The headlines in recent days have surfaced of allegations not only of Catholic priests who have been accused of child sex crimes, but also that the Pope knew about some of the allegations and did nothing about them.
Meanwhile, over in the protestant world, Willow Creek Church is still trying to crawl out from the dust and wreckage that surrounded their founding pastor, Bill Hybels, and alleged indiscretions as well as the unwillingness of both him and leadership to take responsibility.
Let’s not forget the countless Hollywood actors, producers, and others who have wielded their powers to abuse and take advantage of women.
As I read these headlines, my heart is heavy. It is heavy for the victims who lie in the wake of those who have had power and abused it. Wounds are bad enough but the pain intensifies when the one who has caused them makes no account for their responsibility in causing them.
My heart is also heavy because of the witness of Christ to the world. Unfortunately, those who are not a part of the church, who may look suspiciously at organized faith and religion, do not distinguish between God and those who claim to follow him. We will ultimately judge God by those who claim to follow him. Our judgment of God will be based on the fallibility and brokenness of those who stumble and fall as they follow.
As a pastor, I have a conscious awareness in my bones that, right or wrong, people’s perception of God may be heavily influenced by my representation of him. How I live and act, for the good or bad, will be directly linked to my association with God. I’ve not encountered that frequently when I do something right or when I live well, but it becomes center stage the moment that I step out of line and my flaws are readily apparent.
But allegations such as these are not new, we’ve seen them for years. The Catholic church has been embroiled in controversy before. In fact, it seems like this kind of controversy resurfaces every few years as the victims gain confidence and realize that although they have desperately tried to stuff down their emotions over past events, their courage and the voice of truth needs to stand tall.
Why is it that it seems that men in positions of power abuse that power? Does power really corrupt?
When I read of situations like this, it affirms my belief in the depravity of man, that each and every one of us have been so deeply impacted by sin that our natural tendency is towards it at every turn. The emotional rush that is felt from that power that one gains in authority can easily push someone to that place where they legitimately think that they are the savior and that nothing that they can do will ever lead to dangerous consequences.
As a pastor, people invite me into some of the deepest moments of their lives. When someone is sick or dying, when someone has died, when there is marital conflict, where there is doubt, these are the moments when people seek the church, they seek the face of God, and what they can often find there is the face of a broken and hurting individual who has the potential for allowing their own brokenness to drive their actions.
When someone comes looking for Jesus and instead finds Judas or something worse, their faith and trust are shattered.
How many tears will we continue to allow to fall before this stops? Why have we not set up better guardrails to protect the broken and hurting? Why do we continue to do the same thing over and over again and expect different results?
I am grateful for the boldness of those who have come forward to bravely speak the truth. I pray that even in that bold step, they experience some amount of healing. I pray that they might see beyond the fallible and fallen people who have misrepresented Christ to them and see a savior who weeps with them in their pain. A savior whose heart beats for justice and compassion. A savior whose response to power and authority was to become a servant to all and to criticize and knock down the subversive and abusive powers of the day.
I am grateful that I have found a place where there is accountability and structure, oversight and connection to make sure that I am careful with the authority that has been afforded to me. It is far from perfect, it is still man-made, but it provides for more than I’ve seen in some cases.
May those of us who call ourselves followers of Christ be ready and willing to hear the stories of those whose faith has been shattered. May we listen without judgment and pray for understanding. May we represent Christ as a fragrant aroma, gentle and pleasing, rather than the harsh smell that has emanated from those who have misrepresented him. May we weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn the loss of their innocence and may we show the compassion of Christ that led him to willingly sacrifice himself for the sake of even those who hated him.
And to all those whose faith and trust have been shattered, please know that you are loved by God. Know that despite the distortion of love and authority that has been shown to you, there is a God who wields his power not with a heavy hand and a selfish heart, but with a gentle hand and a heart that saw fit to give his only son for the sake of freedom, salvation, and restoration from the things that destroy and corrupt. May you experience and see Christ as he is, not as he has been misrepresented by others.