News reports are filled with stories and analysis about Josh Duggar, the reality television star-turned-conservative activist, who is alleged to have committed sexually abusive acts against young girls when he was a teenager. Duggar has admitted that he “acted inexcusably” and has resigned from his position at a pro-family political organization. Meanwhile, TLC network has reportedly pulled the Duggar family reality show, 19 Kids and Counting, from the air while they determine the future of the show. This is after TLC cancelled Here Comes Honey Boo Boo because the show’s mother, “Mama June” is dating a registered sex offender. The controversy here is, sadly, yet another reminder to the church of our responsibility to be a witness for justice and righteousness on the issue of sexual abuse.
I’m not interested in litigating the specifics of this case—the civil authorities and the relevant employers are now alerted to the situation. I’m more concerned that we see that this story is one more in what has been an endless cycle of stories of sexual abuse in “churched” contexts. We cannot assume that we can avoid this topic simply by making sure our doctrines are right, our values conservative, and our people sheltered from the world. If we are not addressing this issue, it is only because we are ignoring what is going on in our communities, and all too often in our pews. This requires that churches come with conviction to this question preemptively, before any specific situation arises, with a word from God.
The first step is to recognize that sexual abuse is not merely sexual immorality. Sexual immorality, any sexual contact outside the bounds of covenantal marriage, is sin and comes under the just condemnation of God’s law. Immorality is a matter of a sin against God and, usually, sin against others—a spouse, the other party, and so forth. Immorality, by itself, is dealt with in terms of a call to repentance and the sort of discipleship it takes to overcome sinful patterns by the power of the Spirit and, where possible, to restore broken relationships.
Sexual abuse is immoral, but it is far more than just sexual. Sexual abuse is an act of violence, in which one leverages power to sexually violate the helpless. The resulting aftermath is not just a guilty conscience awaiting judgment on the part of the perpetrator, but a victim who has been assaulted. Sexual abuse is not just a sin but also a crime, not just a matter of personal unrighteousness on the part of the perpetrator but also a matter of public injustice.
This means that sexual abuse in the context of the church must be handled in terms of both authorities responsible—both the church and the state. The state has been given the sword of justice to wield against those who commit crimes (Rom. 13:1-7). The church has no such sword (Matt. 26:51-53). This means that the immediate response to allegations of sexual abuse is to call the civil authorities, to render unto Caesar the responsibility that belongs to Caesar to investigate the crime. The church may or may not know the truth of the allegations, but it is the God-ordained prerogative of the civil authorities to discover such matters and to prosecute accordingly. When faced with a question of potential sexual abuse, call the authorities without delay.
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SOURCE: Moore to the Point
Russell Moore is president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, the moral and public policy agency of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.