Child Sex Abuse: Is Your Church Ready for “Spotlight”?

‘Spotlight’ will be easily known as the movie that trumped the Leonardo DiCaprio-starrer ‘The Revenant’ for the Best Picture Oscar award this year.

It’s based on the true story of how persistent investigative journalism uncovered the scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the local Catholic church in the city of Boston. Some might remember the 2002 case and the worldwide outrage that sent tremors through the Roman Catholic Church around the world and sadly revealed many more child abuse cases that had been perpetrated across decades.

But few have been impacted by the Boston scandal like Alexa MacPherson has been. Most of us now write or read about the Boston scandal. Alexa was, as a child, raped by a priest in her own home. The Independent” reported the vindication Boston Globe’s expose gave to people like Alexa who had been traumatized, scarred and violated in secrecy.

Spotlight” also comes at a time when sexual abuse has continued to grip and ravage India. The movie turns the spotlights on sexual abuse and on the numbing hypocrisy of the church involved in it. This crime shocks not merely because of the damage that was done to little souls. It shocks because of who did it – people who represent Jesus Christ. It is an example of hypocrisy, of heinous deeds; of unbelievable, stone-hearted cover-ups.

Is your church prepared to even discuss “Spotlight”?

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Break the silence

You might ask, “come on, is this even relevant?”. A priest was sentenced for a minor’s rape in Kerala just two days ago. If this issue is not relevant to your church, I do not know what is.

When a friend brings up the movie and drops a distasteful comment about “religious hypocrites”, are we Christians supposed to defend the church and justify such crimes?

Or should we excuse the church and excuse the crimes?

Or should we condemn the church and condemn the crimes?

Here are some ways you could thoughtfully respond.

1. Listen carefully
Ask the Lord for self-control and patience to listen to real accusations and even exaggerations. You have been placed as a peace-maker and it’s basic courtesy and love that you listen carefully.

2. Agree with the truth; concede what you may not know
If you have a relationship with the Lord Jesus, you represent the Man who said- I am the Truth (John 14:6). Therefore, accept all facts. If you do not know facts or motives, admit it – gladly say it out loud. It’s way more God-honouring and respectful than irrational defensiveness.

3. Consider the spiritual facts
At this point, God has not sent you to debate with the critics of the church. This is a window into spiritual realities.

Think of how Jesus was misrepresented by the priest who raped the children.

Think of how God’s anger is kindled against such sin.

Think of the devil’s delight when the God’s world and His creation is seared by his plans & the warped sinful desires of people.

Think of how your sins of lust might not look too different from that priest’s in the eyes of Jesus (Matt. 5:27-28).

If you are currently a perpetrator of child abuse in your church or locality, do not think you just “happened” to be reading this today. Please think of this post as a patient, merciful opportunity from our Lord to confess your sin before He knocks you down and exposes you to shame and to the authorities just like He did to that defrocked priest in Boston. And that’s not anything compared to the hell our sins deserve. It’s a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Heb. 10:31).

You might still have hope; run to Jesus and expose yourselves, plead guilty at the cross of Christ and before the authorities while you still can.

4. Apologise
Do not say, “it’s the Catholic church’s fault”.
There’s no need to say, “They don’t have the true faith”.

Yes – most of the Catholic movement has little to do with biblical Christianity. Yes, Jesus knows. But our non-Christian friends have no clue. If they ask you about Catholic and Biblical faith, you may explain it. But at this point trust me, nobody cares.

You also might have valid questions about how molestation by a Christian priest is any different from molestation committed by say, a Hindu pandit, a Muslim Maulvi, an atheist or a school vice-principal.  The magnitude of child sexual abuse in India today is probably much more shocking than when Aamir Khan beamed it on Satyameva Jayate.

But now is not the time.
All your friends know is “a sicko Christian priest did this”. You need to represent the weakness of a fellow sinner and apologize on their behalf. May Jesus remind of what you were saved from and give you the ability to do this.

Oh- by the way, Pope John Paul II once apologized for various sins of the Catholic church. Check it out.

5. Show how the Bible uniquely addresses broken realities.

Tell your friend that if Jesus was around, he would have lovingly led that defrocked priest to the cops himself.

Tell them if you were in that church, you would have tried to expose the truth even at personal cost (if you really would have). Tell them you are thankful people still care about the truth enough to expose it even in such sensitive cases.

