Sexual Abuse and Outpacing the Church
The parable of the dishonest manager is a singularly peculiar parable from Jesus. In it a rich man is given a report that his manager was wasting his possessions. Fearful of what might be, the manager summoned his master’s debtors and reduced their bills. When the rich man learned of this he does not condemn but commends the dishonest manger for his shrewdness. Jesus concluded the parable saying: “For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light” (Luke 16:8).
It’s not the dishonesty that is approved in this manager but it’s his understanding of the situation and his ability to respond with foresight, quickness, and wisdom. Jesus uses the parable to argue from the lesser to the greater. As the sons of this world are so cautious and careful to provide for themselves how much more should the sons of the kingdom. Jesus is actually saying that this world can teach the church many lessons — and it is part of true wisdom to hear and receive that instruction.
I thought of Jesus’ parable this weekend when I read the news of a South Dakota GOP state Senate hopeful who has been accused of grooming, molestation, and rape. He is now facing felony charges of child abuse spanning a six year period and beginning when his victim was 12-years-old. The report is gut-wrenching but textbook-typical for abuse. His predation began by having the victim sit on his lap and by giving long hugs. He monitored and controlled her social media, required phone calls and text messages, dictated what clothes she could or should wear, and tracked her on her phone. Heartbreakingly, this victim thought these were “normal things that families were supposed to do.” Courageously, but only after years of grooming and abuse, she reported her abuser. On Thursday he was arrested and his initial hearing is today.
There is a naïveté in the church about these things that does not exist, at least to the same extent, in society. From the sidelines, it seems that in the last decade more attention and awareness is being given to sexual abuse by public media, organizations, and institutions. While there may have been some missteps along the way in exposing these things and bringing them to the light, on the whole we should be thankful for more of society’s conscientiousness and conviction on these matters. Unfortunately, the church has often shown itself to be a few steps behind. Society is outpacing the church in preventative measures and response to sexual abuse.
In 2018 the Washington Post published an article about the “epidemic of denial” regarding sexual abuse in the church. The report began with the experience of well-known advocate Rachael Denhollander. Even before she suffered abuse by Larry Nassar, she was the victim of grooming and abuse in her church. At the age of 7 a man in the congregation gave her attention, was eager for a hug, had her sit on his lap, and bought her clothes. Concerns were raised with church leadership about the classic signs of grooming behavior but the family and victim were told they were overreacting. Sadly, this is an often-repeated story in churches across society’s landscape. Abusers know it too. It’s why the church — in its naïveté — is the target of predators.
I am convinced that far from being behind society, the church should be leading in service to the abused. Why? Precisely because of who and what the church is. The identity of the church is not a liability in these matters but our greatest strength and advantage.
It’s not society but the church that is a city on a hill that cannot be hidden.
It’s not society but it’s the church that is the pillar and buttress of the truth.
It’s not society but it’s the church that are children of the day who expose the works of darkness.
It’s not society but it’s the church who as a body all suffer when one member suffers.
It’s not society but it’s the church that is a pasture safeguarded by shepherds who watch, protect, and defend the littlest lambs.
It’s not society but it’s the church that has power and authority to bind and loose in heaven and on earth.
It’s not society but it’s the church that God obtained with his own blood.
And it’s the church that from the hand of Jesus is governed by that law of love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. Far from being outpaced the church should be leading, and doing so in ways that are impossible for society.
Until the church takes this mantle and assumes its ancient glory the children of this generation will prove to be more shrewd than the sons of light.