i) I'm going to make a few brief observations about the Tom Chantry situation. One reason is because it's already popped up on a couple of Catholic survivor networks (SNAP; BishopAccountability.org). Since I castigate the Catholic abuse scandal from time to time, it's only fair that people like me address a Protestant example. It's important that we not have double standards.
In addition, the story has been reported by outlets like The Aquila Report. So I don't think it's inappropriate for me to discuss in public.
ii) Apropos (i), it's my impression that survivor networks are a mixed bag. On the one hand, some of them perform a necessary service by drawing attention to genuine abuse. On the other hand, some of them seem to be fronts for their own ax-grinding agendas.
Mark Driscoll illustrates both sides of the coin. On the one hand, his antics made him a deserving target. On the other hand, some of the criticism was a pretext to attack complementarianism, heteronormative values, &c.
iii) I should say a word about the presumption of innocence. That's a legal standard regarding the burden of proof. The onus is on the prosecution to prove the defendant's guilt, rather than the defendant to prove his innocence.
Our system is predicated on the principle that it's better to acquit the guilty than convict the innocent. And I support that legal principle. That's a necessary restriction on the punitive power of the state.
However, I don't consider that to be a universal moral norm. Outside the confines of the courtroom, we have to make prudential judgments about whether or not we think someone is trustworthy.
iv) I'm not in a position to have an informed opinion about Chantry's guilt or innocence. And I haven't studied the coverage in detail. In a sense, it's none of my business. I'm not in a position of ecclesiastical oversight.
So I'm discussing the case at a hypothetical level, because it furnishes an occasion to consider some policy issues. Likewise, it's a cautionary tale. Whether or not the charges turn out to be true, the case serves to illustrate some important principles.
v) Assuming the allegations are true, culpability isn't limited to Chantry. To elude justice that long, I think it's safe to say he must have had enablers. People to cover for him, make excuses for him, and pull strings. It stands to reason that a number of people are complicit.
Assuming there were other people in the know, surely there's something they could have done to put a stop to it when it first came to their notice. Suppose they told him, either quit ministry and get a job that doesn't give you access to minors, or we will go public. Evidently, that didn't happen. If the charges are true, he had a phalanx.
vi) Christian organizations should require criminal background checks for all job applications. I'm not saying that if something turns up in the background check, that should automatically disqualify the applicant. Like the infamous no-fly list, official records can be inaccurate or unfair. It does, however, supply necessary prima facie information to evaluate the suitability of an applicant.
vii) Some organizations have a "two-deep" rule where there's no one-on-one contact between a man and an underage boy or boys. But I have misgivings about that rule. It treats all men as presumptive pedophiles. That's sexist, unjust, and prejudicial.
Moreover, it's arbitrary. Take a male child psychiatrist or psychologist. Won't he sometimes have one-on-one counseling sessions with boys? It's not intrinsically suspicious for a man to talk to a boy he's not related to. Teachers and coaches do that all the time. So do detectives. Some men are predators, but many men and natural mentors and protectors. Let's not overreact.
viii) This case illustrates the limitations of formal oversight structures. There's nothing necessarily wrong with having those in place. Sometimes they do good. But they're not a failsafe. They're only as good as the people on the church board. Sometimes it's a buddy system that protects perps from victims rather than victims from perps. .
ix) It illustrates the potential danger posed by sons of famous fathers who have automatic entree in a way that ordinary folk do not. They exploit preexisting bonds of trust that their fathers developed. The danger posed by celebrity culture in the church. Riding someone's coattails. Other examples include Jonathan Merritt, Richard Roberts, Jonathan Falwell, and Tullian Tchividjian. (Admittedly, Richard Roberts is a flake of a flake.)
In fairness, there are good examples as well as bad examples. Some sons follow honorably in the footsteps of a famous father.
x) Finally, what I find unnerving about stories like these is crossing a line of no return. There are kinds of wrongdoing where you can put it behind you and move on with your life. But there are other kinds of wrongdoing where, if you do it–even once–you can never come back from that. You ruined your life for the rest of your life. It's frighteningly easy to cross that line.
When we read stories like this, we should think to ourselves how changing even one crucial variable in our formative years might cause us to turn out very differently–for the worse. When I was a young boy–I don't remember my age, maybe 6-7–my mother was hospitalized for internal bleeding. This was back in the mid-60s when medical science was more primitive. I wasn't afraid because my parents didn't tell me she might have a life-threatening condition. And thankfully the condition resolved itself. If she had died when I was that age, I can't imagine the catastrophic effect that would have on my development.
Although pedophiles are mercifully rare, statistically speaking, there are many ways a normal person's life can go disastrously offtrack. That's something we should all be mindful off, wary off, and grateful if we were spared.