(This is a reprint of an article I wrote here).
“Ministries that cover up sexual abuse are not ministries at all. Their silence allows evil to thrive. They do not represent Jesus.”
I posted this quote recently, and I received many positive comments. But one of the comments put a burr in my saddle.
The person wrote: “Correct , but we are not to be the judge…..Bible Says So….one day all Knees will Bow , let he who is without Sin cast the first stone , better put that energy into making real changes.[sic]”
I would argue against this, as you can imagine, but not just because I feel like I should, but because this idea actually does not represent biblical theology. It’s cliche-throwing at best.
First, in not “judging” predatory people are we not still rendering judgment? We are making a judgment call about the victim, heaping shame upon them for being gossips or bringing up past abuse. When we don’t turn in predators to the proper authorities, we are essentially saying we have judged the situation accurately and have CHOSEN to err on the side of the one who victimized.
Judgment, Peter reminds us, begins in our house–the house of God (See 1 Peter 4:17). You see Jesus judging the spiritually proud. You see Paul calling out sin publicly many, many times–by name. We see Nathan the Prophet confronting King David about sin, and we see throughout the Bible the admonition to make right judgments (to care for the widow, orphan, alien and sick). We see conflict in the New Testament over wolves in sheep’s clothing–where people are named for harming the body of Christ (See 2 Timothy 4:10). James called his brothers haters of God (James 4:4).
Jesus told us, “Do not judge according to external appearance, but judge with proper judgment” (John 7:24, NET). Paul says this: “The spiritual person judges all things” (1 Corinthians 2:15a). The writer of Hebrews pens this in chapter 5 verse 14? “But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”
Of course we’re not to jump to judgment. We’re not to be harsh. We’re not to rush to point a finger without first looking at the tree log-jamming our eye. But we are still called to judge. We are still called to be agents of justice, particularly for those who are weak, young, innocent and marginalized.
Jesus also tells us, “If anyone causes one of these little ones–those who believe in me–to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea” (Matthew 18:6). The question becomes, if we see someone harming another, shouldn’t we welcome the millstone to follow? Shouldn’t we report this to the authorities, as is proper and legal? That’s not judging, that’s justice.
All Knees Will Bow
I would argue that this is not a reason for us to shirk our responsibilities as citizens of heaven. That we will all face judgment someday should instead propel us to do the right thing on this earth. If we spend our lives with our heads in the sand while people are harmed (and we could have done something about it), won’t we worry that our works will burn up (a la 1 Corinthians 3:15) and produce only a lump of glory? Isn’t protecting others and reporting abuse part of our mandate as Christ followers? After all, he intervened often. He told the story of the Good Samaritan who thought more of his fellow enemy than his comfort. He inconvenienced himself for someone completely disconnected from him–yet he still cared.
Knowing all knees will bow is a catalyst, not a laissez-faire giving up on pushing against evil in this world.
Let He Who Is Without Sin
We must remember the context of these words of Jesus. He was protecting a woman who had been conveniently “caught” in adultery. Most scholars believe that she had been entrapped. (Where is the man? Doesn’t it take two?) In this protective stance, Jesus reminds the crowd around her who are thirsty for revenge to examine themselves first. This is an important principle–we must look to ourselves. We must realize that we all have the propensity for evil. But if we allowed our own sin to prevent us from protecting others, we would never protect the innocent. We’d let our sin nature give us a “get out of jail free” card in terms of intervening for others.
I fear we flippantly throw these words to others who are calling out abuse as a shield so we don’t have to face the sin and CRIME in our world. We are called to love justly, do mercy and walk humbly with our God because we reflect the God of the broken, We see the narrative all throughout scripture. We are called to take care of the least, the last and the lost. And to do that will sometimes mean we have to stand up to bullies.
Standing up to bullies (and criminals and abusers) is not being judgmental. It’s embracing the mantle of justice Jesus has given us in this new kingdom.
Calling people out by name who have raped children, preyed on teenagers, abused their congregations, or date-raped people is not gossip. It’s the right thing to do.
Better to Put that Energy into Making Real Changes
Here I would agree with the commenter. Absolutely. We should work for change.
But just how are we going to see actual change in the reputation-protecting church that spits out victims, shaming them while coddling predatory church leaders if not by calling them out? Exposure brings change. Awareness breeds it. Hiding never welcomes dynamic change. Pretending everything is fine and retreating back into ourselves so we’re not judgmental does nothing to further the cause. Truth: Predators thrive in systems of silence. They flourish when people are afraid to call them out. That’s why they get away with hundreds of victims because churches are, sadly, really great places to hide. We easily convey trust. We think the four walls of church mean that no one inside will harm us.
Jesus warned us that infiltrators will worm their way into our houses of worship, looking like sheep, but howling like wolves. Everywhere in the New Testament we are warned about people like this. Not only are we to call them out by name, but we are to not even eat with them. (See 1 Corinthians 5:11). They are fakers. False. Slippery. They appear to be godly, but are not walking with Christ. Their aim is to harm the cause of Christ and his followers.
As I shared above, Jesus reminds us that millstones await those who harm the innocent. If we remove those millstones so we won’t be “judgmental,” we remove any sort of penalty for harm. And when we do that, we essentially break the millstone into hundreds of rocks, then throw them at victims. We say the predator is more important than the preyed upon.