It is an unimaginable scenario for all involved: a man run to his pastor in tears confessing his wife caught him touching her teenage sister in a sexual manner. He seems utterly confuse—until the pastor urges the man to call the child abuse hotline and self report. Then, the abuser begins to hedge: “Won’t that destroy my family? Won’t that cost me my integrity? Won’t that destroy my reputation?” The man refuses and walks out of the office. Two weeks later, his entire family moves out to an unknown location.
What’s the pastor to do? The pastor does nothing—no counseling, no rebuke, no guidance, nothing, nothing. The result is that a sexual abuser gets away with his sin and crime and will continue to perpetrate that sin until he ends like that.
Think about the teenage girl involved—what is the church saying to her in this instance? Think about the wife and other children; the man himself and his immortal soul;—what is the church saying to these parties? Think about the church and the gospel—what is the church saying about them?
In each instance that the church fails to confront sin, and especially disruptive sexual sins, we are saying something very straightforward: we love ourselves, our comfort, our reputations more than God, the gospel, and others. That’s what happens when we see no evil.
Of course, there are countless other situations in which our churches and our leadership see no evil:
- When the prominent financial supporter in the church leaves his wife for another woman and the church fails to discipline him, letting him “resign” his membership instead;
- When the pastor/general overseer threatens his wife with divorce, later claims he “was just joking,” and suffers no consequences;
- When the deacons consumes church money without any consequences.
In each of these ways and in countless others, when the church fails to pursue individuals with gracious and loving formative and corrective discipline, we do spiritual damage and actually betray the gospel.
So, what do we do about this? How might our churches shine as lights in the middle of admittedly difficult, complex, and messy situations? How do we go through transition from being people who see no evil and love our own comfort to being people who love Christ and His people regardless of the cost to us?
Be Firm yet Gentle
The Apostle Paul urges us to restore sinners gently (Gal. 6:1). Such gentleness is not opposite to firmness and determination; rather, it stems from recognizing that we, too, are sinners. Such recognition should save us from self-righteous bluster or arrogant anger. To be sure, with sins such as child abuse there is an appropriate righteous anger over the sin and its long-term effects. Still, it is the kindness of God that leads to repentance (Rom. 2:4). Even as we deal gently and firmly with perpetrators, we are seeking their repentance and ultimate restoration.
Lead and Engage with the Gospel
Both the perpetrator and the victim of sin need the same thing: the gospel of Jesus. Those who commit sin—whether sexual immorality, adultery, or even sexual abuse—need to hear the gospel. The entire point of discipline is to confront the sinner with the claims of Christ, to call for repentance, but also to seek new patterns of obedience that can come only as the sinner runs daily to Christ.
Often, those who commit messy and heinous sins believe their sins are too great to forgive. They need to be reminded that “there is no sin so great, that it can bring damnation upon those who truly repent” Such genuine repentance is drawn out by the “apprehension of [God’s] mercy in Christ to such as are penitent” How great is God’s mercy in Christ? So great that He sent His one and only Son to die for sinners—and that death is sufficient to cover all our sins, even the most heinous ones.
Victims, too, need the gospel of Jesus: that Jesus is a Savior who does not break the bruised reed or quench the smoldering wick (Matt. 12:20); that He identifies with the hurt and broken and grants liberty to those oppressed by sin (Luke 4:17– 21); and that He likewise asked, “Why?” when the pain and God forsakenness was overwhelming (Matt. 27:46).
But victims of sin also need to know that Jesus does more than identify with us in our hurts—He actually has done something about them. Through His resurrection, He is able to bring new life and new hope in the present as well as the future. There is power to move forward through the pain they know. In addition, the gospel provides us with the basis for forgiveness, knowing that we, too, have committed heinous sins against God (Eph. 4:32).
Written by: Hyeladi Shallangwa