(RNS) — As the dark horrors of sexual abuse finally begin to surface across all spectrums of our society, we are once again reminded that our churches are not immune from this wickedness. The #metoo and #churchtoo movements are a sobering and painful reminder that a dark winter exists inside the Church … a community that claims to follow the One who is the Light of the world.
My 20 years of confronting and addressing sexual abuse within churches and other faith organizations has convinced me that abuse within the Church will only end when professing Christians stop distorting Jesus for the purposes of excusing abusive behavior and silencing the abused.
We distort Jesus when we empower and idolize abusive Christian leaders because of all the “great” things they do “for the Kingdom.”
We distort Jesus when we celebrate institutions that share the “good news” about a God who silenced and sacrificed Himself in order to save the individual, but then turn around and silence and sacrifice abused individuals in order to “save” the institution.
We distort Jesus when we silence victims by decrying their cries for help as sinful “gossip.”
We distort Jesus when we cover up the horrors of abuse within our churches in order to allegedly “protect the reputation of Jesus.”
We distort Jesus when we tirelessly advocate about “Merry Christmas,” “wedding cakes” and kneeling during the national anthem, while exhorting suffering victims to simply “forgive and move on.”
The list could go on and on.
Be encouraged. There is hope for the Church. The undistorted Jesus is the great light who “shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” He longs for us to be a reflection of this hope-filled light into the dark places of the world, including inside His Church.
We reflect the light of Jesus when we follow the path of the good Samaritan and spend our lives crossing roads and getting into the dirt with those who can’t move and have given up.
We reflect the hope-filled light of Jesus when we speak up and advocate for those who have been abused and whose voices are either too weak or too exhausted.
We reflect the hope-filled light of Jesus when we expose abuse wherever it is found, regardless of the consequences to individual careers or institutional reputations.
We reflect the hope-filled light of Jesus when we believe, affirm and welcome survivors who have bravely stepped out from the shadows.
We reflect the hope-filled light of Jesus when we tirelessly work to make our churches the safest places for victims who are suffering in silence, victims who long for the day they feel safe enough and loved enough to step forward.
This list must go on and on.
For too many precious souls, inside the Church is always winter, but never Christmas. God gives me great hope that one day light will indeed overcome darkness and there will be no more sexual abuse … and those who have been abused will experience unconditional love from Christians all over the world.
They will finally experience Christmas.
(Boz Tchividjian is a law professor and the executive director of the nonprofit GRACE, which stands for Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment. The views expressed in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)