Sexual Abuse in the Church

Posted: Apr 03, 2002 12:00 AM
"Once we were also ruled by the selfish desires of our bodies and minds. We had made God angry, and we were going to be punished like everyone else." - Ephesians 2.16 The church was like a parent during my South Carolina childhood. Every weekend, my parents would dress me and my nine brothers and sisters in our white suits and pink dresses, then herd us in the pickup truck to head off to church. It didn't matter whether one of us was sick or did not feel like going. Up until the time I left home at age 17, we never missed church on Sunday and always attended revival services during the week. My father was African Methodist Episcopalian and my mother was and remains Pentecostal. For my family, and so many families in America, the church was and remains the most important institution in our lives, outside of the household. The lessons I learned in church did much more than instruct me. In a very tangible way, they set me about becoming the man I am today. They were important because they helped impress certain values upon my young mind - the quality of virtue, striving and charity. These lessons were learned young and so they tended to stick. They formed a foundation that would guide me along into adulthood and, along the way, help me discern between right and wrong. Decades later, these early lessons remain not just as memory, but also as a constant source of rejuvenation. That is why it brings me great discomfort to address the dark undercurrent of sexual abuse that runs through the church. From an early age, I can recall the hushed rumors of ministers involved in adulterous affairs, homosexual activity and sexual abuse. The innuendoes were always there, regardless of the denomination. Often, churches protected their own. Ministers who preyed upon their choirboys were shipped to new towns. The good name of the church could not be sullied. For centuries, the church figured it was better to repress such things. But the Bible said, "what is done in darkness shall come to light." Now their sinful behavior has been cast out in the public and the church has finally been forced to examine the behavior. No longer can they stem this dark undercurrent. No longer can we turn our heads, just because we don't want to destroy the image of saintliness that the church embodies in our lives. We cannot excuse the sexual misconduct of our moral leaders, simply to spare ourselves the rigors of examining the church. The truth is difficult, especially as it relates to those closest to us - those who give us moral guidance, those who take our confessions and council us in our time of need. But we cannot allow little children to have their innocence ripped to shreds by those who they trust the most. We cannot have a child's trusting nature crushed out of them by abusive ministers and priests. No God-fearing people should ever excuse those that would destroy the innocence of a child. If we must clean house in those churches where this is going on, then let us do so immediately. Even if that means more people will come to question the sanctity of the church. Now, more than ever, we must realize that if we do not address this problem openly, then the church itself will fall. The moral leaders engaging in the sort of sexual perversion may not be able to help themselves. But we can. We must expose those who would use the word of God to feast on innocent children. The survival of the church rests upon such action.