If you’ve manage to catch the news lately you probably have seen something about the sexual abuse scandals that are rocking the Southern Baptist Convention, with more then 700 pastors being accused. This is actually not news, or at least it’s not new. It’s certainly old hat for the Catholic church and their priest clergy. It was occasionally spoken about in large, mega-church organizations, whenever a high profile pastor was busted. But, what we’re seeing today is rather pervasive, pointing to a systemic issue that has yet to be addressed by the church leadership or the parishioners.
Given the nature of the situation and what I think are the deep rooted reasons for why this is happening (has actually been happening all along), I thought it would be a good idea to write a post about. This post is actually prompted by an article written by Dena Johnson Martin at Crosswalk.com, titled, “Why is Abuse Rampant in the Church?” I’ll discuss this article specifically and my overall thoughts and opinions on the subject in general.
So let’s jump in and talk about what’s actually taking place in the modern day church, why it might be happening, and maybe what people can do about it…
Personally, you know if you follow this blog at all, that I was saved outside of the church, or saved outside of the modern expression known as the evangelical church or any other modern denominational equivalent. My spiritual teeth were cut directly from the apostles and prophets, having read through the Bible almost in its entirety before I ever stepped foot in a church. Likewise, I never really took to the ritualistic nature of modern Christianity. Whether it be Catholicism, Fundamentalism, or the mainstream denominations, I usually found myself quite bored in a church setting. There was no involvement, no interaction, no real move of the spirit through the body of believers (and I’m not referring here to word-faith fanaticism, but genuine spirit led fellowship).
After awhile, I withdrew. And, surprising to most people who watched me leave (actually no one really cared all that much), I did not backslide or fall victim to entrenched sin, or lose my faith or become strangled off spiritually over the cares of the world. Actually, my spiritual life grew exponentially after my departure. Given the day and age in which I lived, I had access (often for free) to some of the greatest biblical teaching on the earth, all at my fingertips. I was able to go back to seminary and finish my MA, then my ThD without having to deal with these local assemblies at all (well, nearly, I did have one pastor proctor my MA comp exam – oddly, never in any of our interactions did he invite me to join in their fellowship).
Needless to say, it was quite a surprise when I saw these reports that sexual abuse was rampant in the modern evangelical church, just as much as it is in the Catholic Church.
Awhile back, I read the book Celibacy in Crisis which paints a really ugly picture about the Catholic Churches forced celibacy of both its priests and monastic institution members. It basically concluded after extensive interviews with both, that celibacy was not something that is really taken seriously. There are represented in the clergy all sexual orientated groups: gays, straight, pedophile….you name it. Within this group of religious leaders, there is often an unofficial understanding that sex is a part of their life, albeit a secret part. We see the high profile cases of child abuse at the hands of parish priests, but underneath the radar are the countless actual relationships and affairs being had by priests and monks with congregants. Priest with single and married women. Priests with single and married men. Priests with each other. I was even more surprised to discover that high profile figures in the monastic movements were guilty of such dalliance, such as Thomas Merton, who had an affair with a 19 year old nurse when he was recuperating. He was in his 50’s. But, this does not end with the modern era. There is a long, sorted history of infidelity of the priesthood and the monastics. Popes throughout history were known to have whole families in secret. Desert monks are recorded as being tempted by succubi in the middle of the night, as well as hiding women in baskets in their cells, unwilling or unable to give up the vice of the fairer flesh.
As we’ve seen lately, though, it is not just in Catholicism where this has and is occurring. Even the Fundamentalists are not innocent in the treasury, as was seen back in 2020 with an article about the most famous KJV-onlyist, Steven Anderson, whose apparent children were involved in a scandal that might have been covered up by leadership.
But, nothing really seems to compare to my surprise when I read about the Southern Baptist Convention coming out and admitting to the myriad of allegations they had been hiding for decades. Some reports were 20 or 30 years old, and involved pastors, elders, child care workers, friends and family of leadership, etc. As the weeks went on, the stories seem to get worse and worse.
