Friday, May 23, 2014

Policing sexual misconduct in the church

The Gospel Coalition has many enemies. Some fault for being too complementation. Some fault it for not being sufficiently complementation. Some fault it for being too Calvinistic. Some fault for including continuationists. Some fault it for not being dispensational. Some fault for lacking a Presbyterian accountability system. Some fault it for being too attuned to the culture wars.
In addition, it's been faulted for not condemning C. J. Mahaney and Sovereign Grace Ministries. SGM has been accused to covering up sexual abuse. 
I don't have an informed opinion on that issue. I don't have inside knowledge on that issue. So, in this post, I'm going to discuss the issue in general or hypothetical terms.
i) In the church, coercive sexual misconduct usually involves child abuse or sexual harassment. The latter involves adults (e.g. an elder sexually harassing a woman). 
ii) Allegations of sexual misconduct and institutional concealment have some plausibility because that does indeed happen from time to time. It plays into a preexisting narrative. Something we expect. 
iii) Is there some way to minimize sexual misconduct in the church? In principle, I suppose one way is to run background checks on applicants. In principle, that would screen out some offenders. 
iv) However, liberal policies have made it increasingly difficult to protect the innocent against sexual misconduct. To begin with, it's my understanding that the records of juvenile offenders are often sealed. So even if you did a background check, that wouldn't turn up a list of priors if the applicant had been a minor at the time. 
v) In addition, due to feminism, the definition of sexual harassment has become increasingly rubbery. LIkewise, the due process rights of the accused are negligible:
Even grade school boys are in the crosshairs for perfectly innocuous conduct. For instance:
As a result, it's increasingly easy for men to be falsely accused of sexual misconduct. A background check might turn up bogus allegations. 
vi) Conversely, transgenders have legal access to locker rooms of the opposite sex. 
vii) Child sexual abuse is real. However, that can be tricky to prove. Children are easily manipulated by adults. The Wenatchee sex-ring hoax is a classic example:
Likewise, allegations of sexual abuse are said to be the weapon of choice in some custody battles. 
By the same token, there are false rape allegations. The Duke Lacrosse case is a celebrated example. 
viii) Another problem is that trials aren't designed to find out really happened. Rather, under our current system, the legal priority is to ensure that the due process rights of the defendant weren't violated. Discovering the truth is a fringe benefit. 
ix) There's the question of how we should respond to allegations of sexual misconduct. I don't think there's any uniform rule. If you personally know the accused, if the accused is, to the best of your knowledge, an upstanding individual, then it's reasonable to give him the benefit of the doubt. Conversely, if there seems to be a fair amount of incriminating evidence, then you could justifiably conclude that he's probably guilty. Finally, if you don't know enough one way or the other, it's responsible to suspend judgment. 


  1. Seems reasonable and responsible Steve,

    However, in our liability-insurance-driven climate churches are required to shoot first and ask questions later.

  2. "Finally, if you don't know enough one way or the other, it's responsible to suspend judgment."

    I think that's where most people should be. What I have to observe is that discretion is a necessary part of biblical church discipline. Unfortunately, people looking for dirt will find dirt. That is, it's easy to misinterpret discretion in biblical church discipline as a "cover-up". For some reason, we think we have a right to know what the Bible says we don't.

    1. True. The investigative phase ought to be confidential inasmuch as the allegations against the accused might be false. Even false allegations can be very damaging to one's reputation. First impressions stick.