Several weeks ago a pastor called, heartbroken and wondering what to do next. The church he pastored (Southern Baptist) had voted down a church discipline matter. The facts were plain: a man in the church had been privately confronted multiple times in accordance to Jesus’ words in Matthew 18, but had only become more rude and more arrogant toward those calling him to repentance. He interrupted the preaching, held secret meetings and slandered those in leadership. Yet, when the matter was brought to the congregation as instructed in Matthew 18:17, the majority of those present voted against calling on the man to repent.
The pastor, who had been at the church less than a year, resigned soon after the vote. The vote proved to him that the majority of church members distrusted the leaders and himself, and did not want to call the individual to repentance. In fact, the man who was exonerated by vote enjoyed a reputation in the church as a significant leader in his own right, thus explaining why they trusted him more than their new pastor. The pastor believed the majority did not want to follow him or the Bible, and now, along with a group of ex-members, has agreed to their request to plant a new church.
If the pastor was more politically-minded than shepherding-minded he might have encouraged others to simply ignore the rude behaviors and arrogance of the man than privately confront him. But the pastor knew that Jesus’ teaching requires private confrontation, and when a matter of sin is certain and an individual remains impenitent then the matter is to be brought to the church (Matthew 18:15-16). The facts of the situation show that he and others in the church were doing right by being faithful to the church member and the Lord.
(Read Part 1)
Pastoring is not for the faint-hearted. It is not for those who shrink back from conflict or those who find it hard to confront. Dealing with sexual predators is not easy. Sometimes you feel like you are staring into the eyes of pure evil. Whether the perpetrator is a member of his church or not, the way a pastor deals with him has the potential to alleviate or aggravate the agony of the victim, protect or expose the church to danger, and bring healing or a cover-up to the perpetrator himself.
First, once a pastor confirms a report of sexual abuse by a victim it is important that he act. Most states have laws that require the reporting of abuse by educators, clergy and others within 24 hours. As I said before, don’t expect miracles from the local authorities. Nevertheless, reporting is the first step. This will probably involve giving an official statement, filling out detailed forms and multiple phone calls with authorities.
Recent events have sparked vigorous debate regarding the proper handling of sexual abuse in the church. This essay is not an attempt to directly address a specific incident, but it will certainly intersect well-known incidents at points. While I was pastoring, I dealt with a multitude of sexual abuse cases that occurred both prior to and concurrent with my ministry. The list of tragedies included several rapes of teenagers, gang rape, incest, one entire family of five children molested by the father, and bestiality. While I am certainly not the most experienced person in this regard (not by a long shot), I think I have enough experience to contribute to the conversation.
I feel compelled to write this essay primarily for the younger generation of future pastors. Unless a clear message of what is biblical, right and courageous is sounded, I fear that many of them will enter ministry confused, fearful and uncertain of the proper manner of dealing with sexual abuse. I am afraid that many will swallow the weak excuses for leadership that are often given when pastors fail to properly deal with this terrible phenomenon in the church. Too often believers defend obvious failures of leadership, offer weak excuses, or attempt to bury offenses and hope everybody eventually forgets about them.