One pastor of a charismatic church spoke to his congregation one Sunday morning, claiming he had committed adultery and was stepping down. But, to his chagrin (which is obviously seen by his body language), a woman from the audience got up on stage, took the microphone and proceeded to sandblast the pastor and destroy his “confession” as she painted a picture, not of an affair between two adults, but of him luring her at the age of 14 into a secret relationship, and at 16 taking her virginity on the floor of his office. This not only traumatized the young woman for the rest of her life, but it also did severe damage to her brother who secretly caught the pastor and his sister having sex one day in the church.
This is but one example of countless many, where leadership or their friends or family have taken advantage of the vulnerable, those who trusted, and those who had no real means to resist.
In the article that sparked this post, the author gives 4 reasons why she thinks this is happening, why sexual abuse, especially in modern evangelical churches, is happening today.
1. We deal with fallible humans and not an infallible God.
2. We are taught forgiveness and grace.
3. Our love for God encourages us to always do the right thing.
4. Spiritual abuse includes twisting Scripture subtly to make it sound biblical.
Personally, I would agree with #1, but that’s it. I’m not certain I understand #2 or how it would factor in. The same would be the case for #3? Likewise, how could a pastor or someone in authority in a church use #4 unless the person they are trying to manipulate does not know the Scripture for themselves?
This, of course, for me anyway, leads to a host of other questions that I would want answers for. But it really goes to the deficiency of the modern evangelical church model as a whole, or maybe the current for-profit expression of it that we see in mega-churches, in single pastor authority, in professional clergy that derive their livelihood from the church, and the modern century’s congregation’s aversion to actual ministry (i.e. propping up a “pastor” or a small group of leaders to do the “work of ministry” so the masses can coast and be entertained every Sunday).
It’s clear that something is not working here. But why?
A Friend of Mine
In my 20’s I spent much of my time in service to local churches and to individuals in the name of Christ. I started Bible studies, made myself available to pastors, tried to spark conversation about the disparity between the model of “churching” we see today and what we see in the Bible, mostly to no avail. But I remember a conversation I had with a single woman who I had met at work. She was a devout Christian, quite charismatic as I remember, and we were talking one night in the parking lot after work. She shared with me a few stories that she and her other women friends had experienced as females in the church. She talked about a pastor from a church she had just started attending coming to her house for a visit. Once he was invited inside and the door was closed, he immediately planted a kiss on her lips. She immediately broke from from his embrace and demanded he leave. But his response was, “You know why I’m here. You know you want this.”
If such things actually go on with any kind of rapidity, we are in more trouble than I could have imagined. Why in the world is a pastor visiting a woman in the church at their home, unaccompanied by a third party? Why is she agreeing to the meeting in the first place?
Before I knew better, I was serving at a local country church, that had probably 20-30 members, 10-20 would attend regularly each weekend. I became friends with several people, including several couples in the church and I invited anyone who was interested for a bible study on a particular day during the week at the church. One of the wives voiced interest and I invited her to attend.
That day came and my friend’s wife showed up on time, and it being a nice day, I suggested we sit outside in the yard for the study. We went through the passages in question, talked, discussed, asked questions of each other. It was a nice, uplifting time. As we drew to a close, she mentioned that she had no idea what to expect when I had invited her to the study. I was confused, then she came out and said, “Well, I was coming without my husband and we were going to be alone.”
I was, frankly, kind of floored at the thought of it. It was not a thought that had even crossed my mind. This woman I thought of as a mother in Christ to me. I no more wanted an intimate relationship with her than I wanted with her husband, who I considered to be a good and dear friend of mine.
Apparently, this was a test concocted by several members of the congregation to see what my intentions were. Surprising to everyone, I passed their test without even realizing I was being tested.
But, that experience and the stories relayed by others opened my eyes to the reality and the jeopardy that people put themselves in when involving themselves in the modern church. It’s not the church, or more to the point, the church organization. It’s the people. And more specifically, the church leadership or those tangentially connected to that leadership that are the issue.
The Issue at the Root
The reality is, the modern evangelical church is not the biblical church. This modern expression of fellowship began not in the first century but in the 1800’s, when there was a crisis for elders, with many men dropping out of church involvement altogether, and women taking up more and more of the roles designated by the Bible explicitly for men. It was during this time that plurality of elders fell out of use and the shepherd model rose to prominence. There were many reasons for this shift. 1. More and more individuals wanted to professionalize the clergy rather than serve in that capacity as an act of body ministry (i.e. free and as a member of the congregation). 2. Church congregants were growing increasingly weary of service, and subconsciously (or maybe consciously) devised a means of “raising up” specialized ministers to do the bulk of the work so they could rest and do the bare minimum required. Within a few decades, the modern professional clergy took control, planting one single pastor to be the shepherd of the entire flock, and that flock increasingly pacified by the lack of direct involvement in the day to day ministry work of the church. This grew to the congregation becoming more spectator than participant, and the single pastor as the go-to leader and authority over the body politic.
