Grace and Law

How could the church, God’s system set in place to bring healing and relief to the broken, be the cause of so much hurt?

Diane Langberg 

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

Galatians 5:16‭-‬23 ESV

Lately, I’ve been struggling to understand how to apply grace and law to the issue of clergy abuse.

Grace and freedom from the law of condemnation through the forgiveness of Christ, is what continues to bring my heart freedom and relief. I want to share this freedom with everyone I know no matter what kind of sin they’ve committed.  The more I’ve understood my own sin, the more I’ve been humbled and thankful for God’s grace. Scripture teaches that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, but no one is beyond the reach of His mercy, and that includes pastors who abuse their God given authority. And as the story of the prostitute who washed Jesus’s feet teaches us, the greater our sin and understanding of it,  the greater the grace and the love it produces in our lives.

Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.”

Luke 7:47 ESV

Even though Jesus revealed through the prostitute’s story,  the greater our sin, the greater our capacity to receive grace,  He never minimized the damage sin caused.  

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?

Romans 6:1‭-‬2 ESV

Everything Jesus did teaches us that He came to bring freedom from the slavery of sin and the death it would ultimately bring to those who did not turn away from it and turn to Him. Those who were unwilling to see their sin continued on a destructive path bringing continual damage to themselves and others.  Ironically, the religious leaders of Jesus’s time were the ones who refused to recognize the truth and brought the most harm.  I do not believe that much has changed.  The scriptures are full of warnings of wolves who would come in and attempt to lead others astray. Great evil is at work when we are unwilling to recognize the damage our sin causes, especially when we are in a position of leading others.

For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.

Matthew 24:24

Our family has been on the receiving end of that damage.  The clergy abuse that we suffered under for almost a decade, has brought more pain, confusion,  loneliness and depression than we ever knew was possible.

How could the church, God’s system set in place to bring healing and relief to the broken,  be the cause of so much hurt? 

It’s been a question we’ve asked ourselves many times.  This blog has been an effort to understand and find the source of this pain, because I want the hurting to stop.  I do not want anyone else to experience the kind of pain that we have.

Recently, I’ve been helping a friend,  the one I mentioned in yesterday’s blog, create a website for a new organization PASA (Partners Against Sexual Abuse). My friend is a volunteer with The Hope of Survivors ,who has experienced clergy abuse herself and is on the front lines helping others who are continuing to be harmed by this kind of abuse.  She believes that these efforts to make states aware of their laws concerning counselor and clergy sexual misconduct will motivate concerned people to work together to get laws passed and bring about a much needed change. If you want to be a part of this effort, please reach out to PASA here.

As I’ve worked on this website, I’ve considered the pros and cons of laws against clergy abuse being passed. Clergy abuse is not against the law in the state where I live. Currently, there are only 13 states that have laws against it. (Find out your state’s law here.)  As a result of this,  I felt the only ones I could go to for help were in the church, and that only resulted in more damage being done. Sadly, the church refused to look seriously at the damage of the abuse and seek understanding as to why it had occurred. Rather,  they focused more on efforts to do damage control and to protect the church’s reputation. They chose to minimize the severity of the abuse and label it an affair that the pastor was just “more responsible for.”  Had laws against clergy abuse been in place in my state when it was exposed, at least from the perspective of the law it would have been clear who the law breaker and who the victim was, and that would have helped!  It would also allow pastors to be prosecuted for these types of crimes, possibly serving prison time.  At the very least, these particular crimes would be exposed and a matter of public record, which would help to minimize the possibility of others being abused.  These laws would also enable victims to more easily seek restitution for damages that have been done.  I have been in counseling for three years, and other family members have been in counseling as well, and these types of services can take a toll on finances.  Because of this many will not get they help that they need.  Sadly, many victims of clergy abuse have suffered much loss of friends, finances, and have received little or no help from the church.

However, there are also potential negatives to a law against clergy abuse being passed, and thus the reason some are against it. Just as with any law, more judgment and less grace can and will occur in some churches. Also, more fear and control can squash the freedom God intended for us to have in our relationships with one another, as well as the added pressure to perform for God and pretend everything is fine, all of which I believe are one of the contributing factors as to why abuse occurs.  Laws against this type of abuse will expose more abuse and continue to bring damage to the church’s reputation and cause some people to avoid attending church.

Nevertheless, God is ultimately in charge of the authorities who make the decisions as to whether laws are passed or not. Laws are made to keep us safe and protect us from evil.  And if the church will not do what it can to protect it’s members from the evil of abuse, then God will use the laws of the land to do it.

Therefore whoever resists authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

Romans 13:2‭-‬7 ESV

I wish that a law was not necessary to protect those in the church from abuse. I believe that God has provided a much better way for His church to operate rather than out of fear of the law.  He has called us to love one another with a love that does not need a law to tell us what’s right and wrong. A love that calls us to think more about others than ourselves. A love that calls us to humility and service rather than power and control of one another. A love that sees others who are hurting and desires to bring healing.

Accepting God’s grace and giving it to one another is always the best solution. But true grace can only come when one is willing to acknowledge the truth about the brokenness of humanity and the pain we cause one another when we operate outside of God’s will.  True Grace only comes when we recognize how desperately all of us need it. And maybe a law against clergy abuse is the only way some church leaders who abuse can recognize they need it.

I stayed in an abusive relationship with my former pastor for almost ten years, and the reason I stayed as long as I did was that I believed that if I told the truth that others would not offer grace and both of us stood to lose everything. He asked me to promise that I would take the secret of the sexual nature of our relationship to my grave, and I did until I began to suffocate under the pressure of the lies.

But I learned a painful lesson through exposing the truth as well.  Telling the truth to people who do not understand their own need for grace brings even more damage, especially when it is in a church environment. So if you are in a clergy abuse situation, please reach out to an organization like The Hope of Survivors or a licensed professional counselor.  Abuse is always a part of a system, and going to a damaged system for help, most often results in more damage being done.

Whether a law gets passed or not, I believe God calls Christians first and foremost to recognize our desperate need for Him in how we function as a church and that we work diligently to keep the church healthy, not by producing more fear of the darkness, but by bringing the darkness into the light and facing it head on.

Abuse happens in unhealthy systems, and when this kind of pain occurs we are called to look at the body and what needs to change for all of us. True leaders are not called to make light of abuse in the church or make it more palatable for others so they’ll stay comfortable with their belief that everything is fine.  Leaders are not called to protect the reputation of the church. Leaders are called to serve the church in truth.

(Love) it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.

I Cor. 13:6

If you would like more information on how to protect your church against clergy abuse, this article and these videos from Diane Langberg are exceptional resources for any church.

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