How we think about abuse matters

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Yesterday I shared an update on my correspondence with Premier Christianity about their article claiming that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene.

We might leave it there except that the article seems to be part of a concerning trend from a pastoral perspective. It was followed by two articles that I find deeply concerning in the context of recent abuse scandals within the church. As I will repeat below, I don’t think this points to a malign agenda from the magazine. I do think it points to a level of naivety about pastoral care in the life of the church.

First, we have an article that talks about how we restore fallen leaders. The introduction sets up the way that John Mark was “restored” following his failure to complete the missionary journey with Paul and Barnabas against the way that we treat fallen leaders with specific reference to the recent high profile cases that hit the news.

As a reminder, those high profile cases involved not just adultery but clear examples of abuse, including for sexual gratification against women within the pastoral responsibility of the leaders, of young men and in the case of John Smyth, school age boys. There is no comparison between this predatory behaviour and the example of John Mark, a young trainee who found that he wasn’t ready for a specific task but did not fail morally.

I deal specifically with this issue on this week’s podcast which you can listen to here.

Or you can watch here

The second example is the introduction on social media for an article about how we respond to high profile scandals whether among politicians or again, those high profile abuse scandals.

I’ve used up my allotted articles for this month so cannot see behind the paywall. So I’m hoping that the actual article is better than the headlining. However, what most people will see is the headline and introductory blurb.

Now, Lucas is absolutely right to say that we shouldn’t gloat about the failings of others and we should seek to guard our hearts against the risk of judgementalism. However, to lead with those words has implications.

Read the statement through the eyes of an abuse victim. Whilst we are talking about judgementalism, hear the accusation that the victim hears.

“Oh you are gloating at the misfortune of other believers. Oh you are failing to show grace, you are harbouring resentment.”

Sadly, we’ve seen these messages to victims far too often. It’s not good and it needs to be said that when victims have spoken up about what happened to them, it hasn’t been to gloat but rather out of a genuine, deep heart cry for safety, protection, healing, justice.

When pastors and leaders have spoken up on the issue, it hasn’t been to gloat but rather out of concern for the honour of Christ’s name, the work of the Gospel and the protection and care of vulnerable sheep.

Yet, this hasn’t been the first time that Christian magazines have led with “don’t gloat.” This seems to be a bit of a theme. For the record, I don’t think there is a deliberate agenda here. Rather, I think that there remains a level of pastoral naivety about the seriousness of these incidents. And all of this suggests that we have a long way to go if we are to better understand the full horror of what happened in our midst.

Post Script

A brief response from Premier Christianity to this article was tweeted as follows

If I could briefly respond. The concern I’ve raised -along with plenty of others is not that the people writing are “looking to silence or shame victims….” Here has been the problem so often with abuse cases, both in terms of the high profile ones and what has happened in local churches.

There are the actual perpetrators of abuse. These people are the wolves. They are malign in their intentions. However, as so often is the case, abusers function within a culture that allows them to get away with so much. And so often what we hear from others in position of responsibility is that they did not intend things to happen. I think this is because they fear personal accusation. Now, I don’t for one moment believe that the articles mentioned intended to shame or intended to suggest that we don’t deal robustly with abuse. What I do know is that this is the impression that the articles give both to abuse victims and to those advocating for them. Imagine if whenever you raised a concern about anything, that the first and instinctive response was to challenge your motives.

I wrote not to accuse or to attack but to try and encourage a Christian magazine edited by people I consider brothers and sisters in Christ to reflect and consider how they approach a crucial topic. I write as a pastor who has a particular concern for this particular issue which arises out of my pastoral experience. I know that there are others who feel the same.

One last thing. If you are challenged and concerns are raised, don’t use that as an opportunity to market your other articles.

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