Friday, August 16, 2013

Evangelicals need to confront the reality of sexual abuse in their ranks

Boz Tchividjian
In yesterday’s Louisville Courier-Journal, award-winning religion writer Peter Smith wrote about the need for evangelical churches to confront sexual abuse and cover-ups within their own ranks. It’s a need that was recently given voice in a public statement written by former sex crimes prosecutor Boz Tchividjian and signed by more than 1,500 people worldwide.

The statement was prompted in part by a lawsuit brought by eleven plaintiffs alleging the cover-up of sexual abuse within churches affiliated with Sovereign Grace Ministries. Tchividjian said the lawsuit “underscored larger issues,” and his statement alluded, not only to the case, but also to religious leaders who have publicly defended Sovereign Grace and its president, including prominent Southern Baptist leaders.

The statement says that these developments show “the troubling reality that, far too often, the Church’s instincts are no different than those of many other institutions, responding to such allegations by moving to protect her structures rather than her children.”

Asked to comment about this public statement, I expressed my gratitude for the work of Boz Tchividjian, whom I have written about twice before. But I also expressed my view that something akin to a Truth and Reconciliation Commission is what’s really needed, and my remarks were extensively quoted in Smith’s article.

“For many faith groups, including most Baptist groups, what is actually needed is something akin to a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Those who have been victimized by clergy sex abuse are in desperate need of a safe place where they can tell their stories and be heard with respect and compassion. Those who have known about abusive clergy or who had reason to suspect, those who have been complicit in cover-ups, those who have engaged in intimidation tactics for the silencing of victims, and those who have followed the direction of senior pastors to keep things in the church family – all of these people – are in need of a safe place where they may now tell what they know, express their remorse, and do what is still possible for making kids safer in the future. Those parents who sit in the pews and wonder about how many of their leaders may have been complicit in covering up for clergy child molestations – those people also are in need. They need a credible outside resource to illuminate the truth for them – or at least as much of the truth as can possibly be ascertained. And finally, faith itself needs truth and reconciliation. When it comes to clergy sex abuse, faith needs no more of religious leaders’ do-nothing words of outrage; instead, what faith needs is human beings’ sacred commitment to shared truth.”

I’ll conclude by quoting the words of Desmond Tutu, anti-apartheid activist and former archbishop of Cape Town: “True reconciliation exposes the awfulness, the abuse, the hurt, the truth . . . . It is a risky undertaking but in the end it is worthwhile, because in the end only an honest confrontation with reality can bring real healing. Superficial reconciliation can bring only superficial healing.”

Article republished in Louisville Courier-Journal, 8/17/2013