This concept of single leader has given rise to all kind of perversions and misrepresentations over the last several centuries in the modern era. Given the increasing importance for the professional clergy on exacting a living wage from the congregation, it has spawned greed, self-interest, and likewise a tendency by clergy (and often a demand by congregants) to water down the doctrines of the Bible to much more easily digestible nuggets of wisdom. The very term “pastor” so often tossed about today is not even found in the Bible, but is actually an intentional mis-translation of a single instance in Ephesians 4:11 for the Greek word ποιμένας, which everywhere else is translated as shepherd, the equivalent to overseer, elder, or old man.
This singularity in leadership has, over time, spawned in the professional clergy a kind of superiority complex. They are in full time ministry. They read their bible (but in reality, it is the pastor’s assistant that does the research for sermons), and they are in a position of authority that often garners respect, awe, and even infatuation. This in turn has the tendency to breed a sense of power, influence, and pride.
The lack of a plurality in the leadership removes a crucial checks and balance against such sins from springing up, and the inclusion of a livelihood prohibits not only these single pastors from reaching out to others, but it gives them justification to be lone wolves, leaders rather than servants, bosses rather than one who will have to give account when he stands before Christ.
There is another aspect to this proclivity of professional clergy toward sexual sin and abuse that is rarely discussed and often outright discredited and those who hold to it’s “backward thinking” shunned. That is the role of the father and husband in all of this.
I have to ask, where was the father of the 14-16 year old who was spending amble amounts of time alone with the pastor of their church? Why was this being allowed in the first place? At what point did fathers collectively give up on the concept of protecting their children, especially their daughters from the wolves at the door, and even from he wolves that have crept into the church unnoticed? There really is no circumstance that would justify a grown man (pastor or not) being alone with some other man’s 14 year old daughter.
There is no explanation or rationalization for an adult male, married or single, a pastor or teacher or elder (his position in the church has no real bearing) to be spending time with a woman – single, married, young, or elderly – alone.
I say this not only for the protection of the woman or the young girl, but also for the protection of the man himself. Have we as men learned nothing from Joseph? He certainly had no choice but to spend time with Potiphar’s wife. But we definitely do. We don’t have to spend time with anyone from the opposite sex. If we do, we definitely have no reason to do it alone. If you are married, wife bring your husband with you. If he refuses to go or can’t, maybe that should be a sign for you not to participate until he can or is willing to. Likewise, pastor, there is no reason why you cannot schedule the day’s work when it allows for three people to be in the same room. If not, and the work is required, bring your wife! Wife of the pastor, why do you allow your husband to be open to temptation? Why do you leave him vulnerable to the wiles of the devil in other people? It is not just men who are predators. Joseph can attest. There are many modern day accounts as well of young women, unhappy married women, who are more than willing to break up a marriage for their own self-interest.
Housechurch Not the Answer
This happened in our house church meeting that we hosted for the duration of our marriage. Every week, the wackadoodles would come out of the woodwork, the self-proclaimed prophets, the pedophiles, the individuals who had an axe to grind, all wanting a captive audience to show off their brilliance and their biblical acumen.
One individual came to our meeting, having being invited by another individual, and carried himself like someone with authority, as if he were a speaker invited to share his wisdom with us. As he spoke to us, his examples kept returning to my 6 year old step-daughter. Again and again, the man would use her as an example, putting his hand on her back, on her neck. Touching her with both hands on the arms, then on the front and back. I could feel my wife who was sitting beside me getting uncomfortable. Again and again, this guy, so brazen. He did so without any tact or shame. I finally leaned forward in my seat and interrupted the man and politely said, “Sir, please stop touching the child.”
