My father came to Christ while in prison and then after serving his time, he became an evangelist and Rescue Mission Superintendent. As the son of an ex-con, I have seen the down and out loved, cared for and respected in his ministry. But in my memory, not one of those individuals was allowed in my home while growing up. And if there ever was a time that a stranger did come into the home, there were boundaries.
I remember times watching my dad preach to the men who came into the Saginaw Rescue Mission, in Saginaw, Michigan. The men would come to hear a short sermon before eating a meal and possibly getting a bed for their evening sleep.
I’ll never forget what I saw during one of those nights. One man, who had been drinking alcohol, was causing a disturbance. Suddenly my father asked all the men to bow their heads and close their eyes, which everyone did but this man and me. I wanted to see what dad was going to do because I knew something was up.
My father stepped down from the platform, walked to the row where this man was sitting; leaned in and took a hold of his little pinky and then, pulled him out of the meeting. He marched this fellow to the curb of the mission and returned to finish the sermon. I’m thinking “Wow!”
After the meeting was over, I saw my dad go out to the curb, sit down next to this man to put his arm around him and say something. Then he helped the man up, so he could take him to the dinning hall. Several things struck me about this incident.
First of all, dad wasn’t going to let one man disturb what could be a life changing moment for someone to know Jesus. Second, he actually respected this man by not putting up with his stuff. In spite of this fellow being intoxicated, my dad understood the man clearly knew what he was doing to disrupt the service. Third, this was not a muscle job so my father could show him who was boss. He not only had every head bowed and eyes closed to create a private environment, but dad went out to the curb afterwards and let this man know that he and Jesus cared. Fourth, you’ll never see anything like this mentioned in books to teach how to win people to Jesus. What happened was so radical, but in hindsight it reminded me of Jesus chasing the money changers out of the temple.
I can say my father did what he could to protect us from druggies, criminals, alcoholics, or any habitually irresponsible person from coming into our home, particularly if they were what we call ‘on the mend.’ But, I can’t say when the family went to Rescue Mission functions that I always felt protected, even though I understand striking the balance of expressing grace and understanding depravity isn’t always that easy.
Before I authored the book Transforming Twisted Thinking, I became acutely aware that my personal bent of wanting to sin against God and others didn’t go away just because I believed Jesus was my Lord and Savior. The Bible calls it the battle between the flesh and the Spirit; one in which the Apostle Paul confessed to in Romans 7.
I also saw this battle going on with some people in my past ministries. Whether it involved me, or leadership, church attenders, or counseling marriages at risk, there was no end to the depths of which believers in Jesus or unbelievers can sink to make sure they protect themselves. If sin can be defined as a failure to love, then all of us run into that wall occasionally and maybe more frequently than we realize.
Fundamentally, I’ve seen the Body of Christ – at least in the USA – shying away from a healthy respect for our personal depravity. It has been demonstrated in failing to protect children or slipping into twisted relational games to send a message that it’s okay to dehumanize others for the sake of pleasure or power. And, the pleasure isn’t only about the sexual but also the intellectual, emotional, financial and relational benefits that manipulate people into satisfying an egotistical desire to be worshipped.
We live in a worldview, and sad to say in many Christian Cultures, that look more at behavior above the street and won’t challenge the below the street direction our motives and behaviors are taking us. To mind this gap, it’s one of the reasons I believe there is no ‘sacred cow’ that can’t be challenged, or question that can’t be asked if we’re going to validate what a healthy respect for our depravity looks like.
Any culture without that can unwittingly or willfully foster a belief system where child sexual abuse can happen.
The second belief that systemically sets the stage for this abuse is found in something I’ve seen repeated over and over again and that is the breakdown in the concept of family.
Clearly for the first marriage mentioned in Genesis 2:24 and the pattern for every marriage thereafter, the man was told to leave his father and mother and cleave unto his wife. How unusual to have this mandate recorded before sin entered the world by that one man. Every man is responsible for how his home will do relationship and is encouraged to move into adulthood. And, since man’s fall, this understanding has been almost rendered unrecognizable.
The distortion of what God said to Adam has been played throughout history. It has set up a false belief that humanity must remain children and as children, we only rely on a parent or other authoritarian figure to define who we are and not God. The results come in two extremes of this continuum.
On one end is the Peter Pan syndrome where we fall in love with never ever wanting or having to grow up. On the other end, there’s the Big Daddy—Big Mama syndrome, which says children must remain helpless because if they grow up, Big Daddy—Big Mama will lose control and feel totally alone. This keeps covert and overt threats on the family table and calls in the markers to make the children pay for wandering away from them. It’s not about being there for the children but making sure the children are there for Big Daddy and Big Mama.
The belief of building a solid family by promoting a Big Daddy/Big Mama culture goes against God’s desire for every child to grow into maturity and reflect the relational reality of the Trinity, as well as, to be responsible for their own family and marriage. In my years of counseling and ministry it’s the number one task that hasn’t been accomplished in marriages and it keeps adults children.
Wherever we go in history, albeit even in church history, there has always been individuals who make it their goal to have others rely only on them. Meanwhile, they won’t obligate themselves to others unless they get an immediate gain. It is a top-down leadership scenario based on a belief that children must remain children, or be dependent adults who can then possess the luxury of not thinking for themselves.
