I am currently reflecting on the top posts of 2012 here at the blog, and looking at them in light of common patterns. So far, I have seen the themes of personal posts, posts dealing with facts, unhealthy organizations, and the presidential election.
Unfortunately, one topic of discussion that is becoming all too common is that of child abuse. The terrible story of Penn State broke just over a year ago, forcing us to face the horrors of which people are capable. I wish I could say that these things never happen in the context of ministry, but that would not be true. And in the church, speaking out about such things is often taboo. One particular case was impossible to ignore, and brought the truth to light.
Jack Schaap, of First Baptist Church of Hammond in Indiana, was fired in late summer for his relationship with a teenage girl, and was subsequently being investigated by authorities. There was some discussion about the age of consent, but people were largely calling this incident an "adultery scandal." That is language that I do not believe is appropriate, and I felt that it needed to be said. That post was the 7th most-read post of the year and it was titled "Call It What It Is: It's Not Adultery. It's Abuse." Christianity Today ran the quote in their magazine as did many others. I reflected later on why that quote got so much traction and decided it was because so many people were defending Schaap, as people so often do in situations like this.
If you are a pastor, you should not just be sad, you should be outraged-- and you should speak up. You don't need to wait until the FBI figures out in which state a 54-year old pastor had sex with a 16-year old girl-- you can (and should) call it sexual abuse-- right now.
It is not adultery, it is abuse. It does not matter if it was in Indiana, Michigan, or Illinois, it matters that it is abuse and we call it that. Pastors/shepherds are supposed to protect their members, not prey on them.
Adultery is bad but you have to protect children by calling abuse what it is-- if we call this adultery it arms predators and endangers the next generation. Stand up and speak up for what it is-- sexual abuse of a child. Defending this based on which state this occurred in is bizarre, yet that is exactly what is going on from some pastors.
Later, I followed up with some thoughts from Pastor Paul Chappell, and that became the 6th most-read post of 2012. Here's an excerpt:
The movement has gained, some would say earned, a certain reputation, and it is a shame--but it is encouraging that pastors like Paul will "act like men" and call it out. Too many were too busy saying it was not an issue. It is. To some, the IFB movement has earned a reputation similar to that of the Catholic Church, but many will not admit to it. Paul does.
This may not be the case in YOUR part of the [Independent Fundamentalist Baptist] world, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't speak up to all of it and shout that it is abuse and you will not tolerate it.
Chappell also recommends pastors in this movement to partner together to diminish and eliminate the possibility of fallen pastors being shuffled from one church to the next (something I have sadly seen happen in my denomination as well).
"It is sad and tragic when men who have failed morally previously are placed back in the pastorate. I don't believe this is the situation at hand, but it has been the case in the past. The historic pattern of Baptist churches was to send a letter to the next church either recommending or warning the next church regarding a member. That practice should return and expand with the technology available. (This was brought up in a 2008 Times article regarding Baptist churches as well.) When a spiritual leader or a church refers a fallen pastor to another church, it is fair to blame those who knowingly referred him."
He also clearly addresses a root cause of situations like the Jack Schaap abuse scandal.
"It is dangerous for pastors to operate in an untouchable bubble of authority structure. Although there are different ideas about how it should be structured, every spiritual leader needs genuine opportunities for fellowship, transparency, and accountability."
I think part of the reason that so many people read this is because there is a deeper problem here that needs to be addressed. Chappell's article touched on it, but now others are noticing. For example, reports of similar cases are coming to the surface now, and while this continues to be troubling, it is my hope that by facing these terrible truths, we may be able to prevent more abuse from happening.
On both posts, the comments went crazy, filled with anger and accusation (and, I did not publish many comments). Some wanted to make a comparison to other immoral behavior between consenting adults-- showing just how little they understood the situation and how desperate they were to pretend that abuse did not happen. Others had new accusations and attacks, showing how dysfunctional parts of this movement really are. Now, however, the dust has settled and I think that some (not all, and perhaps not most) in the IFB movement are a little more aware and, I hope, a little more concerned about the abuse.
This may be bringing to light the issues in IFB churches, but it is a problem that crosses denominational boundaries, and we all need to stand together in the effort to put a stop to it.