Why does the Church have a child abuse problem?
We see it in the new Methodist report covering 2,000 cases of abuse, a third of which were carried out by church members
We see it in the scandal engulfing Josh Dugger.
We see it when the Pope – the Pope – lays into bishops who cover up abuse in the Catholic Church.
We can’t write off these stories as isolated incidents. New stories keep getting uncovered, different people keep getting failed by structures that should be founded on love and grace. Each one of these stories is another crack in the foundations, another cancer in the body, and every time we ignore one of these malignant cells the disease just gets worse.
Of course, not only are awful sexual crimes being committed, they’re being covered up. Maybe that’s because people are more inclined to take the word of a mega church pastor over that of a teenage girl. Maybe it’s fear reporting and investigating abuse with drag the church into disrepute (as if hiding crimes and intimidating survivors wasn’t disreputable enough). Maybe it’s simply because power corrupts and the church still clings on to the vestiges of its earthly power.
Every time something like this happens, it teaches the world that the church can’t be trusted, that it’s willing to sacrifice its moral authority, that it’s capable of throwing child abuse victims under the bus. How does that show compassion and love to those around us? How does that glorify God?
Easy answer – it doesn’t. All it does is make that millstone in Matthew 18:6 all the more heavy.
We have to start being honest with ourselves. We can’t call down judgement on random passers-by when children are being abused behind closed ecclesiastical doors. We need to genuinely start believing that people are important and carry the divine image rather than valuing institutions over children of God. We need to seek forgiveness from survivors, support rehabilitation efforts for offenders and do everything we can to safeguard our congregations. And this may take years to achieve, because we’ve forfeited our right to be seen as safe spaces.
In the end, our call is to follow Christ, to build his Kingdom. That’s what the church should always be about, not covering up the truth, not sacrificing the innocent. The light of the world should illuminate the darkest corners, even when those corners are in our
churches, and as the light shines, let us be a force for hope and grace; let us repent and begin the hard, messy work of being renewed.