It’s unfortunate, to me, how well-meaning ministries buy into this belief unaware of the damage it causes children and adults alike. It’s astonishing to discover the clear abuse of power any leadership displays when they keep adults children with the promise of a Peter Pan Heaven, or imply the need for a Big Papa—Big Mama who can make sure all get blessed their way. And with either approach, God is functionally and practically out of the picture, which is unadulterated idolatry.
First and foremost, within this culture of abuse, is the belief there are questions that can’t be asked and if this belief is nurtured, it sets up an unhealthy narcissistic self-centered delusional reality. A person might believe they have altruistic motives behind what they do in life. But, if it’s true that the truth can set us free, especially when truth is embodied in Jesus as the way and the life, then any belief or act which suppresses or represses truth will open the door to the abuse we see happening in homes and ministries today.
Therefore, keeping secrets by directly or inadvertently implying there are questions which can’t be asked is a rule that must be broken. And God has broken this rule when He exposes abusers within those systems. Sometimes it doesn’t happen until years later and children have an opportunity to mature, but the Genesis 2:25 mandate to develop open, honest and unashamed relationships hasn’t changed. One of the greatest gifts parents or leaders can give their families or organizations is to develop a culture where questions can be asked on any level. The old cliché’ that children are to be seen and not heard doesn’t come from heaven.
I believe with all my heart that God builds within the soul of humanity the longing to uncover the abuses over humanity. The being sure your sin will find you out of Numbers 32:23 is active and alive! In addition, the Bible teaches that without question, justice will be exacted on perpetrators who seemed to have gotten away with their sin. “The Righteous One takes note of the house of the wicked and brings the wicked to ruin.” Proverbs 21:12 NLT “Do not fret because of evildoers or be envious of the wicked, for the evil doer has no future hope and the lamp of the wicked will be snuffed out.” Proverbs 24:19, 20 NLT “For God will bring every evil deed into judgment, including every hidden thing whether it be good or evil.” Ecclesiastes 12:14 NLT
We see things from a time and space perspective and even though God sees things from that view too, he operates from an eternity in view as well. In my life, I’ve struggled with that because I want the justice now, but I also choose to believe God promises a justice that will happen before all of humanity dating back to Adam and Eve.
For purposes of redemption, reconciliation, restoration and the satisfaction of justice in time and space, which God actually accomplished at the Cross of Christ, encourages us to expose sin. For that, individuals who are coming forward to disclose the sexual abuse that happened to them in their families or ministry settings are courageous. We benefit from their heroism, albeit they most likely don’t see themselves as heroes in the faith.
To them, I say thank you for not accepting the belief that there is no question that can’t be asked.
I recently watched the alarming documentary of child sexual abuse within a major Christian organization ‘No Place to Call Home.’ The pain shared in the video was real and heart breaking! The documentary opened up so many questions surrounding how a Christian community could foster a culture of sexual abuse.
This blog isn’t specifically about that organization but it does represent a picture of other ministries I have witnessed struggling with the same issue over my ministry of forty-seven years.
Someone said, “There’s no pain like the pain of parenting.” Something deeply disturbing happens to the psyche of humanity when our children are taken from our grasp and sexually abused. But, when the abuse happens within the family, there’s an additional tapeworm of evil that eats away at the soul’s identity, as helpless children become victims of an insidious breach of trust.
Then, there’s the struggle that involuntarily becomes a part of the abused child’s life. At risk of repeating the abuse and becoming the offender, blaming God for being absent and unwittingly attaching themselves to the control of the perpetrator, they often act out to fabricate a sense of personal power, or choose to overcompensate and/or over achieve to overcome the abuse. Also, instead of trying to survive, some think of and attempt suicide to get out of hopelessness and manage the one decision they think can be theirs. However the child handles the abuse, the outrage at being dehumanized is profound and the arduous journey to wholeness is an understatement, to say the least.
I would suggest, as others have, that systemically this tragedy starts with the failure of leadership involving a history of triangulation, emotional enmeshment, secrecy, willful naivety, and authoritarianism. However, I would like to go deeper to Mind This Gap if I may, into a belief system that opens the door to this horrendous sin.
Let me say, that at the core, this is not about the theological positions these ministries sincerely purport. It’s about hidden beliefs – possibly unrecognized by some – developing a life of their own in leadership and throughout the corporate community. But, whether those beliefs or patterns of thinking were recognized or unrecognized, the damage from the terror of this type of betrayal is still the same.
As I delve deeper into the nucleus of any current tragedy you may be familiar with, I approach this with an understanding that it can happen in and to any family, secular or religious community. And so, my intent is not to point fingers at a person or people but at a breakdown of four major hidden beliefs that set up any environment for this abuse to happen. After seeing these issues over my lifetime of forty-seven years of ministry and counseling rise up, my desire is to provide some understanding of how this could happen.
Below, are four major principles or beliefs that set up any community to offend each other. Systemically they create the domino effect to this abuse. You may take either principle as the top domino and get the same effect. I chose the first principle as questions that can’t be asked, because it so easily describes the place where this type of abuse starts; In secrecy.
I will spend time in the next four blogs to address each belief.
Thank you for weighing through this journey with me.
Four Major Beliefs Fostering a Culture of Child Sexual Abuse in Christian Ministries
Questions that can’t be asked
The Breakdown of the family concept
A distorted view of Grace