Problems in Presbytery

It is hit or miss when it comes to finding justice and healing in the church or Christian organization. Just as sexual abuse cases in our civil courts rarely bring convictions, so our church “courts” and organizational boardrooms rarely bring justice to targets of church leadership abuse in its many forms.

This is not the picture we hope for of a redeemed community caring for the oppressed and seeking the Kingdom of God to reign in all the earth by Jesus’ example.

I have not written often of public cases, usually interviewing survivors anonymously. However, a recent case within the Presbyterian Church in America has garnered some unfortunate but needed attention. Charges were brought against a PCA minister for sexual abuse and harassment in a mid-western presbytery.

The public statements made by both the church court and the woman who brought the charges, make it evident that the church has deeply failed.

But it is not over yet. Because of the accuser’s incredible courage, the case is once again before the presbytery. I am amazed that she would continue to work with the church despite having been put down by them.

Many will believe that the pastor must be innocent if he was judged innocent by a church court. But the evidence brought by at least 10 women is incontrovertable if you understand abuse, particularly leadership abuse. The pastor clearly used his position to “groom” these women and exert his position of power to take advantage of them.

However, those who have not studied abuse are unlikely to recognize the signs and therefore give a pass to guilty pastors. Most of us who work in this area were in those boots at one time. We didn’t understand abuse, nor did we name it and claim it.

Abuse is wicked and repentance should be forthcoming upon confrontation.

When blame shifting and justification are the response, a pastor is not fit to lead according to every passage in scripture that gives qualifications. [1 Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9] I understand that God is gracious and He calls His people to mimic his mercy – Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful as Jesus said in Luke 6:36 (ESV). But, that mercy runs out when it is not received in repentance [see article].

This blog is not intended as a place for trying the pastor for his crimes but a call to action for the church:

In order to minister well in the cases of abusive leadership, the church must provide adequate professional help.

Churches and denominations must quit depending on their normally appointed courts to hear and try cases of leadership abuse (or any abuse for that matter). It is very apparent, as we observe many abuse cases in churches of every denomination, that the average member has little understanding of abuse and they will approach it like it is “normal” sin.

Abuse is not.

Abuse is the kind of sin of which the imprecatory Psalms speak [Psalms 5, 55, 83 and 137 are examples].

Abuse is the kind of sin that Paul calls out publicly. [2 Timothy 2:17, 4:14]

Though not rare, these are unusual situations in scripture and need to be understood as unusual in our Christian ministry.

Abuse is particularly destructive to its victims and must be brought to an end decisively. It must not be trifled with.

When a leader is accused of abusive actions or words, the church needs the help of those who have studied and understand abuse to sort through the sordid details. Much as the average church member knows little about engineering a bridge, so they know little of the psychology and display of abuse.

Appoint knowledgeable committees and courts. Bring in professional help and listen to them.

I am praying for churches and denominations to take the lead of those who have done their due diligence like Lookout Mountain Presbyterian and Tates Creek Presbyterian Churches. These churches have shined in their bringing truth to light.

Join me in calling our churches to respond wisely and biblically to abuse in its midst.

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