[TRIGGER WARNING: SEXUAL ABUSE]
The 41st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America ended last Friday. As usual, it was a week of close votes, parliamentary procedure, worship services, committee meetings, old friends reconnected, new friendships formed, positive results, negative results and lots of commentary in the post-GA wrap up. While our denomination talks a good game at the institutional level about cultural influence, I believe we missed the most important vote that would have made us a leader denomination and, most likely, united us as an Assembly.
When I was about six or seven, I really wanted to join our church’s after school club. My parents, however, forbade me. I spent months begging to join, but they said they were firm. There was something about the man who was in charge, they said. We do not trust him.
It was a hunch, for sure. Then, he left our church under a cloud of mystery and rumor. He showed up again, four or five years later, at a soccer game I played. He tried to recruit a couple of our players for his indoor league. A few months later, he was on the news due to an arrest for child molestation. This man moved from church to church and ministry to ministry, leaving just in the “nick of time,” only to get caught years later with shattered lives in his wake of his sexual sins against children.
What does that have to do with the 41st General Assembly? We debated the merits of whether or not paedocommunion is an allowable difference. Some, who spoke against this view, cited the protection of children as a reason. Yet, when we had the opportunity to pass Mike Sloan’s solid statement concerning the protection of children from sexual abuse [see here], it was dismantled in the overtures committee and presented to the Assembly in such a way that it offered little in terms of protection [see here]. The resolution was recommitted. Some sexual abuse watch blogs have had a field day with this and friends, who have been abused, have asked me “why?”
Some may argue that our standards already view sexual abuse as a sin and a crime. Others may say that we typically do not speak to social justice issues. My contention is this: had that been the case during the later Old Testament period, we may not have the writings of Amos, Joel and other minor prophets. The prophets wrote to people who were not following God’s law in loving him or their neighbor. The minor prophets recast the Law and the promises of the Messiah to folks whose Torah “already dealt with those issues.”
Sexual abuse is rampant within the United States and within churches. Whether you recognize it or not, most, if not all, of our churches have people who attend whose stories have been marred by sexual abuse. This is a social sin. This is a sin that is sometimes covered up within churches. This is a sin that is wrongly handled “in house.”
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We must speak prophetically to this issue. We must not mince words. We must let our churches and members know that the PCA is a denomination that will fight for the safety and protection of our children. We must implore our churches that we will follow the law concerning the reporting of abuse. We should be outraged at the lack of outrage concerning this issue. Christians should be leading the way, not lagging behind.
As a denomination, we profess that we believe God loves children. We go further than our Baptist and Evangelical friends in our commitment to children because we baptize infants and declare that the Scriptures teach that the children of believers belong to God. We ought to be known as a group that loves children so much that our churches are viewed as communities where children are safe, believed and loved.
Psalm 23 describes Yahweh as a protector who guards his sheep with a rod and staff. As a pastor, I am called to protect the sheep as well. One way my church has done that is to have every single member undergo sexual abuse training and anyone who works with children undergoes background checks. When we planted, one of the first things we did was to develop a policy that would guard children. We talk about protecting our children in our new member’s class and publicly throughout the year. We love kids and follow the law.
My prayer for the PCA is that, over the next year, all of our presbyteries will adopt overtures that prophetically call each church to protect children. I am confident that next year’s General Assembly will see multiple overtures that we will adopt that declare to the world that we are for children – we are for reporting abuse – we are for shalom.
As we continue to engage in the post-GA wrap-up, let’s not get caught up only in the propositions and procedures – let’s remember people.