Thursday, October 17, 2013

World Magazine's Step in the Right Direction (Show the Gospel Coalition How it's Done!)

Back in August, I wrote about the Anatomy and Physiology of Spiritual Abuse. David Henke's criteria for spiritual abuse (a synopsis of which appears in the sidebar of this site) spelled out the anatomy, and the irresponsible and authoritarian behavior of the Gospel Coalition (concerning their arrogant support of child abuse facilitator CJ Mahaney) illustrated the physiology. Please read this previous post HERE if you missed it, particularly for a review of the Spiritual Abuse criteria.

Let me further clarify my statement about Mahaney. For a host of reasons including direct interaction with some of the victims and based upon evidence that they shared with me, I believe without hesitation that real abuse occurred. Those who were victimized have not had their day in court to determine the guilt or innocence of those accused beyond a reasonable doubt, however. What I do know for certain is that this whole scandal has broadcasted to the world that if you are a child abuser, particularly a pedophile, you will find solace at Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM). You'll find victims whose voices are silenced when they are abused. If you commit an act of molestation or rape, or perhaps physical abuse, the system there is more likely to support you as an abuser and is more likely to doubt the victim and evidence. It is but another example of the collateral damage that results from the privilege of a leader in a high demand or cultic system.

Though some of this status was inherited from previous leader Larry Tomczak, Mahaney is now something of a Christian poster child for the abuse of power and hypocrisy among today's popular Christian leaders. Considering that he's devoted so much attention to the focus of gender roles for women “so that the Word of God may not be blasphemed” (Titus 2:5), what is his excuse of his own behavior as a man and as a minister – and a minister who once administrated a whole group of churches as a presbyter (shepherd)? What does one say of a shepherd who strengthens the position of wolves and throws the most vulnerable of lambs into harm's way? Does that not blaspheme God, too?

Philip Zimbardo uses the analogy of a bad barrel to illustrate high demand systems that put apples in the barrel at risk, facilitating the likelihood for otherwise good people to commit evil. The barrel is a bad environment for the apples who become trapped within the bad system. But he also points out that “bad barrels” such as destructive religious systems like SGM don't exist in a vacuum. Barrels are also maintained by some larger system which facilitates many bad barrels indirectly. They bear some moral culpability by way of holding up the ideology that supports bad barrels. In the case with Mahaney, the Gospel Coalition becomes analogous to the system that maintains the bad barrels in Zimbardo's scheme.

World Magazine's Virtual Voices

Yesterday, World Magazine published an item on the Virtual Voices section of their website, that which appears where regular contributors write their own commentary. In a piece entitled Protecting the Children in the Church – From Us, the Virtual Voices contributor voiced her incredulity and frustration at the new “zero possibility” measures taken to ensure the safety of children while in the care of those acting on behalf of the church while engaging in activities there. (For an online link to the captured article, please contact this website's host.) Among the measures, the author noted the buddy system and criminal background checks. (I don't think that they're actually “zero possibility” measures, though, but these are a good start.)

Indeed, I share her shock and pain, but not exactly for the same reasons. I was right there with her, feeling the disturbing, cold reality of the situation as she described it...

Until I read this:
I went home and thought about a few things. One is that the obsequious capitulation to the government’s ever-encroaching demands leads to ridiculous extremes and will eventually cause the church to lose its soul: The 2 percent will in the end swallow up the 98 percent.
She lost me there.

I don't believe that it is the government that is as fault here, causing the church to lose its soul. It's the fault of the Church for not setting a “zero tolerance” environment concerning child abuse. From the article, it implies that the church freely made the decision to implement measures to protect children. Part of their elected strategy to offer a safe environment to children just happens to include a background check for church workers. The church, in this case, has made the choice to pay for background checks which involves a search of police records in order to ensure that the children placed in the care of the church remain safe.

Christians are the ones
who have sold their own souls.

Christendom that has thrown away the sacred trust that parishioners have placed in them, and this is evidenced by the widespread abuse that seems to differ little from the sexual abuse statistics within the general population. Because the Protestant Church has failed to honor the liberty and value the freedom that they have had, this is now a measure that we must employ to demonstrate our integrity to the post-Christian culture that we live in today. Though I believe that a remnant of the church cannot lose what is kept by a sovereign God, it's the fault of the power hungry leaders like Mahaney who have set themselves up as “infallible” and above reproach.

The author went on to conclude the post with this:
The other is that we know what Jesus would have done with the little children who wanted to be near Him: He would have held them in His arms.
This points out the problem that lie that many people are like unto Christ to the church. Instead of Jesus being our example, these leaders act in His place, ascribing the authority and the “pass” that they want. “Jesus could do it, so we can too.” That is a significant element of the problem that we're trying to overcome with these issues. It is indeed a sad time when you can't put your child into the care of a Sunday School teacher, but those are our times. It is indeed a sad milestone when you cannot trust a house of worship with the care of your children, but the evidence to support the reality of the problem is staggering.

Again, I understand this author's grief. I remember how free I used to be as a teenager. I could walk around downtown in my hometown and feel safe. Today, that is not possible. When I sought to be baptized, my pastor pulled me out of my Sunday school class, invited me into his office for a private conversation, and asked me lots of questions about my faith to ensure that I was ready and understood what I was doing. He treated me like an equal and showed me nothing but respect, but that was in the early seventies. Today, I'd never let my daughter sit in the pastor's office without another adult there with her – and that adult would very likely have to be me. I don't care how much I loved my pastor or trusted him. We just don't do that now. We have to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves, and we have to put into place mechanisms to keep us this way.

A Positive Response in the Social Media

Godly Response in the Christian Environment took note of the post on World today, and they noted it in the social media. Within minutes of coming to my attention, the post vanished. World Magazine then issued this Tweet about it, but the original URL remains blank without explanation for its disappearance, retraction, or apology. (I wish that the URL had made some note of why they deleted the post, but it just notes that the item doesn't exist anymore.) One had to go to Twitter to learn about why it had been deleted. At first blush and without knowledge of the Twitter statement, this seemed much to me like the convenient deletions of the original rude comments made by the Gospel Coalition against the critics and in support of CJ Mahaney. It wasn't, and I was pleasantly surprised. They affirmed the measures taken by the church discussed by the author, the necessary rules that are necessary to protect children.

Looking back at Zimbardo's analogy about bad barrels with churches that permit or cover up or somehow facilitate child abuse, where does World fit into the scheme? They're pointing to the system and noting the problems as agents of positive change.

The magazine should be commended for deleting the article which places the convenience and preference of adults who want to be comfortable over the needs and safety of children. They did it in a rather timely fashion as well, and this is also impressive. They are not actively helping to support the bad system that helps foster the bad barrels which spoil good apples in the same way that the Gospel Coalition did.

I don't know what kinds of contractual obligations that World may have with the author, or what their corporate policies may require of them when such a post ends up under the umbrella of their platform online. If this is a blog featured by World magazine, and the author has been vetted, there may be no formal peer review of what makes it to publication on the website. Their legal department may not permit them to make statements about previously published material.

I believe that the next step should involve formally addressing the deletion. Why was it deleted? This could be used as a powerful talking point to generate discussion of measures that local churches can implement to limit the risk of abuse of children. This comes on the heels of their July article noting the odd behavior of the Gospel Coalition, another commendable measure on the part of World magazine. I believe that they've taken some risk by even publishing this article, as I suspect that a good chunk of their readership likely shares the views of the author of the deleted post. I am hopeful that World will continue to examine this topic and will support measures to help Christians make and keep Christians accountable so that the Rod of Man will never be necessary.