Statement cites sexual abuse in church

A “Public Statement Concerning Sexual Abuse in the Church of Jesus Christ” says churches confronted with abuse allegations often put the institution’s reputation ahead of the victim.

By Bob Allen

Seventy-two faith leaders signed a public statement July 17 decrying silence from evangelical leaders on the issue of sexual abuse in the church.

BozTchividjianReleased by Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE), an advocacy group founded by Billy Graham’s grandson and Liberty University School of Law Professor Basyle “Boz” Tchividjian, the statement voices anger and distress over recent allegations of abuse and cover-up by a well-known international ministry and subsequent statements by evangelical leaders.

“These events expose the troubling reality that, far too often, the Church’s instincts are no different than from those of many other institutions, responding to such allegations by moving to protect her structures rather than her children,” the statement said.

It noted that evangelical leaders were quick to comment on major abuse scandals involving the Catholic Church, Penn State University and the military.

“[W]e must now acknowledge long-silenced victims who are speaking out about sexual abuse in evangelical Christian institutions: schools, mission fields and churches, large and small,” the statement said. “And we must confess we have done far too little to hear and help them.”

The statement said sexual abuse is not only a crime, but an “evil, horrific sin perpetrated in dark and hidden places, forever altering lives and destroying the faith of the abused.”

“By our silence and our efforts to protect our names and institutions and ‘missions,’ we, the body of Christ, have often sided with an enemy whose sole purpose is and has always been to destroy the Lamb of God and his presence in this world,” the faith leaders proclaimed.

The statement said “busyness and inattention” have often resulted in complicity with those who commit or shelter abuse.

“We must face the truths of our own teachings: To be a shepherd in the body of Christ and blind to the knowledge that your sheep are being abused by wolves in your midst is to be an inattentive shepherd,” the statement said.

“To judge merely by outward appearances is a failure of righteousness. To fail to obey the laws of the land as Scripture commands by declining to report and expose abuse is to be a disobedient shepherd.

“To be told that wolves are devouring our lambs and fail to protect those lambs is to be a shepherd who sides with the wolves, who hinder those same little ones from coming to Jesus.

“To fail to grasp the massive web of deception entangling an abuser and set him or her loose among the sheep is to be naïve about the very nature and power of sin.

“To be told a child is being or has been abused and to make excuses for failing to act is a diabolical misrepresentation of God.

“To know a woman is being raped or battered in hidden places and silence her or send her back is to align with those who live as enemies of our God.”

The statement said churches can and must do better in responding to sexual abuse.

“Protecting an institution or organization rather than a living, breathing lamb is to love ministry more than God and to value a human name or institution more than the peerless name of Jesus,” it said.

“Dear church of Jesus Christ, we must set aside every agenda but one: to gently lead every man, woman and child into the arms of our Good Shepherd, who gave his very life to rescue us from the clutches of our enemy and from sin and death -- who rose from the dead and called us to the safety of his side.”

Signers include authors Scot McKnight and Matthew Redmond, faith-and-culture writer Jonathan Merritt and Chris Seay, pastor at Ecclesia in Houston.

“To my knowledge, this is the first major public statement by the evangelical world regarding the horrors of sexual abuse within the church and the dire need to begin addressing this in a manner that loves and serves those who have been so hurt,” Tchividjian said. “This is a historic moment in the life of the Church.”

The statement comes on the heels of a Baptist World Alliance resolution expressing “profound sorrow at the ways in which children have been betrayed, harmed and sexually or otherwise abused” and urging member bodies to take “urgent action” to protect children from sexual abuse.

In June the Southern Baptist Convention urged denominational leaders to use “the highest sense of discernment” about involvement with individuals or groups publicly perceived as sheltering abuse.

The SBC resolution followed controversy over high-profile Southern Baptist leaders voicing unqualified support for a ministry colleague named in a lawsuit containing unproven allegations that some describe as the biggest evangelical sex-abuse scandal to date.

The GRACE statement quoted Holocaust survivor and author Elie Weisel, who once said: “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim…. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

“When we choose willful ignorance, inaction or neutrality in the face of evil, we participate in the survival of that evil,” the faith leaders stated.

Tchividjian said he hopes the statement opens the door to increased dialogue among Christians about working together to address sexual abuse in a comprehensive and informed manner.

“Christians will always have differing opinions on issues such as theology,” he said. "However, the protection of children and the loving of those who have been abused is one thing that all of us can agree on and work together to address in a way that mirrors Jesus.”