It is Saturday morning. You are sitting on the back deck of your home. You are drinking coffee, strong and black. You normally drink a lot of coffee because you like it. However, you have been drinking much more of it for the last three days. One reason is because you are not very hungry so you are drinking coffee just so you will not be sitting at the table with your family staring off into another world as they try to eat their meals. However, you have noticed that your wife and teenage children are not eating much either. In addition, the normal table talk that takes place during meal times around your home has become stale and forced. You also notice that your wife’s eyes reveal that she has, once again, been crying while preparing the meals that she normally takes such pride in providing for her husband and sons. Your family is in an emotional lockdown and you know the reason why. A tragedy has struck in your church family and it has nothing to do with a funeral. It is worse.
Tomorrow is Sunday. . . . And for the first time since you became pastor of the church, you wish Sunday wasn’t coming.
During your ministry as pastor of the local church to which God has assigned you, the church has grown. You have large crowds even though the town where you are is not very big. You have members in your church coming from three counties other than your own. God has blessed. Yet, you are thinking, “Tomorrow is Sunday. Every seat in the worship center will be full. There will be people standing up along the walls . . . but, they will not be there to hear me preach the gospel. They will be there to hear what I have to say about the events that have occurred since this past Wednesday night.”
This past Wednesday night a ten (10) year old child was brought to you by the Children’s Minister and an AWANA worker. The child had told the AWANA worker of experiencing sexual misconduct from a leading member of the church, the major financial contributor in the body, a leading member of the community, and an employer of many of the people living in the town.
You looked into the child’s eyes and you just knew in your gut she was telling the truth, but you also knew there were steps that must be taken now that would be scrutinized by knowledgeable people and by armchair quarterbacks as well. You knew that because this was not the first time you have had to deal with sexual abuse in the body of Christ, but it was the first time in this church.
After you had heard the child’s story from the AWANA worker, you did what you knew you had to do and this time, you were somewhat fortunate. The church you serve has over a dozen law enforcement personnel as regular members. You called a State Policeman in your church. The State Policeman called the State Police Sex Crimes Officer for your area. Next, you called the child’s mother and asked her to come to the church office. She got there before the Sex Crimes Officer arrived. You, along with your wife, the AWANA Worker and the Children’s Minister tell the child’s mother what had happened. She breaks down in tears. She just can’t believe that God would let this happen to her child. After she gains her composure, the Associate Pastor and his wife bring the child into your office to be with her mother.
When the mother embraces her child and the tears again begin to flow, every eye in the room fills with tears . . . except yours. You are becoming angry. You are angry with yourself that this has happened “on your watch.” You are angry that you never picked up on the fact that you had a sexual predator in the church leadership. You had done all the “right” things. All the guidelines were in place. Everyone who works with children in the church had had criminal background checks and they were on record, current and up to date. Every “i” had been dotted. Every “t” had been crossed. Nonetheless, here you are. Once again you are dealing with the carnage of having a sexual predator in a local church.
You leave your office and wait on the State Policeman and the Sex Crimes Officer out in the parking lot. No one still in the parking lot thinks anything of it when the cruiser pulls up, because the State Cop is a member of the church and the Sex Crimes Officer is in plain clothes. Law enforcement officers are constantly in and out of the church. Three of them work in AWANA. Two others are deacons. There is a running joke in the church that “no one would ever try to take the Sunday morning offering in this church, there are armed cops in every pew.” But this is not about a robbery. This is about a sex crime. In your heart, you wish someone had robbed the church and burned down the buildings rather than what has happened. Then reality strikes your soul like being slapped in the face with a dead cat. Someone has been robbed.
A child has been robbed of that which can never be replaced: Innocence, Trust, Laughter, and an untold number of other things that children should have and enjoy when ten years of age.
The State Police Sex Crimes Officer has called a State Licensed Social Worker to join him to interview the child. She arrives after most of the Wednesday night AWANA crowd has left.
Two other State Police Officers and the Chief Deputy of the Sheriff’s Department have arrived and are with you in your office, all three are members of the church. The State Police Sex Crimes Officer and the Social Worker use the Associate Pastor’s office to conduct the interview. The child’s mother is waiting in the reception area and your wife, the AWANA worker, and the Associate Pastor’s wife are with her.
The interview ends. The Social Worker tells the child’s mother that she believes the child’s testimony. The State Police Sex Crimes Officer comes into your office and tells you and the three cops the same. He tells the State Policemen an arrest of the church leader should be made. The Chief Deputy goes with them. An arrest is made. On Thursday morning the whole town knows what has taken place. The phones at the church offices ring continually. Your Administrative Assistant became so distraught due to the accusative tone of some of the calls you told her to go home. The phones continue to ring.
By Friday, you have called your insurance agent, the church attorney, and held a joint meeting with the deacons and trustees. The child and her mother are now at the grandparent’s home in another county. The church leader accused of a sex crime against a minor child is out of jail on bond. He is gathering his army of supporters.
Now, it is Sunday Morning. Sunday School is over. You were in your office praying alone during the Sunday School hour. You are about to walk into the worship center. It is packed, with standing room only. You walk in as the choir sings the church anthem, “Brethren, We Have Met To Worship.”
The time comes for you to take the pulpit. You do so and look out over the crowd. They are waiting. They are waiting for you to speak. What do you say?
What would you do? What would you do if you were in this local pastor’s shoes?