Boz, thanks for taking a few minutes to talk.
The issue of child sexual abuse continues to be in the news, and rightfully so. We need more attention to the issue and more awareness on how to prevent such abuse and then to respond to it if it happens. So, let's jump in.
First, as you look at some of the challenges right now, what is wrong with the way churches are dealing with sexual abuse issues?
I think, perhaps, one of the major problems is the understanding and acknowledgement that this is an issue within the church. If you don't acknowledge and understand it to be an issue in the church, then you won't spend any time dealing with it.
In 2007, the three major insurance providers for Protestant churches came out and wrote a report indicating that they received over 260 reports a year on allegations involving child sexual abuse related to a Protestant clergy member or church staff member. Remember, those numbers only include churches that have insurance policies, and only take into consideration people who actually report the abuse and churches that actually reported to their insurance carrier. Thus, it is fair to say that the actual numbers are much higher.
Regardless of the exact numbers, they are significant and we have to come to the point of understanding that such abuse is happening in our churches. We also have to acknowledge that our churches are filled with sexual abuse survivors. The current statistics today are that one in four women and one in six men have been sexually abused by the time they turn 18 years of age. Just to keep the math simple, that means that if you have a church of 100 men and 100 women, 20.5 percent of your church will be child sexual abuse survivors.
What if 20.5 percent of our church had lost a child or had cancer or had their house burn down? What would we, as a church, be doing about it? How would we be responding to it? I think that it would be something the church addressed openly. I think there would be sermons preached on it. I think there would be ministries started within the church to help address the pain that those individuals are going through. It should be no different with this issue.
The starting point is to understand that sexual abuse transcends all denominational faith boundaries. Once we can understand that and realize it's in our midst, we're in a much better position to consider how we must prevent it and respond to it.
You were widely quoted from something you said at the Religion Newswriters Association Conference, comparing Evangelicals to the Catholic Church on the issue of child sexual abuse. You were quoted as asying, "I think we are worse." Is that a statistical statement? And if so, upon what is it based? Or is it a cultural problem, and how would you define that cultural problem?
First, when I made that statement, it was in response to a specific question. The question was, "Why doesn't it seem like the Protestant world has learned from two decades of Catholic abuse scandal?" And my response was that in many ways I think the Protestant world is worse in responding to sexual abuse within our own churches.
I'm not making a statistical determination with regard to that. I don't think there's any type of research out there that could be done to make that statistical analysis. What I was saying is that I believe that we have often responded to this issue worse than the Catholic Church because all too often we rather ignore this offense than respond to it. Here's an equation that outlines some of the problems that we find within the Evangelical church as it relates to this abuse.
First, we're a motley group of many. The Protestant world includes over 217 denominations and over 314,000 congregations, compared to 24,000 Catholic Orthodox congregations. The Protestant world spans from one end of the spectrum, the mainline denominations, over to the other end, with independent fundamentalist denominations. So it spans an incredible group of individuals.
You have that equation plus the fact that the Protestant Evangelical church is largely built upon independence. The Catholic Church is one Church and has some degree of authority over all Catholic churches. The Protestant church and culture delights in the independence or escapist identity. For example, there are tends of thousands of autonomous churches in many different denominatons. That's very unlike the Catholic Church, which is one Church.
These types of cultures often—not all the time, but often—can frown on transparency and accountability outside of the local church.
And it is our experience that the abuse of children often thrives where there is minimal accountability and limited transparency. Also, in the Protestant Evangelical world we put a great degree of authority on Scripture and, therefore, those who abuse often distort Scripture in order to gain access, control, and silence over victims and their families.
When all is said and done, the Catholic Church has been forced to become much more aggressive in addressing this issue as a result of almost three decades of lawsuits and court orders. To date, the Evangelical Church has not been similarly forced to address such darkness within its own environment. However, my hope and prayer is not that we're forced to by court orders but that we desire, out of our love for Jesus, to make this a priority and to make sure that we do respond to this very dark area of our church in a very powerful and comprehensive way. I believe this is what Jesus expects from us, individually and corporately.
The reality is that all children are made in the image of God whether they're Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Hindu, it doesn't matter. It's all horrific and we should be grieved and working together in addressing this issue.
As Christians, we should be driven to expend ourselves for His little ones out of our understanding and love of our God who expended Himself for each of us.