Friday, October 04, 2013

3 more thoughts on child sexual abuse

Back in July I posted some thoughts on the subject of child sexual abuse. My intention was to follow that up in a week or so with a second post. I got busy and distracted and forgot to do so. A comment on that post yesterday brought this back to my attention. I want to address 3 other aspects of the subject.

Where is the opportunity for repentance and redemption?
Some ask, "Where is the opportunity for repentance and redemption in this?" Perhaps this is the most difficult question of all. As church members and forgiven sinners, we must extend forgiveness to other sinners. We pray, "forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors" recognizing that if we do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will our Father forgive our trespasses. Yet what does forgiveness of the child sex abuser look like? We easily talk the talk, but who among us would hire such an one to babysit our children or grandchildren? And would forgiveness of this sin even faintly look like that? There is a need for the child sex abuser to repent, make restitution if and when in any way possible (not sure what that would look like either). Perhaps one thing that such repentance would look like is that the repentant child sex abuser would not allow himself to babysit your children or grandchildren! Where is repentance, and what does it look like? I solicit the advice of any readers who can give us further scriptural instruction in this area.

Innocent until proven guilty
In discussing the "Mahaney case", some respondents cautioned others "to remember the American judicial system maxim of 'Innocent until proven guilty'." Some went so far as to suggest that a church must wait until an abuser has been convicted in court of wrongdoing before taking any action. Since anyone can accuse anybody of wrongdoing, caution requires that we wait and see if the accusations are true before taking action. Churches do need to wait on the truth, but they don't have to wait on "the law".

I fully support our the American judicial system principle of "innocent until proven guilty." The presumption of innocence is absolutely essential to the criminal process in our judicial system. A defendant comes before the court with an assumed innocence that requires the government/prosecution to prove the guilt of a criminal defendant. The defendant or his council does not any burden to prove his or her innocence. If the prosecution can prove it satisfactorily to a judge or jury, the accused is "not guilty".

This can be misunderstood in applying it to a situation of alleged child abuse in a ministry/charity (e.g., a children's home) or by an individual. A church that supports a ministry accused of wrong-doing does not have to depend on the court finding someone legally guilty to decide whether to sever their relationship and withdraw their support. A church does not have to depend on the court finding someone legally guilty to decide whether to exclude a member if the offense occurred within the church's knowledge. A church (or an individual Christian) can make her (or his) own moral judgment as to the guilt or innocence of a ministry they support or of a church member, and then act accordingly. Legal innocence and actual innocence are not necessarily the same thing. A cautious and judicious approach by a church is necessary and exemplary. But a legal proceeding might result in a declared legal innocence where there is no actual innocence -- for example, a person getting off on a technicality of the law. In such a case a church is well within its rights and responsibility to exclude the legally innocent offender, or to cut off support of the "officially" innocent ministry.

What if it is not against the law?
It occurs to me that in every crevice of creation what we in America consider child sexual abuse might not be unlawful. Probably in most developed countries it is, but minister's serve and churches exist in all parts of the globe. It is important that we not tie child sexual abuse only to the idea of unlawful activity. It is also immoral activity. If a church is gathered in a place where child sexual abuse is lawful, the church still does not have to accept it as moral. Even if the law will not act on the offender, the church can. No, they don't take the law into their own hands and deliver some kind of vigilante justice. But they can and should act swiftly to put the offender out of the fellowship of the church and "deliver such an one unto Satan."

In the last two points I feel a large degree of confidence. In the first I struggle with the proper relationship of genuine forgiveness, the practical application of that forgiveness, and the continued protection of children from abuse.

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