Dangerous and Ignorant Attitudes about Sex Abuse in the Church, part III

Sherri could not believe what she was hearing. If this was true, she had been in danger this whole time and never knew it.

She had only been working on this project for a couple of months by now. Things had been going well as far as she knew. She, Brad, Gary and the others had nearly cleaned out the shop and made it ready for crews to begin remodeling. Sherri had been looking forward to the next phase, but now she wasn’t so sure.

Just a few short moments ago she was minding her own business and working away when Brad started to call it a day. He waited until the others had left, and then asked Sherri to stay for a few more moments. This would have normally been cause for concern, but Sherri had known Brad for years before she started working for him. If there was a problem, he would have told her before now.

Or so she thought.

Brad began with a simple statement, “Sherri, I want you to be careful about the time you spend around Gary.” The sudden concern that crossed Sherri’s face must have been obvious. He continued, “I’ve known Gary a long time. He’s… he’s not the kind of guy I trust around a girl your age. I don’t want you working alone with him, or really even talking to him.”

“What kind of danger are we talking about, Brad?” A feeling of dread was beginning to fill Sherri’s gut.

“Well, I don’t really know exactly. I’ve never really been comfortable about his character. I know guys like him, was once a guy like him. They do nasty things with women. I’d hate to think of him trying anything with you. I’ve been wondering what to do about this for a while, and I even talked to my Pastor about it. He said I should just keep you two apart. Seems like…”

“Wait… for a while? How long has this been a concern for you?”

“For a couple months. I mean, you both have been working for me for that long. It’s been making me sick.”

Making you sick? Sherri thought to herself.

“I think it’ll all be ok if you just avoid him, right? Don’t get yourself to where you’re alone with him especially”

Sherri nodded, “Well now that you’ve told me this, I’ll definitely be avoiding him.”

“Great, good. Also, I… uh… I think you should probably find some different jeans to wear to work”

Sherri glanced down at her jeans, confused. They were baggy, not form-fitting at all, just like all the pants she wore. She liked it that way, since it was comfortable. “Different jeans?”

“Yeah, try to dress differently and maybe it won’t be so much of a problem”

Sherri packed up her stuff and headed home, confounded and afraid. What was she going to do now?

“We’ll handle this internally” a.k.a. “We’re not supposed to take other believers to court”

Well I promised that this next one would be the most diabolical of them all, and I believe I’m correct. This attitude has the potential to absolutely break a victim, and wreck any chances of justice.

What’s so wrong about this? Well, my story I told above (which is based very loosely on something that happened recently to a friend) has a few points to illustrate that.

When these affairs are handled internally, the people who should be in charge of the process are kept out of the loop entirely.

In this story, Brad took the knowledge he had and hid it under his hat for 2 months. He suspected that Gary was a dangerous person, but didn’t warn Sherri until later. Sherri should have been made aware of this concern the instant it occurred to Brad, so that Sherri could make decisions about her own safety.

Switching outside the story, when there are allegations of abuse or rape, the people who should be involved from the beginning are the authorities. This often means the police. It doesn’t matter if the Pastor believes the victim or not. It doesn’t matter if the story has holes in it or not. It doesn’t matter if the accused has the trust of everyone around him. That’s not a decision for an organization to make for themselves. It is the responsibility of the authorities to investigate and make those determinations. When churches, workplaces or para-church organizations decide to “handle this matter ourselves”, they put people in danger and potentially break the law.

The priorities of those performing internal investigations are guaranteed to be in conflict with the goal of finding justice.

On the surface, Brad’s intentions here seem to be to keep Sherri safe. Look deeper, however, and you will discover that Sherri is at best a 2nd priority. If Brad’s first order of business was the safety of his employees he would have at the very least warned them of the danger he thought he saw. This would allow Sherri to make a decision about whether she was in danger to begin with, and whether it was worth the risk to work in that environment. If he was so sure that Gary was a peril, he should not have employed him in the first place, or confronted Gary with his concerns. No, Brad’s first priority was his business and getting work done, so he kept Sherri in the dark about the danger for two months.

Additionally, there was a bit of paternalism on Brad’s mind. Keeping Sherri in the dark was his twisted way of protecting her. If she didn’t know about the danger, she wouldn’t be worried. She would just keep on working, and Brad could pat himself on the back about how lucky she was to have him as a boss. This isn’t cute. It’s destructive, and it’s misplaced.

It should go without saying that an organization has as its first priority self-preservation. Whether we’re talking about a church or some other sort of ministry, an internal investigation is going to be confused. If someone is being paid by an organization, they will not be able to act without bias. This is not even close to ideal when trying to pursue justice. It’s best to let people who are focused on the goal at hand work without distraction.

Another barrier between church leaders and the pursuit of justice is the fallacy that these kinds of investigations “hurt the cause of Christ”. Because investigating the crime of a Christian is what hurts Christ’s reputation, not the crime itself, right? Because the police and legal system are the ones dragging Christ through the mud, not the person who committed the crime, right?

The conclusions reached by an internal investigation will be inadequate because those investigating are unqualified.

When Brad sought wisdom on how to handle the situation in the story, he turned to what I would consider an inappropriate source of advice on personnel matters – his Pastor. Pastors in general have had a disastrous track record the last few decades when it comes to addressing matters of employment law, sexual harrassment or abuse of any kind. As a result, this Pastor’s advice was essentially to tell Gary’s potential victim to “watch your back and don’t provoke him” (a familiar refrain to victims and survivors). Brad basically informed her of the danger 2 months late, and made sure she knew that she was to blame for any problems that may happen after that point. That was not a solution.

I think I’ve talked about this before, but I’ll say it again here. BEING A PASTOR DOES NOT QUALIFY YOU TO ADDRESS SOCIAL OR PSYCHOLOGICAL MATTERS! There are people who have trained for years and who have the experience necessary to work with these things. Being familiar with the Scriptures, while perhaps a good start, does not make you one of them. There are lives at stake when discussing abuse and rape. Leave it to the people who are qualified.

“But what about First Corinthians? Don’t you know that we will judge angels? We shouldn’t be bringing fellow believers to court to be tried by unbelievers!” Look me in the eye and try to tell me with a straight face that you seriously think Paul was talking about criminal charges in that passage. Tell me to my face that you think Paul was chiding the family of a murder victim for pursuing justice against the perpetrator. Tell me that you think Paul would lecture a rape survivor for focusing on justice and the safety of others – CHILDREN – in the church. If you can do that, then I have a few things to say about your hermeneutics.

This attitude is, in my opinion, the most diabolical of the three that I have addressed. It keeps people out of the process that should be directing it. It places people in a conflict of interests when their focus should be justice. It puts Church leaders in authority over lethal matters, where they do not belong.

If you would like to know more about what the Church can do to address abuse and support survivors, go to http://www.thecourageconference.com and register. There are a lot of great speakers lined up. Boz Tchividjian, a personal hero of mine, will be speaking on his experience, as well as fellow Bloggers Ashley Easter, Jory Micah and Natalie Greenfield. I will be tuning in with the Internet Streaming options (only $20!).


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