Then point to how the God of the Bible (yeah, that same whimsical, pugnacious “God of the Old Testament”) condemned deniers of justice and had punished His own people with war and exile, because He hates sin in all forms and loves justice so deeply (Lev. 19:15, Deut. 27:19, Isa. 1:17, Ps. 140:12).

Let your friend know that the Bible clearly shows people who practice what they prohibit are condemning themselves and will face justice, not from mere men, but from God (Rom. 2:1,2). And it won’t look pretty for anyone who’s like that on the last Day (Heb. 9:27). Be aware that this discussion might go the “Why does God allow such sick things to happen?” way.

6. Participate in God’s work of redemption.
Promote discussions on “Spotlight”. But let’s not stop with intellectual talk. Remember Alexa from Boston. There are others in our cities whose spirits are silently being eaten up by the monster of sexual abuse.

Would you pray to Jesus to rescue children who are in imminent danger?

Would you ask Him to stir your heart to serve such people?

Participate in redeeming acts of rehabilitation and service of sexually abused children. Ask your pastor or church elder if they know places where you can take training to help sexually abused or their relatives. Some of us from Marg had once raised awareness meetings in Baner, but we are not active anymore. Maybe we should revive “Serve n Protect” or support similar events.

What other ways can you think of tackling this very real and persistent problem?

I thank God for movies like “Spotlight” and for Boston Globe’s investigative journalism. We all love clinging to our sins and our world desperately needs redemption. But it can only begin first with the truth being revealed. And our response to truth in its entirety will decide our fate.

6 Replies to “Child Sex Abuse: Is Your Church Ready for “Spotlight”?”

  1. Brilliant post! In fact, it is not just child abusers but rapists, murderers, thieves, adulterers, mass persecutors, prostitutes and slanderers that filled up the pews in the Bible. Yes, they repented but didn’t they sin again? Why would a just God fill up his “holy place” with such people and call them holy? If not for such useless vessels, God cannot show that their righteousness comes from Him and not them, ever. If not for such extreme cases it would be difficult to see the need for a pure shield to escape punishment even for greed, anger or impatience in eternity. Have I messed up enough to go to hell? Hell yeah! And that is where Christ took the stab and diverted me into the Church, not the Church building.

    1. Thank you for pointing this out Sheetal.
      I believe the world ought to have the expectation of a new, changed life from Christians because of their Lord who conquered sin and death.

      But what shall we say when a keenly watching world catches us in the sins we said we had left behind? This is what happened to apostle Peter when apostle Paul exposed his hypocrisy.

      And yet the indwelling sinful wrong desires in us is the VERY PROOF that Christianity is valid and justified. We still need our powerful, loving Saviour, Jesus, to make us walk and behave like He did. That is simply the best hope any person, Christian or not, will ever know.
      🙂

  2. I am very confused by this post. Correct me if I’m wrong here – so, what you are saying is, if a discussion about sexual abuse by church priests comes up in conversation with an unbeliever, we need to apologise on behalf of the perpetrator?

    1. Great question Liz!
      It’s not with much ease that I say “yes” to that question, but a clarification is in order.

      We are not saying we did that crime. We are saying “I’m sorry you had to face hypocrisy from us Christians”. Why say “us”?
      Well, are we all not hypocrites at various levels? And it’s only a matter of time and grace that Marg’s sins would be out on the headlines. But thankfully Jesus owns up our sins though He was not guilty.

      The world’s charge is “you’re all hypocrites!”, and the truth is “a lot of us are, at various levels”. (I badly want to retort- “dude, you are also hypocrites. Half the children in India have already been violated, guess who did that? Just Christian priests? We are not even 2% of the population bro!”)

      The world does not make a distinction within global Christianity.Some of us though have a genuine desire and faith from Jesus to fight against sin. Trust me, they don’t care. Especially when “Spotlight” is being shown.

      By identifying with the paedophilic priest, we are not saying we have Catholic beliefs, please don’t get me wrong. But dare we say, “if the church in Boston was Marg, child abuse wouldn’t have happened”. Really? Then we are claiming we have no sin, and the truth in not in us. It’s a very slippery slope, there.

      The best part of all this will be ONLY if our apology is heartfelt and grieving, like Jesus would, with the victims. Then, we might even BEGIN to have a chance to impact the critic’s heart for Christ.

      Let me know your thoughts.
      Your brother,
      Aravind

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