Whose Reputation

Introduction

“Child sexual abuse perpetrated by priests appears to have a long history within Christianity, and is especially associated with the Roman Catholic Church, due to a number of high profile scandals which have come to light in recent decades.

“Many of these scandals relate to molestations committed decades ago, which were hushed up by the Church at the time. This hushing up included pressurising abuse victims into silence, a practice supported by Church decrees such as the Crimen sollicitationis. This culture of secrecy and self-preservation is one of the factors which has allowed paedophiles to remain active within the clergy, together with the tradition of clerical celibacy which may attract those who cannot satisfy their sexual proclivities openly, and priests' frequent access to children in the pastoral duties.”[1]

“Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican’s permanent observer to the UN, defended the church by claiming that “the majority of Catholic clergy who committed such acts were not pedophiles but homosexuals attracted to sex with adolescent males. The statement said that rather than paedophilia, it would ‘be more correct’ to speak of ephebophilia, a homosexual attraction to adolescent males.”[2]

Does renaming the crime make it less evil?

“Using the same tactics used by "gay" rights activists, pedophiles have begun to seek similar status arguing their desire for children is a sexual orientation no different than heterosexual or homosexuals.

“Critics of the homosexual lifestyle have long claimed that once it became acceptable to identify homosexuality as simply an "alternative lifestyle" or sexual orientation, logically nothing would be off limits. ‘Gay’ advocates have taken offense at such a position insisting this would never happen. However, psychiatrists are now beginning to advocate redefining pedophilia in the same way homosexuality was redefined several years ago.”[3]

What Archbishop Silvano Tomasi tried to redefine, is becoming a general trend. Most of us are aware of the rapid moral decline in our western societies. What we don’t expect, however, is to see the same decline taking place in Christian churches and communities that are supposed to be the last bastions of morality and ethics.

Unfortunately, the only reason the Catholic Church has been so prominently portrayed in the media, is because it has such a large population of adherents around the world. Is it the only church where abuse of minors takes place? We would be very na¿ve to think so. Church leaders either deny that such practices occur within their congregations or diocese, or hush them up.

The reason for public silence on these issues, has to do with the reputation of the institution, whether it is the Catholic Church, or any other church. From the human point of view this policy is understandable. Who wants to hang their dirty linen out for public viewing? The question that needs to be asked, however, is this a biblical approach to dealing with a criminal act within the Christian community? Whose reputation is most at stake? If Christianity has its roots in the Bible, then surely, the Churches need to look at the Bible for the way problems like this need to be addressed. To help us understand this problem more clearly, we need to look at God’s approach to sin in the life of Israel, the people he chose to display his holiness to the nations.

Ezekiel 5:5-13

When dealing with Israel in the Old Testament, God said to them,

This is what the Sovereign Lord says: This is Jerusalem, which I have set in the centre of the nations, with countries all around her. Yet in her wickedness she has rebelled against my laws and decrees more than the nations and countries around her. She has rejected my laws and has not followed my decrees. (vv5-6).

Like Israel, the Christian Church exists within societies that have largely rejected God, his values and standards. It has been appointed by God to a completely different standard of living under his rule. It is also meant to be ‘salt’ and ‘light’ in the community. One of its roles is to keep society from becoming more and more corrupt morally, and to throw ‘light’ on issues that are becoming increasingly vague for some people. Its role in the world, in one sense, is no different to the role Israel was given. When Moses addressed Israel before they entered the Promised Land, he said,

See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the Lord my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him? And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today? (Deuteronomy 4:5-8).

The Christian church, by its lifestyle, its values, and perspectives that are biblically based, is to serve as a model of God’s ability to change people’s lives. The quality of its life affects God’s reputation. When Israel succumbed to the practices of the pagan nations around it, it was sent into exile because it had dishonored God. Many years later, Paul the apostle wrote about Israel’s historic decline and the effects of it on other nations.

“God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” (Romans 2:24).

It is incredible how universally applicable the Bible’s message is to us today! Some parts of the Christian church are ridiculed because of the sins of so-called Christians within the Church and Christian communities.

So, what was God’s approach in dealing with this problem in Israel?

Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: You have been more unruly than the nations around you and have not followed my decrees or kept my laws. You have not even conformed to the standards of the nations around you.

Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself am against you, Jerusalem, and I will inflict punishment on you in the sight of the nations. (Ezekiel 5:7-8).

Behaviour such as we have witnessed in Churches and Christian institutions has been repulsive even to ordinary, decent citizens, who do not even class themselves as Christians. These are criminal acts that Churches have covered up, in an attempt to save their reputation, and to protect people who they claim have ‘psychological problems’ and need help.

Any organisation that involves work with children and young people, either Christian or secular, will occasionally attract predators. At the same time, overseers need to be mindful of unfounded, malicious accusations that are aimed to unseat decent, moral leaders within these organisations.

What should be the prior concern for all leaders in responsible positions? Instead of being concerned with our own reputation, and the reputation of the organisation we represent, we should have been more concerned with God’s reputation. Church leaders should have learned something from the way God dealt with sin among his own people in the Old Testament. Israel had declined morally to the extent it had brought shame to God’s name before a watching world. Now it was to experience God’s judgement before a watching world. God said,

I will display my glory among the nations, and all the nations will see the punishment I inflict and the hand I lay on them. From that day forward the people of Israel will know that I am the Lord their God. And the nations will know that the people of Israel went into exile for their sin, because they were unfaithful to me. So I hid my face from them and handed them over to their enemies, and they all fell by the sword. (Ezekiel 39:21-23).

God is totally just and impartial when he judges sin; whether it is sin among his own people, or in the world that still awaits that judgement. Christians, or church-going people, are not immune from God’s judgement on sin. In fact, people who claim to be Christians, come under God’s greater condemnation because they are, or should be, more aware of what God expects of them. So-called Christian politicians need to take note.

