Faith is something you hold on to when times are rough. Faith is something you cling onto as the light at the end of a long, dark tunnel. But what happens when the faith that you throw all of your dependency into is the same one that destroys you?
To clarify, it is not the actual faith itself that destroys, but what happens within the organization that runs it. Because a way for people to become closer to God, or their gods, is to gather together in a community with those who share the same beliefs as you, whether in a church, temple, etc. And although an organization of faith should be a safe haven for believers, many instances can occur where the leaders of the organizations have committed wrong actions and put those believers under them in great turmoil.
A common predicament that has swept throughout churches is the issue of child sexual abuse. It has appeared everywhere from the headline news about popular and powerful leaders who commit these acts, all the way down to the local corner church in a small town. What makes the abuse worse is that they come from the very same people who are supposed to protect church members physically and spiritually.
The right response, as it is with any other sexual abuse case, is to punish the perpetrator and protect the victim. However, some of the responses have been to completely cover up the crime–look the other way and pretend that it has never happened. Or even to overly-defend the abuser. After all, there are reputations on the line and a church must maintain its pristine facade to the outside world.
But when a church takes the necessary steps to admit their actions and protect the victims, then it will definitely fall in line with teachings that come from the pulpit every Sunday.
In 2011, senior pastor Peter James of Vienna Presbyterian Church stood before his congregation and admitted his shortcomings in dealing with a sexual abuse case. As he states, “we failed as leaders to extend the compassion and mercy that you needed. Some of you felt uncared for, neglected and even blamed for this abuse. I am sorry. The church is sorry.”
Even though the church indeed reported the offense to authorities and the offender resigned, the church apologized for not taking further actions in inquiring if there were more victims, and giving extra care to the current ones. But after their public apology, the church stepped into action. The new efforts to help the victims made a tremendous difference. More than the therapy sessions and counseling given to the victims, but it was admitting their faults and apologizing that is slowly redeeming back the trust that was lost.
Sexual abuse will always leave a huge scar in a victim’s life. And how a church chooses to handle the situation will make all the difference in their healing. And that is exactly how a church should be doing–protecting their members.