As long as it continues happening, we cannot talk about it too much. That’s why once again, today, I am thinking out loud about allegations of sexual abuse that have been made against a high-profile worship leader in the church. This time, the particular local church is a member of the denomination of which I am a part. . . which makes it all the more difficult and necessary to process. But process and respond, we must. As long as this continues to happen, there are lessons to be learned about who we fundamentally are, the presence of horrifying sin in our midst, the devastating impact on victims, and our need (among other things) to respond redemptively with humility and transparency.
This time, the allegations have been leveled against Chris Rice. Yes, they are allegations. But the initial investigation into those allegations lends them great credibility.
In response, let me share a couple of initial, unrefined thoughts – in no particular order – that I pray would be helpful.
First, I hope and pray that the times in which we now live, coupled with a clear-headed sense of moral responsibility, will push the church out of the incredibly irresponsible and immoral sins which marked past responses to abuse. Looking the other way is not an option. Believing denials from alleged perpetrators while discounting the words of victims should never happen. I’ve had a front-row seat from which to witness the damage that piling sin on top of sin does to everyone involved. The problem will only get worse.
Second, our responses should never be shaped with saving-face as a telos. Our desired end in all things should be to bring Glory to God. . . which in turn means that sin is recognized and addressed. In the current case of Chris Rice, The Tates Creek Presbyterian Church and Pastor Robert Cunningham issued a statement yesterday that commits to a response marked by “righteousness over reputation.” The statement is worth reading.
Third. . . and this is directed to all of my peers and friends in our little yet powerful world of youth ministry. . . know yourselves. You must develop a deep and serious understanding of your own human depravity. Know yourself. Know your bent toward certain besetting sins. There are dark corners of your heart that are so dark that you aren’t even aware that they exist. And as many of those who are older and wiser in our youth ministry world have said, “If you experience attractions and temptations that are biblically-defined as ‘sin’, and destructive and abusive to those tender souls under your care. . . get out! GET OUT! And, get help.”
Fourth, even though you might not yet be there, realize that as your following grows, the temptations become greater. Consequently, increased diligence, self-awareness, accountability, borders, and boundaries are necessary. They are all non-negotiables. And if you are unaware of their need or unwilling to pursue each, realize that the bulls-eye is getting larger and larger on you each and every day. You are setting yourself up for greater and greater challenges along with making yourself more susceptible to having everything come crashing down.
Fifth, if you are actively seeking to build your following rather than Christ’s, watch out. We are all prone to jump on the foolish path of building and promoting our brand. This is the default setting of our sinful hearts. Living in a social media world where we can pursue self-made celebrity feeds our broken inclinations. As I say over and over again to youth workers. . . seek the spotlight and it will blind you. The deadly irony is this: the more you seek to place yourself in the spotlight and the brighter that light shines, the darker the already-dark corners of your heart become.
Sixth, fill the well of your life with God’s Word. . . not what you think or want to think it says, but what it is intended to say. . . which is what it actually says.
Finally, there are some reading assignments occasioned, once again, by another devastating revelation of high profile abuse. Rachel Denhollander’s What Is A Girl Worth? is required reading. And, Diane Langberg’s upcoming release (next Tuesday, October 20), Redeeming Power: Understanding Authority and Abuse In the Church is a must-read as well.
As I’ve been prompted this morning to pray for victims, parents, perpetrators, church leaders, etc., I’ve been finding and praying a variety of written prayers to shape how I pray. This one from World Vision jumped out at me since I’m a grandfather. It will offer you a short and direct beginning to spark your own prayers:
Dear Lord, Your Word is filled with accounts of miraculous protection. We claim that power for vulnerable children. Make Your little ones invisible to people who seek to exploit them. Whisper in the ears of the children to run and hide until the danger passes.