The man was taken aback, then was clearly indigent at the accusation. He bewailed our weakness and discredited our disbelief and suspicion. What he did not realize was, at least three people in that group that evening were victims of child sexual abuse. Maybe his intentions were pure, but regardless, his actions were potentially harming not only the innocent child, but they were definitely harming the three adults in the room who had reason to be paranoid.
There is no excuse for sexual abuse, assault, or manipulating people into sexual relationships in any context. But in the context of the church (or those who claim to be part of the church) such behavior is even more egregious, for they are marring the name of Christ by their behavior.
But, in the end, we are all to blame. Those who participate in opposite sex relationships (even friendships) without a group component are just asking for trouble (regardless of how innocent our intentions might be). Fathers are guilty of relinquishing their responsibilities for their children and for their wives, regardless of their excuses to do so. Pastors and leaders in the church are guilty for committing these acts, for sweeping these acts they know about under the rug in the name of Mammon or in an attempt to keep the peace. And the rest of us who claim Christ are guilty of allowing a false model of church life to take over and represent the Church Jesus is actually building all because we are too lazy to shoulder the work or because we have no motivation to crack open the Bible for ourselves. I say it’s time to cast out this perversion that is the professional clergy, remove the for-profit enterprise that is embedded in evangelical Christianity, and expunge from the name of Christ these divisions we call denominationalism, and seek Christ with a pure heart, in spirit and in truth. There is a model for the church that Jesus is building and it does not have a professional priestly class, and every member of the body does it’s part. There is a reason why the vast majority of Christianity today is adolescent, surviving on milk alone, when, as Paul stated, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food” (Hebrews 5:12).
Personally, I am convinced that a biblical church is impossible today, maybe it has been impossible throughout its history. I’ve seen glimpses here and there, but never for very long, lasting only for the briefest of seasons. Maybe it is only an ideal that we are to be striving for in each of us, something we can never possess while in the flesh. But, whether it is non-biblical or modern evangelicalism is actually the church, one thing is for certain, it is really, really screwed up.
Until my next post….
Please consider supporting my writing, my unschooled studies, and my hermitic lifestyle by purchasing one or more of my books. I’m not supported by academia or have a lucrative corporate job – I’m just a mystical modern-day hermit trying to live out the life I believe God has called me to. So, any support you choose to provide is GREATLY appreciated.
Excerpt from Sacred the Circle:
There was a knock at the door.
Campbell got up from the chair and crossed the small distance so he could open it.
A young man stood in the doorway, probably in his early twenties.
Campbell could tell he looked a little disheveled.
He had deep rings around his eyes, as if he hadn’t been sleeping much, and he kept checking the hallway in both directions, as if half expecting someone to be stalking him.
“Hey,” Campbell said.
The kid was stumbling over his own words.
Campbell leaned out into the hallway, checking to make sure there was no one else listening.
This guy wasn’t the only one who was becoming paranoid.
There were two students hanging out at the foyer, near the stairs, but the rest of the floor was clear.
“I’m sorry,” the kid said. “Must be the wrong place. I’m mistaken.”
He started to leave.
“Wait,” Campbell said, putting a hand out. “Hold on a second.”
The kid paused.
“What’s your name?”
He fidgeted with his collar.
“I know it sounds crazy, but – ”
“You’re not crazy, Lloyd,” Campbell said, grinning.
“Did you – ? ”
The kid paused, as if unsure if he should continue.
He looked back toward the stairs, then at Campbell.
“Did you know I was coming?” he finally asked. “I mean, that’s not possible, but, were you expecting me?”
Campbell chuckled to himself.
“What’s so funny?” Lloyd asked.
“Well – ”
Campbell pushed the door open all the way so Lloyd could see inside his dorm room.
The entire room was full of them, students, non-students, ranging from what looked like eighteen to even a few middle-aged men, scattered about the room, sitting wherever they could find a comfortable spot.
Lloyd’s mouth dropped open.
“I wasn’t really expecting them, either,” Campbell said. “So, I hope you don’t hold it against me when I tell you, I had no idea you’d be showing up here. Do you care to join us, anyway?”
Buy my book Sacred the Circle to find out what these men are hearing from the supernatural realm. Will they answer the questions tugging at them? What are the visions saying? Who are the Multitude? Why are all these men being brought together? By whom? And why, above all else, are they being convicted….to pray?
But, trust me when I say, you’ll be white knuckling this one with every turn of the page!