Like most Christians, when I first heard about the child sexual abuse cases within the church, I was horrified, disgusted, angry and crushingly disappointed.
Not only was I furious at what had happened to these individuals, and the residual effects it must have on their lives, but I was angry that anyone had dared to use Christianity as a means to carry out such an unthinkable, evil act – and that they were able to.
As more and more cases came out, and the shock and anger started to wear off, I started to worry about how others would now see the church. If they had never read the Bible, and if they had never really experienced church (or had a negative experience of church), they must assume that Christians don’t really care too much about this issue. That the church condoned the behaviour and effectively (in those churches involved) equipped evil people to carry out evil deeds. If I was not a Christian, that’s what I would be thinking.
I was disgusted to the core of my being about what had happened to those children. Yet, I was so determined that no one begin to judge Christianity for these acts that I was now on the defensive. And when someone is on the defensive, they cannot sympathise, care, love and understand others.
Recently this topic was thrown back in the spotlight. I realised that I was in a defensive mindset, causing me to avoid the issue. Once I recognised that, I was able to again see things as others might see them, and was met with deep-seated disappointment that, unlike before, isn’t fading. This disappointment is less with the people and churches involved. It is with the church as a whole.
An atheist friend of mine tried to comfort me by saying ‘It’s okay – that was the Catholic church. You’re a Christian.’
It would have been so easy to agree with him, lump all the blame and responsibility on the Catholic church, and hold my head high as a protestant Christian. I’ve done this in the past, and know other Christians must have also.
However, the fact is that the Catholic church is the Christian church. Christians fall into two groups – Catholics and Protestants. Regardless of our differences, we are all one body; the body of Christ. We are the church. Not only this, but there have been similar cases within Pentecostal and Anglican churches that we know of. Even though we may have had nothing to do with what happened and would have intervened had we known, we cannot shift all of the blame and responsibility onto one member of the body.
Herein lies my disappointment. The church was responsible for this, and we are the church. We have not responded to this issue well. We are aware of the processes, training and education to prevent such evil ever occurring again under our watch, but others are not. We have firmly condemned the actions of those child sexual predators, and yearned for justice, but we have done so quietly, cautiously, and in the safety of our own homes where no outsiders will hear us.
In contrast, when the same sex marriage plebiscite was approaching, I didn’t know of one church that did not make it abundantly clear what position they held on the debate. There were Christian lobbies, signs, ads, stickers, t-shirts and social media articles SHOUTING what side of the fence they fell on. Still if someone asks what you voted, most Christians I know, whatever position they held, will boldly state what they voted and why. Yet when it was made known to the public the abominable disgrace and evil that took place under Christian leadership, we were silent. When victims and their friends and families needed to hear a voice, there was none. When non-believers who are ignorant of what we truly stand for, of what Christianity teaches and promotes, needed to know what we think of this, they were met with silence.
Where are the Christian leaders boldly and passionately standing at their pulpit, condemning these acts with overwhelming conviction, and teaching clearly that what happened was not by Christians, but evil people who used Christianity to perform repulsive acts? Acts that are against what the Bible teaches and against the very core of Christianity!
As it was with me, it might be that we are stuck in a defensive, survival state of mind. We are putting shields up and preparing for the onslaught of vicious attacks and persecution. But this is not what we should be doing as God’s people. We need to lower our shields and walk out into that battlefield. We need to acknowledge what happened, and that we, as the body of Christ, failed to protect the children who were sexually abused. Even if that means being shot through with an arrow, or meeting our fate with a sword. As Christians, we are called to give up all that we are for God’s kingdom, and for the sake of loving others. Right now, the victims, their families, and every other person who does not yet know the love of God need us to humble ourselves, to take responsibility, to love sacrificially, and to show them the true heart of God and teaching of Christianity. They need to see us take the stand, they need to hear our voice, and they need the proof of action that our voice is true.