Dangerous and Ignorant Attitudes About Sex Abuse in the Church

Part I:

If you’ve been hiding in a cave for the last 5 years you’ll no doubt be surprised to learn that there have been several men in the Church accused of abuse of their power. The charges range from sexual harassment to grooming to molestation to downright rape, and involve well-known Christian names like Doug Phillips, Bill Gothard, Josh Duggar and most recently Rick Boyer Sr. This is a heady matter, as these men are entrusted with much. People have varied greatly in their reactions. This is normal. However there have been a few reactions that simply don’t belong in a community that claims to value people and their lives. Let’s talk about a few of them in the next few months. I’ve devoted this week’s post to the first.

Attitude I: “We don’t have all the facts!” a.k.a. “Innocent until proven guilty”

This attitude mainly shows up in people who are more familiar with the accused than they are with the alleged victim¹. It seems to be what most religious leaders consider the “safest” public message to adopt. It definitely appears unbiased on the surface; however, a quick look at the consequences of this stance tell a different story. People who go this direction rarely give the alleged victims the same courtesy of presumption of innocence.

Yes, the man being accused is to be presumed innocent until proven guilty when it comes to the law and the courts. I don’t really see anyone arguing that point; however, it is absurd to expand that to mean that we should treat a girl with allegation as though she is lying until we reach that point. The one alleging abuse has a right to the same treatment. A girl² who has come forward with her story is to be presumed innocent as well. Be careful that your presumption of innocence on the part of the accused doesn’t translate to an assumption of guilt on the part of the accuser.

Furthermore, it is absurd to suggest that the courts are the final authority on the truth of the matter. The courts can determine what the law says and the government’s opinion. The courts get to weigh everything in a lengthy process and come to a final conclusion. Until that point, and as I am watching the facts unfold, I get to decide what/who I believe, just as you get to determine the same in your own mind. I get to look at the information I’ve been provided and make up my own mind. The only thing the court decides is whether the evidence is strong enough to hand down a verdict and sentence. Even after they’ve made a decision, I can doubt their wisdom as much as I want. I’m perfectly within my rights – just as every American is – to disagree with what the court decided.

My decision to believe someone who’s come forward is no less valid than your decision to believe the accused. We can actually believe both of them or neither of them, and we don’t have to get permission from a judge or jury before advocating and debating the matter.

However, where this discussion completely breaks down is when people don’t even take the steps necessary to establish guilt or innocence. If the authorities and appropriate experts are not adequately involved, then nobody gets to lecture anyone about the rights of the accused. The rights of the one bringing allegation have been completely trampled. That’s a subject for a later post.

But let me ask you something: When a potential danger is brought to your attention, how many facts do you need? How certain do you need to be about a danger to children or young women before you take steps to protect them? I don’t need a guilty verdict in court before I remove my daughters from a potential threat. I would be an absolutely abysmal father if I did otherwise. It wouldn’t matter how much I trusted the accused; he would have to go through me to get to my family until I am satisfied he is not dangerous. This is real basic, folks, and it surprises me to see so many fathers objecting to it.

The same applies to anyone with vulnerable people under his/her care. It’s a failure of leadership to refuse to take reasonable protective action in response to a potential threat. You can wait as long as you want for verification; however, until you know for sure your first concern should be to protect those under your care. Otherwise their blood, their sorrow, their injury, their trauma, all of it will be at your hands.

This is my answer to the first of these attitudes. I will try to address the others as I can. Given my track record with serial posts I’m not guaranteeing anything, but I will certainly try.

  • Ashley Easter has written about her experience with these kinds of attitudes here
  • Please read more on this topic in Boz Tchividjian’s excellent article here.

¹ In this post I use the words “Alleged” and “Allegation”. I am fully aware that these words have become loaded and charged with meaning, but I really don’t know of any other terminology I should be using. I hope that my intention of believing victims’ stories comes through loud and clear regardless.

² Throughout this post, I am going to use the articles “he” to refer to the accused and “she” to refer to the accuser. I’m aware that women can abuse men, but because of the nature of allegations against Pastors and religious leaders it seemed appropriate to focus on male abuses of women.

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