Criminal cases, whether they take place in society in general, or in the Christian church, have to be dealt with by the laws of the land. Then people who are involved with the Church will not be able to hide behind the protection of the Church, and will realise that their criminal acts will be judged in the same way as those of any other criminal. Public judgement of criminal cases that have taken place within the Church, protects the Church from dishonour by showing that evil practices are not acceptable to it, or to God. That way, God’s honour is maintained.

The only cases that Church leaders are told to resolve internally are much lesser conflicts and problems that do not come under the category of criminal actions. [See 1 Corinthians 5 & 6]. Once a person has been disciplined, either by church authorities, or by secular courts, and has shown genuine remorse and repentance, the Christian community is to forgive that person and to welcome him or her back into fellowship. (2 Corinthians 2:5-11). Genuine love seeks the person’s true welfare, and the welfare of those around him; it does not cover up sin.[4] If a person reoffends, this reconciliation does not apply. People who have a certain propensity to sexual abnormality, should not be given responsibilities that puts temptation in their way. It has nothing to do with not trusting them. It has everything to do with understanding the situation for our good, and their good.

When we talk about ‘criminal’ acts, we usually refer to acts that are prohibited by law, i.e. legislated law. This is where we enter an area of debate. What happens when legislation legalises some practices that God’s laws forbids? If marriage between ‘gays’ is illegal today, but with a stroke of a pen is made legal tomorrow, does that make it right? Liberal churchmen have tried to rewrite what the Bible says in its condemnation of homosexuality. They try to claim that the homosexuality that is condemned in the Bible is the aggressive act of people against unwilling subjects. What we see today, they say, are ‘loving’ relationships that we have no right to challenge.

What they forget is that the Bible says that human beings have been made ‘in the image of God’ (Genesis 1:26), and, as such, he created them ‘male and female’ (1:27). In order to reflect something of the nature of God, we have to begin with this assumption when we think of what makes people whole and human. When speaking of the union of the two, God said, For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. (Genesis 2:24). This is not just a ‘traditional’ practice; nor is it merely a ‘Christian’ practice. It is a creation principle and is God-ordained. I know that when people want to present an acceptable argument they try to avoid God in their arguments. However, when we leave God out, we have no base to argue from, except ‘what we want’. If we think that belief in God and his laws is divisive in our society, then imagine how splintered we would become if every individual was the arbiter of what is right or wrong, good or bad.

Yale Law Professor Arthur Leff, in his much-quoted 1979 lecture, expressed the dilemma facing law makers who have rejected the place of God in modern law. He said, when we get rid of God from our considerations, we place ourselves in the position of God. This leads to the problem of one ‘godlet’ saying to another ‘godlet’, ‘What gives you the right to tell me what is good for me?’ Next stop, anarchy!

To go against the basic relationship of male and female in any sexual relationship, especially in marriage, is to mar the divine image that makes us distinctly human beings. Therefore, it dishonours God. This does not mean that every marriage between a male and a female automatically honours God. Far from it. But, regarding failed or dysfunctional marriages as an excuse for initiating wrong relationships, can hardly be justified. Unless… we want to eliminate God from all our considerations. At his most honest, Aldous Huxley, the agnostic/atheist (?) said,

For myself, as no doubt for most of my contemporaries, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument for liberation. The liberation we desired was simultaneously liberation from a certain political and economic systems and liberation from a certain system of morality. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom. We objected to the political and economic systems because it was unjust. The supporters of these systems claimed that in some way they embodied the meaning of the world. There was one admirably simple method of confusing these people and at the same time justifying ourselves and our political and the erotic revolt: we could deny that the world had any meaning whatsoever. (1937, 269-73).[5]

When we want to get rid of our accountability to God, we pretend that he doesn’t exist. We then claim autonomy for ourselves; the right to make our own decisions in life. Of course, people are free to do that, but they are not free to control the consequences of their decisions. The nature of all sin, is that it affects other people, directly, or indirectly. To justify themselves, homosexuals, are not prepared to practise their lifestyle privately, they are aggressive in the promotion of that lifestyle.

Christian leaders have the responsibility of maintaining a biblical position when it comes to life and practices within its communities. The Bible has proved itself reliable, consistent, and relevant in every age and in every culture, because it is God’s message to us, and God, by his very nature, does not change. We need to remind ourselves that God who is holy, has always known what is best for human beings he created for a relationship with himself. With our modern claim to rely on science, and adopting progressive thinking, we are hardly becoming better people. In fact, we are becoming more and more degenerate morally. Changing the term paedophilia to ‘ephebophilia, a homosexual attraction to adolescent males,’ does not change the criminality of the act. Unless… some are hoping that even this act can be de-criminalised by legislation. Whatever we manage to do through legislation, will not alter God’s judgement on sin. Church leaders have the responsibility of maintaining God’s honour, and challenging any legislation that undermines God’s authority over the nation and its people.

Just as, righteousness exalts a nation, but sin condemns any people (Proverbs 14:34), so righteousness exalts a Christian community, but sin brings shame and condemnation to it. Once churches fail to protect God’s honour, there is nothing else for them to protect, except their own reputation.

[1] http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Child_sexual_abuse_in_the_Roman_Catholic_Church

[2] http://www.revelation-of-silence.com/2009/10/01/catholic-church-and-pedophelia/
[3] http://www.anglican-mainstream.net/category/paedophilia/
[4] The NT quote, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins, (1 Peter 4:8) refers to minor issues that rub us the wrong way when we relate to people who are different to us. It certainly does not refer to serious sins, or seriously wrong behaviour.
[5] Quoted in D.A. Carson, Gen. ed., Telling the Truth (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000) p.141.