In the early 1970s, I was a pre-teen attending First Baptist Church. In 2002, I was received into the Catholic Church. Sadly, both have experienced the shame of being places of sexual abuse.
The Catholic Church was exposed first, both nationally and locally, as we learned of priests abusing boys and girls. It happened in Modesto and Riverbank and throughout the Stockton diocese and the world.
Recently, our local First Baptist Church (now CrossPoint Community Church) is rocked by the revelations of sexual abuse by ministers decades ago.
Why would anyone want to be a Christian and associated with this hypocrisy?
Despite these horrific blows, I have come to know this truth: The Church isn’t about the Bible or a great sermon or really hip music. It is where I go meet Jesus.
It is frustrating that Christians are reluctant to tell the rest of the world the truth of what is really going on, and to admit they have failed repeatedly to take hard positions to deal with the problem of sexual abuse.
The Catholic Church finally learned that you can’t ship a deviant priest off to another parish in Timbuktu and hope he’ll behave.
While Christians embrace the theology of repentance, grace, forgiveness and a restored relationship with God, in ministering to our fellow Christians, it has to be one and done. Once a member of the clergy has crossed the line of sexual sin, it’s time for him or her to find another career.
“If anyone causes one of these little ones – those who believe in me – to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea,” said Jesus in Matthew 18:6.
Every church must come to grips with the severity of our Lord’s warning.
The other message to the world must be the reality and consequences of being self-centered (sin) and encountering evil, even within the walls of the Church. Our clergy shy from speaking openly in terms of the supernatural and spiritual warfare for fear of excoriation by the secular world. We have to call it what it is. Old slew foot won this round at 12th and M Streets.
Many are expressing bitterness about who knew what and when, and why nothing was done about it. Those choices for action or inaction have had devastating and life-changing consequences; The anger is justified.
Forgive and forget may be cliché, but partially applicable. God forgives the truly repentant (this is where the Catholic sacrament of penance works really well), but we must never forget the mistakes that were made.
Every moment of every day we have a choice. Do we choose self or do we choose God? The more we choose our self-centeredness over God’s desire for us to be in a relationship with Him, we wander further off into the darkness of evil. In that darkness, it is somehow OK to both preach the word of God and gratify a desire for power through sexually abusing those vulnerable who come looking for help and salvation.
The Church must always be a place of light. It must never, never give up fighting the fight for good.
Ross Lee is a Modesto attorney. He wrote this for The Modesto Bee.