I took part in an exchange today, one that has me shaking my head. I was accused of gossip for commenting on an article that the author invited comment on. I was told that I “obviously have problems” for believing that the Church should advocate for victims of any kind of abuse rather than protect and defend the perpetrators. The jabs at my character won’t keep me up tonight, but they do make me sad in the sense that they stand as yet another example of the deep dysfunction within the Church.
I love the people of God, but I don’t always love what they say or do.
We are called to be so much more.
We cannot stand on such cheap, flimsy understandings of mercy and justice. When we minimize or justify or defend any kind of sin, when we claim that it’s all good and nobody should be upset because the person repented, regardless of whether or not they ever humbled themselves and did everything possible to make things right with the one they offended or abused, when we contrive to shift the blame onto the shoulders of the victim, we wind up belittling what Christ did.
He became sin. He BECAME sin (2 Corinthians 5:21). Every horrible, awful, evil, dark, nasty, vile action or thought that anyone would ever have, He became. The Father turned His face away. Those agonizing hours when Jesus hung on that cross, naked and bruised and bleeding and gasping for breath – THAT is the fallout of sin. That is God’s opinion of it. It is not a “mistake,” an “indiscretion” or “no big deal.”
Forgiveness and restoration is available to anyone who comes to the Lord with a sincere and contrite heart. Thank God for that or I would be lost. But we don’t get a blank check to do whatever we want. Grace doesn’t mean that there aren’t consequences to our actions. It doesn’t mean that, if Jesus were walking the earth today, He would protect or defend those who perpetrate abuse.
On the contrary, He would call them out. He would bring them face-to-face with the full ugliness of what they’ve done. That’s precisely what He does now through the work of the Holy Spirit (John 16:5-11). He doesn’t pat abusers on the head and say, “It’s all good now that you asked Me to forgive you.” No. He washes them clean and then gives them both the humility and the fortitude to go out and face reality. See, that’s part of the radical, transformative nature of the Gospel; not that we hide behind “God forgave me” and seek to escape consequences, but that we deal with them, whatever they are, in the light of truth because we understand and accept just how heinous sin is. We accept that our actions affect others and that there is not such thing as a victimless crime.
For example, God can and will forgive a murderer, but that murderer should serve jail time. God can and will forgive an adulterous wife, but her marriage may end. God can and will forgive a man who beats his children, but those children should be removed from the home. God can and will forgive a woman who steals from her place of business, but she should be fired.
Should perpetrators be given the chance to make things right? Yes. We should not walk in bitterness and withhold that from them. But we should also not make light of their actions or slap their wrists. Mercy and justice do not exist in separate spheres.
Finally, God is absolutely an advocate for victims and calls His people to be advocates as well. Even a casual reading of Scripture reveals His heart in that regard (just a sampling – Psalm 82:3-4, Isaiah 61, Proverbs 24:11, Proverbs 31:9, Isaiah 1:17, Isaiah 58:6-7. Ezekiel 22:28-30, Amos 5:21-24, Micah 6:8, Luke 10:27-28, 1 John 3:16-18).
God forbid we be characterized by these words:
They dress the wound of my people
as though it were not serious.
‘Peace, peace,’ they say,
when there is no peace. – Jeremiah 6:14 (NIV)