lobbyists.

    The retired Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of all Ireland, Cardinal Sean Brady summed it up best.

    “There was a shroud of secrecy and confidentiality with a view not to destroying the good name of the church,” Brady, 75, told the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry in Banbridge, Co. Down.

    “The scandal that…

  • Sam

    “The scandal that somebody who was ordained to serve people should so abuse the trust for their own pleasure was appalling.

    “To offset that, the scandal was kept a secret — very, very secret.

    “Everybody involved would be bound to secrecy too.”

    http://www.irishcentral.com/news/Sean-Brady-says-Catholic-church-covered-up-abuse-to-preserve-its-good-name.html?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_term=The+Best+of+IrishCentral&utm_campaign=Best+of+IC+/+Merged+-+June+26

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  • Be Brave

    @Boz,

    Authentic Christianity? How ironic and almost blasphemous that connotation is when used at Religion News Service. You need to preach truth in every direction.

    The LGBT movement that has started infecting The Church is NOT part of “authentic Christianity.” The millions and millions of youth that will engage in homosexuality via a stumbling block placed in their minds by gay activists IN THE CHURCH, all violate the threatening warning of Christ Jesus. And, these perpetrators are not only being protected by people “in the Church,” they are being applauded and lauded as heroes.

    If you are going to dare an article about protecting the violators of the innocent, you better not pick and choose who’ll you go after.

    The writers of the New Testament certainly didn’t.

  • Anon

    >>>>And He said this: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea” (Mark 9:42, ESV). When a ministry adult or congregant pursues his/her own sexual deviance and violates a child sexually, how is he/she exempt from the millstone?<<<<<

    In what part of the sexual abuse of a child is the child sinning??? (Answer: in NO part)

    I agree with your overall thought, but using this particular verse to support it can send the wrong message to victims and survivors of child sexual abuse.

  • bqrq

    “……Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea…..”

    The plain meaning – those who cause children to sin are better off dead. Their death is better for the children, the family, and society. All of the people still living are better off when they die. Most of them hope to go black when they die, so they are not particularly concerned about the words of Jesus Christ. After they die, they can no longer cause children to sin so Jesus is right regardless of what they believe about him.

  • One without a name

    KZ,
    Thank you! I’m not sure really how “true” christianity works. I have seen the worst of it, where abuse and covering abuse is the norm and predators are placed in positions of power. I have seen others speak against it, but do pretty much nothing when they are aware that it is happening around them. They don’t consider it any of their business and maintain friendly relations with those who commit and cover these horrors.
    I have seen VERY few people who call themselves christians that actually attempt to do something to stop abuse.
    As for the legal authorities, I agree that they should help, but that process is stacked against victims and in some areas, religious institutions hold so much power that even the legal system won’t get involved.
    Where I live, I know of not one single person who will stand up to a religious network that has covered sexual abuse for decades. Not one person in a position of authority will speak out – not ONE! The victims plead and no one hears…

  • Elizabeth Mitchell

    This is one of the most intelligent, honest and transparent articles I have read in a long time. I am moved beyond words. So, I will use His. They shall overcome by the blood of the lamb and the word of their testimony! Revelations 12:11 Thank you.

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  • Ben in oakland

    Leave it to you to take an article about heterosexual abuse and turn it into a diatribe about gay people.

    Christian love. Just like real love, except for the love part.

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  • Thanks for bringing that up. I appreciate it. The translation I used was “causing them to stumble” which is different than “causing sin.” I’ll need to do a better review of the original Greek to make sure I’m making my point correctly.

  • I’m humbled and grateful. This is such a painful topic and reality, and often times I hear or read victims just need to “get over it.” This is my attempt to address that.

  • It should not be this way, but sometimes it is. Preferring perpetrators re-victimizes victims. For Jesus who stood on the side of the victim, this is a heinous sin.

  • I agree, but I wonder if fear is also to blame because if we admit failure as a church, we open ourselves up to less funding. So perhaps they go hand in hand–fear and worry about our “business” collapsing.

    The Body is a living being, not a business, which is why the church should side on those who have been violated. When one suffers, we all suffer.

  • I just ache reading this. I so get where you’re coming from. And you’re right, often predators look “normal” and victims look broken. So in order to not appear messy, folks side with the “normal” people. It’s not right.

  • I think the secrecy is part of the awfulness of the whole thing. Get victimized, then keep the secret. So in keeping the secret, the victim has an extremely hard time healing.

  • Thanks for bringing that up. I appreciate it. The translation I used was “causing them to stumble” which is different than “causing sin.” I’ll need to do a better review of the original Greek to make sure I’m making my point correctly.

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  • Tedd Cadd

    Thank you again, Mary, for an excellent word.

    I would add one note: The companion passage to the Mark reference is Matthew 18. There is another caveat: “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.”

    I’ve often thought the millstone was insufficient punishment. But the thought of standing in the presence of a child’s angel who is in the presence of God the Father while you abuse a child is, perhaps, the most dangerous place of all and is infinitely more life-threatening than merely drowning.

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