You may not have read the news coverage about the recent sexual abuse scandal at Sovereign Grace Ministries, a network of reformed evangelical church plants, but unfortunately, you have heard this story before. It’s the same shameful tale we’ve seen unfold in the Catholic Church, the Penn State football program, and other institutions. At SGM churches and schools, children were molested. This revelation alone is enough to cause moral outrage. The correct response is crystal clear: do everything in your power to protect victims and potential victims, which first and foremost means reporting suspected sexual predators to the proper authorities. But like the good ol’ boys at the Vatican and Penn State, the leaders at SGM responded to reports of abuse by protecting the abusers and cultivating a culture of abuse where victims–innocent children–were silenced, ignored, and repeatedly abused.
To put it in the mildest way I can, I am sick to death of this story. The evil and injustice of it all makes my blood boil and my head spin. Again and again I find myself asking, how in the world can any sane person make the decision to protect a predator instead of protecting a child?
Tim Challies, pastor of Grace Fellowship Church, stepped in to explain exactly how:
This situation [the scandal at SGM] is unfolding before a watching world that loves nothing more than to see Christians in disunity, accusing one another, fighting one another, making a mockery of the gospel that brings peace . . . In a situation as difficult as this one, especially in a situation as difficult as this one, the Lord calls me, he calls each of his people, to pursue peace and love and unity.
Challies’ statement sounds nice on the surface; it’s full of Christianese buzzwords that would look great in calligraphy on a Thomas Kinkade painting. But the content of his message is that “unity” is more important than justice; that appearing righteous is more important than living righteously. According to Challies, loudly demanding that child molesters stop being allowed to molest children isn’t a Christian thing to do because it disrupts “unity” and makes us look bad.
Challies is flat wrong. In this situation, God calls each of God’s people to pursue one thing: justice. Peace and unity be damned.
The Vatican and Penn State football and SGM all committed the sin of making a perverse idol out of this broken concept of unity. Everyone in these institutions involved in protecting child molesters probably agreed that molesting children is bad. But instead of protecting children at any cost to their institutions, they thought, “This ancient Church/this great athletics program/this thriving network of churches is doing so many great things. Airing this scandal will cause conflict and disunity, which could lead to this amazing institution falling apart.” From that point forward, their concern became saving face. As Jeremiah said:
They have treated the wound of my people carelessly,
saying, “Peace, peace,”
when there is no peace.
They acted shamefully, they committed abomination;
yet they were not at all ashamed,
they did not know how to blush.
Shame on Benedict XVI, Joe Paterno, the leaders of Sovereign Grace Ministries, and anyone else who would have the temerity to say “Peace” when there is no peace; who would risk the well-being of children in order to preserve unity.
The majority of the time, it’s good and pleasant to live in unity. Our minor arguments and theological disagreements can be discussed and resolved in a loving and peaceful way. But we will all inevitably face a situation where we have to make the choice between superficial unity and our call to live out God’s desire for justice and love for the oppressed. I pray that the issue we face will not be anything as horrific as the abuse of children, but if it is, I pray that we will learn from the grievous mistakes of the past and stand on the side of the abused, and on the side of justice, without compromise.