Abuse and Secrecy: What Have We Got to Hide?
Ephesians 5:11 ESV (11) Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.
One of the reasons that abusers can hide so well in the church is because of our campaign of silence. Let me see if I can explain what I mean.
Scripture tells us that we are to speak well of others, that we are to guard our tongues so as to not slander or gossip. Our speech is to be edifying. There are things we should not speak about. Vulgarity and crude jokes are not to be part of our vocabulary. We all know this.
At the same time, we ARE to speak loudly and clearly when evil needs to be exposed. There is a time not to speak, but there is a time when it is a sin to keep silent. Christ is in the business of exposing evil when it is in His church and He commands all of us to do the same. Announce it to the congregation. Name names. Rebuke publicly when a person refuses to repent, and so on.
But we don’t do this. We most commonly keep sin a secret. The details have to be pried out of our mouths. I remember, for example, some years ago when a pastor was discovered to be abusing his wife and living an immoral lifestyle. At an annual meeting of pastors that this man had been a part of, there were hushed comments about “hey, where is so and so?” “Well, haven’t you heard?” Ultimately a written announcement was made that he was no longer a pastor and had left his family. But even in that announcement, cautious words were used: “We are not free to give all of the details. You understand of course. We don’t want to say anything improper.”
Well, let me ask, “why?” Sure, there are times when situations require discretion as to what is said and not every single person in the world needs to know every detail. I would hope that such limitations to what is revealed are intended for the good of the victim however, and not for the protection of the guilty man’s reputation. Alas, I am afraid that reputation protection — both of the guilty party AND of ourselves — is more often the motivation for this silence.
Ask yourself again: how does Christ handle sin in His church? Does He hush it up? Does he deal with it “quietly and discreetly”? Or does He announce it from the mountaintops? For anyone who knows God’s Word this is a no-brainer.
Why do we feel that we have to protect the “sensibilities” of our congregation, sparing them the nasty details of what an abuser has done? Once more, ask yourself — how does the Word of God approach these things? Does it say, “John Smith has failed to love his wife and often speaks to her in anger”? Or does this sound more like God’s description: “John Smith has consistently terrorized his wife and children. For years he has raped and sodomized his wife. He has threatened to slit her throat if she ever tells anyone. And all the while, John Smith has been among us as a practiced hypocrite, pretending to be a fine Christian man.”
So I ask, why do we cover up? I will suggest some reasons and I will be happy to hear more of them from you:
- Reality threatens the fantasyland of “goodness” in which we live.
- The truth divides. It demands that we make a decision and take a side. And that means that the comfortable hot-tub environment of our churches will be rocked. People could leave. Money will be lost.
- We are arrogant. We refuse to admit that such things could happen among us. So we minimize their severity and then boast about how forgiving we are (all at the expense of the victim of course).
- We are foolishly and dangerously naive about evil.
- We exalt men’s reputations above the name of Christ.
I do not believe that all of our talk about avoiding gossip, of not wanting to slander anyone, or of some desire to “protect” people explains the silence about evil in the church. I suggest that this silence stems more often than not from selfish, sinful desire to minimize it, avoid dealing with it, and making it just disappear out of sight.
Revelation 2:14-16 ESV (14) But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality. (15) So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. (16) Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth.