According to recent reports, the Roman Catholic Church has paid out more than $3.8 billion (through 2009) to victims of serial sexual abuse inflicted by their clergy who were allegedly providing spiritual nurture. (Yup, that’s a B.) Ouch.
That number only cloaks the true anguish those tyrannies have caused. Include those that have not yet been litigated plus the number made public since 2009, and the human tragedy defies comprehension. And lest you think this is a uniquely Catholic phenomenon, you no doubt have followed the on-going saga of arguably America’s most influential pastor in the mid-west, plus the sundry errant television pastors through the years; the tale is beyond devastating.
What is not measurable is the number of those who are caused to look at the Christian church and say, “Who needs it? Doesn’t their favorite Book say something about, ‘By their fruits we will know them’?” That’s the reason you and I must be willing to look at the narrative I’ve sketched above and ask the question, “What’s going on here? How do I explain this to my kids? How do I explain this to my agnostic neighbor? How do I help similar victims in my own faith group find hope?”
The issue is complex. It’s about power. It’s about unconverted clergy. It’s about sin. But there are other pieces of it that are simpler. Let me work on one of those: The way we play church. It’s quite easy, for example, to fall into bad habits even when we study Scripture. I love it when I find verses that reinforce what I already believe. It makes me feel so, so right. But what about if, as I open my Bible in the morning, my first request is, “Dear God, may the same Spirit who inspired these words speak to me and help me understand how You want to change me today. Show me things I haven’t seen yet that are offensive to You. I pray that You will give me victory over those character flaws I don’t even recognize. My heart-cry to You this morning is, “In my life, Lord, be glorified…” whatever that takes.
Again, when I come to the study of the week’s lesson, whether in class or in private, the important thing is not that I do Monday’s section on Monday and Thursday’s section on Thursday. The important thing is, What does God want to say to me today that I desperately need to hear? The important assignment is not to fill in the empty blanks in the study guide, but to ask Him to show me where the empty spaces are in my character, and then fill them with Jesus. As young Samuel responded to God, “Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening.” My testimony, too.
By Don Jacobsen