The title is the response I’d give if I reported a case of clergy sex abuse and the church leaders cautioned me with,
“You wouldn’t want to ruin the man’s ministry.”
“Actually, I’d love to ruin the man’s ministry.”
If you have abused a child I’d be happy if I could say the word and you would never serve as senior pastor or in any staff position ever again. I’d be pleased to do that deed. Unfortunately, and far too often, the response to a victim of sex abuse in a church is to caution the victim or his or her family that reporting might hurt the spiritual leader’s ministry and ministry opportunities.
An overseer is required to be “above reproach” and to “have a good reputation with outsiders…” A child abuser has neither and arrived at that place in the most heinous of methods – he took a vulnerable, powerless, child and used the child for his sexual gratification. The result for the child lasts for his or her lifetime. Why shouldn’t the clergy perpetrator have his ministry ruined, ended? When did church leaders become guardians of clergy leaders and not protectors of the vulnerable?
A student minister forces a fourteen year old member of his student group into sex. It’s not consensual. It cannot be consensual. It is both unethical and criminal. A children’s worker grooms a child and abuses him or her. A pastor forcibly abuses a child. A long string of recent news items describes horrific cases of child abuse in churches of all types and sizes. These are depressingly frequent.
Shouldn’t the man’s ministry be ruined, if that’s the way you want to put it? The man’s ministry in a church setting should end. He shouldn’t be given a second chance by any church or ministry, as either volunteer or staff, to abuse any more children.
His pastoral ministry should be completely ended in any church, separate from any criminal penalties, The man should be cut off from serving in any capacity in any church for the rest of his life. His membership and attendance in any church should be on the basis of a complete disclosure of his past.
God can forgive. The church should be informed. I’d like for him not to be able to move to any other church and serve, no matter what degree of repentance, restoration, and rehabilitation is claimed.
There is this strange belief that when a man announces that he is called by God and is subsequently ordained by some church, that his “ministry” is sacred and inviolable. He may sin but somehow churches need to be able to benefit from his assumed gifts and calling. And if he sins, that sin itself becomes part of his ministry experience that he has supposedly repented of, learned from, and in a grotesque way, benefited from. Hooey.
The absurd proposition given by some is that even Almighty God, for some high profile clergy sex abusers, may be said to be in the abuser’s debt, as if the Lord will be handicapped if a child abuser is removed from Christian ministry.
It’s as if after his calling, his “ministry” flows out of him like some holy ectoplasm and exists separate from his physical being. That “ministry” is untouchable. Some convey the attitude that, ‘Well, the guy messed up. Let’s rehabilitate him. After all, he is gifted.’
God may have used some aspects of the man’s service but there is no command that he be preserved in service. I can countance the restoration to some form of formal ministry of a man whose sin involved a consensual matter with another adult. Not so with child abuse. He’s finished. Done. It’s over. Let him sell shoes or repair toilets.
I’d love to never encounter an adult who was abused in a church, by a minister, as a child or youth, who endures finding out that the man still serves in a church. I suppose we rightly consider branding to be a barbaric practice but if there were some visible mark that showed his heinous acts I’d think about favoring such a thing.
And, he ruined his own “ministry.” Not his victims who called him out. Not the state who punished his crimes.
I expect that the conversation will quickly turn towards false reports, the SBC tolerating abusers, and the enabling of abusers. There are serious discussions to be had and some difficult issues to face. Seems like a simple step to say that a person who has abused a child is unfit for any ministry involving children and for any vocational church-based Christian ministry. The difficulty is in the expectation that some SBC entity beyond a local church being in a position to end an abuser’s ministry. I know of no way to accomplish this, since only local churches call ministers. The problem has been approached by a call for an SBC-level review board to receive and investigate reports of abuse. There are many problems with that proposal which deserves it’s own hearing. This article addresses the absurd proposition that an abuser in ministry should be protected, lest his ministry be diminished or ended.