August 24th, 2020
If we use the broadest definition possible, we are all abusers. We are also all abused. I am not qualified to talk about abuse in very many forms. I am, however, qualified to speak on one type: Church abuse. I’ll define church abuse as the following: Church abuse is any attempt to belittle individuals or manipulate their behaviour by using theological, philosophical beliefs, or religious structure.
At best, church abuse manifests in good-hearted and good-intentioned people trying and failing (sometimes horrifically) to help. At worst, it is a deliberate method used to manipulate and force individuals into compliance. The problem comes when one tries to discern the difference; are you a helpful idiot or just plain evil? A friend recently posted a series of memes that were initially posted on Instagram by @yourfavoriteheretics (Note to Canadian readers, they spell ”favourite” the American way). I have to say it made me feel a variety of feels. That is to say: I had mixed emotions on this. Much of what they say is bang on the money, and much of the rest is an affront to the Gospel and the Church I love. There is, however, also quite a bit of room for healthy, theologically and epistemologically correct expressions of some of these things. As a result, I hoped to write a bit of a primer for believers illustrating healthy and unhealthy expressions of the following. This post comes to you in three parts, and I’ll try to avoid getting too far into the theological weeds.
I should say at the outset that my goal here is not to explain away abuses that have occurred. These must be brought to light and be dealt with transparently and in a way that befits an organization that wants to be salt and light to the world. If you have found yourself here because you have been injured by the church or individuals within, please know that I am not trying to minimize your experience or your pain. Jesus is perfect, but his representatives... not so much.
Sexual misconduct is always unacceptable, period. It is especially egregious when committed by someone in a position of authority.
This one will be quick. There is no place in the church for wolves who would prey on their victims and use false spirituality to gain "points,” sexual, or relational gain. Stalking and harassment are the same, whether you are inside or outside the church. Leaders/pastors who engage in such shameful behaviours should be removed from office immediately, permanently, and without exception. This is one issue I am fiercely dogmatic about. Believers are called to love and care for one another in the church as we would treat our brothers or sisters. If you wouldn't treat your own family that way or tolerate someone else treating them that way, you don't do it. If you're unsure? Err on the side of "back off.”
We're called to hold each other accountable, not hold sin over each other's heads.
This is one of the examples that gave me mixed emotions. The truth is that sin does indeed hinder you from experiencing God. Paul goes so far as to say that participating in communion (Lord's table, whatever your church may call it) with unrepented sin means you "drink judgement" on yourself. Without getting into the theological weeds on that one, suffice to say, it's a pretty serious thing. So, yes, faithful believers should watch out for one another to make sure sin does not gain a foothold. I hope and pray that my church family (which extends beyond the local church I attend) would lovingly call me out if I were in sin somehow. It's one of their jobs. I'd do the same for them.
The key to that sentence, though, is that one word: lovingly. No Christian should ever be made to feel "guilt, fear, shame, or self-hatred" for sin because, as believers, we stand blameless before the throne. (Romans 8) Joe Random should not be coming up to me and scolding me about my downfall into lasciviousness. My good, dear friends though can (and do!) call me out on sin issues. The root of the Christian faith is one of a life that seeks to please God and live without sin out of a heart of gratitude for the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross.
I do see the issues with this. If you are (or were) a part of an unhealthy church who dealt with sin improperly, you need to get away from that church. No one should ever use sin as a way to manipulate behaviour. The true expression of "Sin watching" is one of loving vigilance within a community of believers in relationship. I imagine there are many abusers in this category whose intentions are good. Perhaps their behaviour even comes from a heart that genuinely wants what is best for you. This does not, however, excuse behaviour that is itself sinful. These people would benefit from the parable of the speck and the log.
Modest may be hottest, but self-control is something to extol.
Ok, so I'm no Marketing genius, it's true though! The way churches have dealt with sexual purity and sexual sin in the last few decades is, truthfully, shameful. Yes, we must encourage our sisters in the faith to be modest in how they present themselves. We must also, however, encourage our brothers to be respectable, keep their hands and eyes to themselves. We should honour God with our bodies and how we present ourselves, but that doesn't mean restricting others to an arbitrary dress code. It also doesn't mean abusing our freedom in a way that is intended to entice the weaker brother or sister. There is a balance that is based on mutual respect and brotherly/sisterly love.
Sexual sin is totally a thing that exists, but it's not different in any substantive way from any other type of sin. Without Jesus, it excludes you from the Kingdom of God. Same as gluttony, same as idolatry, same as selfishness, the list goes on. I have said this many times: we must not talk about behaviour until after Holy Spirit has transformed the heart. If the Old Testament has taught us nothing else, doing so only wastes time and breath.
Paul himself teaches the last point that it is better to marry than to "burn with lust." Having been in both situations, I can say being married is better. Truthfully, I never understood dating. Even before I was a Christian, dating without expressly looking for a life-long partner was a foreign idea to me. My goal was always to find someone to get married to, so I'm perhaps not the best-equipped person to talk about dating.
Written by Kevin Seguin