Can I tell you what frightens me more than anything else these days? Men in power in ministry. Not only do I get frightened, but I get angry when I read yet another story of how religious leaders have banded together to misuse their power and bring great harm.
Two days ago I read a tragic story about a woman named Jane. Jane had her whole life in front of her, with a 4.0 grade average and a vision to serve others in ministry in her future. She goes off to Bible college with a promising future ahead. However, before she can complete Bible college, one night a seminary student decides to violently steal from her what he wants without her permission. He drugs and rapes her, sending her life into a spiral of chaos and pain for years to come. My words fall short in describing what I’m sure Jane went through and is still going through, but it was an incidious evil.
But what’s even more unbelievable to me is how men in a position of power at this seminary hear about the issue and decide that they know what needs to be done about it. And what needs to be done has nothing to do with helping the victim or protecting others, rather it has to do with protecting their own reputation and control. And they do it all in the name of God.
When I read stories like Jane’s, I don’t think I can ever join a church and submit to it’s elders. I never want men to have that kind of control in my life again.
However, scripture makes it clear that churches need leaders to be a church. Leaders are ordained by God and we are told as members to submit to them.
Just as Luther didn’t like the book of James being in the Bible because of it’s emphasis on works, I must confess that I do not like the verses that refer to submission to church leaders after what I have experienced. Submission feels like giving someone the power to abuse and suffocate me. And I never want to experience that again.
However, Peter sheds some light on the role of leaders in the church, and his words comfort my heart.
And now, a word to you who are elders in the churches. I, too, am an elder and a witness to the sufferings of Christ. And I, too, will share in his glory when he is revealed to the whole world. As a fellow elder, I appeal to you: Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. Don’t Lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example. And when the Great Shepherd appears, you will receive a crown of never-ending glory and honor. In the same way, you who are younger must accept the authority of the elders. And all of you, dress yourselves in humility as you relate to one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
Care. Watch over. Lead by example. Not for selfish gain. With humility.
The leaders Peter describe are not at all like the men that I am afraid of. They do not band together to protect their own agendas. They do not serve themselves. They do not bring further harm to the flock. These leaders care, protect and lead with humility. These leaders come alongside those who are victims of sexual assault and see to it justice is served. If they aren’t doing this they aren’t the leaders God called them to be. They are following their own agenda and not His. And God will judge them.
And I realize I don’t have to be afraid, nor so I need to be quick to join a church or submit to it’s leadership. I can take my time and wait to see if a leader is worthy of following. If he isn’t leading me to Jesus and truly caring about the things Christ cared about then I can walk away. And so can you.
My heart goes out to Jane and others like us who have suffered at the hands of those in religious power. God is no where near this kind of abuse! It is incidious evil! May God continue to expose these evil deeds and bring grace, healing and justice.