“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
-Jesus in John 10:11
“Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”
-Jesus in Matthew 19:14
“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”
-Jesus in Matthew 18:5b-6
This blog has been rolling around in my head for a few weeks, but it was only today that things began to finally come together. This afternoon at 2:47pm Gilbert Boone entered the world with a shrill and punctuated announcement of his arrival. He’s our tenth grandchild and is beautiful, healthy, dark-haired, and all 9 pounds 11 ounces of boy. Both Judy and I found ourselves overwhelmed by emotion at his arrival. He's quickly made a place for himself in our hearts. I managed to get an opportunity to hold him and as I held him close for the first time I began to pray for him and the life set out before him. As I prayed I found myself wondering…what will his life be like?
And then, on my way home from the hospital I found myself remembering three other young boys….
Of late, Sovereign Grace Ministries has been embroiled in controversy after recent revelations of sexual abuse connected to the one-time SGM flagship Covenant Life Church, the trial of ministry volunteer Nathaniel Morales, and the appearance of a cover-up of a sexual predator. The local news has reported,
‘Nathaniel "Nate" Morales, 56, of Las Vegas, Nev., was found guilty on three counts of sexual abuse of a minor and two more counts of sexual offense in the second degree, officials said. Morales was accused of abusing three boys from 1983-1991, preying on the young members of the Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg at group sleepovers and in their homes.’
And last week, after a recent Facebook comment regarding the Sovereign Grace Ministries’ child sexual abuse scandal a friend private-messaged me,
‘I was molested by a youth leader (who was married with 3 kids) when I was 11 years old. Later in my 30s I went back and told the senior pastor what had happened. He said he was aware of some other boys who had a similar experience. He told me the man still attended the church but his hands were tied and said that he was helpless to do anything. I reminded him he was a shepherd of the flock of God and is charged with protecting the flock. He told me the elders had approached the man to discipline him but the man refused to leave the church.’ (Quote used with permission)
While not connected to abuse within Sovereign Grace Ministries, my friend, now in his fifties, still remembers the pain, confusion, and broken trust he experienced at the hands of a leader in the church. The damage done by this perpetrator has caused far-reaching harm. Child abuse is a monstrous evil, and the covering of abuse is wickedness compounded. In my friend’s case and in the cases involving Nathaniel Morales there are real victims with real names and real faces; most importantly, they were children, not unlike my own grandchildren, that were sinned against. They were vulnerable, trusting, and deserving of protection by those in positions of authority. They were lambs entrusted to an under-shepherd that chose to violate them rather than protect and care for them. And while I don’t know all of the facts as they relate to these recent scandals…it still remains that anyone involved in ministry that will not care for and protect the most vulnerable member of his congregation has no place in ministry. Ministry priorities include selfless service, defending the weak and powerless, and protecting the well being of others at great personal cost. For one in ministry to commit heinous acts of sin towards one of Christ’s vulnerable lambs is to invite the wrath of the Chief Shepherd Himself. In stark hyperbole Jesus likens such impending judgment to a man fitted with a three hundred pound necktie and then forced to take a plunge into deep water (Mt. 18:5b-6).
Having had ordination credentials issued by Sovereign Grace Ministries almost 8 years ago this is especially difficult. I know some of the people involved. And having had ordination credentials in two denominations prior I learned long ago that many times pastoral ministry looks an awful lot like a death sentence. To love and serve the lambs of Christ is costly, precisely because that’s what the love of Christ looks like (Jn. 10:11). Pastoral ministry is a spectacle where one’s life is laid down and where warfare is fought for the souls of men, women, boys, and girls. We are on task by the Chief Shepherd to steward and finally give an account of those we’ve been called to care for (He. 13:17). To turn this sacred charge into personal gratification by wicked acts toward others, or to hide the soul-damaging sins of others is to mock and destroy the work to which God has called us, and ultimately it is to invite His sore displeasure. Those in ministry have a responsibility to expose the deeds of darkness (Ep. 5:11,12), and sexual abuse committed under the guise of religious authority is profoundly dark. It is wicked to abuse another for personal gratification, and it is wicked to conceal the abusive behavior of others. To that end ministry must not have even a hint of predation, nor can it be the refuge of the coward.
Over the years, and in differing church contexts, Judy and I have had the victims of abuse stay in our home…both those who have suffered sexual abuse and those who have suffered spousal abuse. When abuse happens the safest place and the place of secure protection should be the place of faithful ministry. Pastors, elders, deacons, and church leaders must be able to be trusted by those who are most vulnerable. Every legal means must be employed to guarantee the protection of the innocent and the prosecution of the guilty. The implementation and enforcement of child protection policies must be carried out, so much so that every congregational member has familiarity with these policies and is aware of how to report abuse.
Tonight I’m praying for my new grandson and asking God to keep him safe in a dangerous world, but I’m also praying for my friend, and for the three other young boys that have now become men. How I wished I could have kept them far away from the abusers that have cloaked themselves with the mantle of ministry. I would have wanted for them to see a glimpse of the Chief Shepherd’s love by the faithful and protective love of those that truly care for the 'least of these' (Mt. 25:40).
For my dear friend and for the victims of Nathaniel Morales the church has done too little too late. May God give those of us in ministry grace, conviction, and backbone to not let it happen again.
May 27th, 2014