Nate Morales, a former staff member at Covenant Life Churches, was found guilty recently on five counts of sexual assault.
According to Brent Detwiler, who attended the trial, a pastor that was called to testify, Grant Layman, KNEW about the abuse, and didn’t report it to the police.
The fact that the sexual abuse occurred at all was horrific. The fact that a pastor (who is a mandated reported in most states) covered it up–which allowed Morales to continue to secure ministry jobs, and have access to children–is nauseating.
However, the fact that we as a church are continuing to allow these systems to stay in place–systems that allows pastors to have this kind of life-or-death control over people–is mind-blowing.
“What systems?” you may ask. “This has nothing to do with any system–this is one sick, twisted individual who infiltrated a church.”
A year ago, I would have thought the same thing. Then, ATI, Vision Forum, JPUSA, Voice of The Martyrs, Pensacola Christian College, Bob Jones University, and of course CLC church (of Joshua Harris’ “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” fame) all were involved in searing sexual abuse scandals.
Few of these organizations are directly related to one another, yet most of the victims said the same thing: “I (or my child) was sexually abused. I went to the leadership of the church/organization. The leadership assured me that the abuser had repented, and told me not to go to the authorities. The leadership also asked me (or my child) to examine my/his/her own heart to see what role I/we had played in the abuse. And repent. And forgive the abuser.”
(Please, if you need a moment to vomit, by all means take that moment right here.)
Then, today I found out Christianity Today had the gall to publish an article by a convicted sexual abuser, and refer to his crime as “slipping into sin.”
What is happening in the church?
I believe that these horrific sexual abuse scandals (and the cover-up that followed) are the direct result, and the final, rotten fruit, of several theological screws that came loose in the church. We as believers honestly didn’t address each isolated issue when it came up. Individually, while they may be weird, they each seem fairly harmless, like they’re “no big deal,” and we don’t want to cause division by making a stink about them. But when all the loose screws came rattling down, the very foundation of the Christian life was undermined. And we didn’t even notice.
Loose Screw #1: Abuse of Authority
Loose Screw #3: Predestination of….Everything?
Loose Screw #4: Sin-Leveling
Loose Screw #5: Mountains out of Molehills
Loose Screw #6: The Sociopathic Concept of God
Today, I’m going to focus on Loose Screw #1, and I will hopefully add a new post every week, if Baby Agape keeps sleeping well. I’ll come back and add links to each Loose Screw when each post is live.
I want to add that I’m simply a layperson in the church–I’m a worship leader and skit writer–and I’ve not been to seminary. However, that should make pastors and theologians sit up straighter and ask themselves, “How did this type of screwball thinking make its way into the church? What are we communicating? How are we communicating? And how can we be more faithful to God’s word?”
Loose Screw #1: Abuse of Authority
Many churches have embraced an unbiblical model of “authority” for so long that they’ve forgotten it’s not in the Bible:
It’s called “The Umbrella Model.” Apparently, if you or I stay under these cutesy little umbrellas of authority–in other words, if we as wives obey our husbands, or if we as church members obey our pastors–then we’re SAFE from the Devil’s evil schemes.
Kids are being taught this at an early age now:
Because GOD GAVE THIS AUTHORITY, going against this authority is going against GOD HIMSELF. Going along WITH this authority is following God’s true will, God’s best plan for you, etc. And this will KEEP YOU SAFE.
This is ludicrous for several reasons. For starters, nowhere in the Bible are believers promised protection from any of Satan’s attacks if they just blindly do what the guy in charge says. In fact, Paul directly confronts Peter when he’s theologically messed up in the head.
Wait, an APOSTLE can be wrong? Someone who walked with Jesus while He was physically on this earth could need correction from a fellow believer? Say it ain’t so!
It is so. We’re not only supposed to question apostles, we’re supposed to question prophecy. We’re supposed to study, to grow, to ask God for wisdom, AND submit ourselves to authority. We’re to love God with our heart, MIND, soul, and strength, and love our neighbor as ourselves.
Oddly enough, we’re not even promised protection if we do what GOD HIMSELF says. Jesus promises us that “in this world, we will have trouble.” Hebrews 11 states pretty clearly that some of God’s people will be great overcomers, and some will…not.
The Rotten Fruit
Dang, if people are following this authority, then how did all these kids get abused?
No one would willingly embrace a theology that says, “If your child is molested, you have to forgive the offender, not go to the cops, and let the molester walk free, as long as he cries and says he’s sorry. You also have to consider what YOU did to seduce the crackpot who crept in on you during the lock-in.” No.
However, did we as the Body stand up and say, “That’s not Biblical,” when our churches required women to wear skirts ? Or when a leader proclaimed that all families should home school? Or that getting married is our highest calling? Or that God didn’t have vocal chords?
We’d say, “We don’t want to cause division over something minor. Is this a ‘sprinkling or immersion’ type of debate? That is so not an issue. Who cares? We want to have unity!! We love these people! Heck, every church has its quirks, right?”
In my experience, few people want to challenge a pastor, teacher, or person in “authority” over whether or not a teaching is Biblical. We either go along with it, or if it’s an egregious error, slide out the back door, and look for another church. Either way, the teaching is allowed to stay, grow, and affect people’s lives.
“Hey, is it getting warm in here?” says the frog, sweating…
We see the cover-up of sexual abuse, because some brave people brought it into the light–but what do we not see?
How many people made other decisions under this authoritarian system?
How many people chose/didn’t choose a specific college, because a “spiritual authority” counseled them to?
How many people stayed/didn’t stay in a certain relationship?
How many people chose/avoided a specific career field, or a specific mission field?
How many people handled conflicts, money, property, child-raising issues, under this type of authoritarian system, all believing it was the Biblical way to do so?
But we didn’t challenge this system, until we caught someone with their pants down.
We must start speaking up.
The authoritarian structure gives the church member no other options.
There’s no appeals process. There’s no one else to turn to. In this false theology, “outside of the umbrella” is the land where Satan can attack you. And heck, those unregenerate people don’t know as much as your pastor or husband or teacher does anyway–so why would you even try going to secular authorities?
Which leads us to Loose Screw #2…..