The rise of sex scandals in modern life is amazing and sad. While nothing shocks me anymore, I continue to be disappointed by the number of leaders—Christian and non-Christian—who lack integrity at high levels. It does seem that absolute power corrupts, and that corruption usually takes the form of sexual abuse.
So when the details of sex scandals emerge, we minions gobble the juicy details up. The whole business model of gossip magazines are built on this desire of the masses. Why do we love a good sex scandal?
Well, they take our mind off our own sins and failings and allows us to focus on those who are “more devious” than us. Our voyeurism with people’s affairs indulge a form of self-righteousness by cloaking our anger as godly outrage. We must not gain any perverse pleasure from consuming other people’s trials as entertainment. I want to approach this whole issue with a spirit of humility. But for the grace of God, there go any of us.
Scandals are scandals because of three factors
- The nature of the allegations.
- The hypocrisy of the accused individual or institution.
- The refusal to quickly and completely confess and ask forgiveness.
Christianity is particularly susceptible to sex scandals because of the nature of its teaching to abstain from sexual sin. The Catholic church has ongoing PR problems with its history of abuse. In recent times, fundamentalism is receiving its due share of attention.
Church and Christian institutions compound the allegations with their repeatable tendency to evade and minimise the issues. While well-meaning Christians often think they are focusing on Christ by wishing away problems, failure to approach allegations head-on only obscures Jesus’ message. On the other side of the coin, outraged and hurt Christians and former Christians morph their godly outrage into ungodly witch hunts that infer greater cover-ups. Some of the internet rage and vendettas on blogs are pushed by haters who have no skin in the game. However, honestly, the culture of fundamentalism, gives them plenty of fuel for these conspiracies.
In the blogwatch section of this site, there are some references to BJU’s support of a board member, Chuck Phelps. While Mr Phelps was pastoring an IFB church, he mishandled his reporting and duty of care to a girl in his church who was raped by one of his church leaders. Phelps’ “forgive and forget” approach allowed the abuse to continue. BJU’s support for Phelps is a case study of how not to respond to scandals. Like most well-meaning Christians, I wish scandals would just go away. I greatly desire for Jesus to be preached unencumbered by our filthy rags. However, this can only happen if the issue is dealt with transparently and with justice.
The Wednesday night after the Phelps’ expose was aired on ABC’s 20/20 program, I attended a church pastored by a BJU graduate. The whole evening was devoted to how the media is anti-Christian, the victims are bitter, and the issue is a snow job. Clearly, the boys club had been rallied. While I don’t believe the media is a bastion of truth, this response is not acceptable. BJU students and graduates are demanding a better response from their alma mater and are planning a protest day on December 12th.
By BJU’s own standards, they should remove him from their board. BJU has a catalog of rules for its students to help them live lives that are above reproach and abstain from the appearance of evil. While Phelps is not a demon, he is tainted by inability to see his error. Consistency alone demands his removal. I can see no upside for keeping him and all downside. If BJU representatives are reading this, I urge you to act now. Use the vacancy to promote a fresh clean skin. I believe God will continue to use BJU in proclaiming the gospel, but you must ensure that it is not seen to be trivialising what happened or those who have been hurt.
To finish on a positive note. Correctly responding to sexual abuse issues is not just about mitigating risk. Championing justice and loving the vulnerable is central to the Christian message. Embracing a strong, correct, and decisive response will be positively welcomed. Such a response can provide a platform for promoting the light of the gospel and demonstrating that Christians are growing in their love for the Lord and his justice.