For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. 2 Tim. 1:7
What does it mean to have a spirit of a sound mind?
Sounds like a paradox, doesn’t it? Spirit connotes feeling, pathos; sound mind connotes logic, logos. Yet, the Apostle Paul connects the two in 2 Timothy, an epistle he wrote in prison. This was presumably Paul’s last letter and one he wrote to another missionary. Paul’s situation was dire–he was condemned as a political adversary for doing God’s work, such that it was unsafe for many of Paul’s Christian friends to associate with him.
It would have been easier for Paul to be silent. Not speak. Not write. Keep the “peace.” He was violating the social “norms” of Nero’s land. Violating social norms is the very definition of insanity. So was Paul insane for refusing to conform or restrain his words? No. Paul had a “sound mind.”
Consider the society: Nero’s Rome
It was Nero’s reign, the Nero who murdered his mother and had an affair with his best friend’s wife, who he also killed. The Nero who also set his own kingdom a blaze while, reportedly, singing from the palace roof, dressed in theater garb. Afterwards, he blamed the conflagration on Christianity and began torturing Christians for sport. Eventually, Nero’s recklessness led to the demise of Rome.
Lesson? Nero’s society was just plain wrong. Right is right, even if nobody’s doing it. Wrong is wrong, even if everybody’s doing it. How could societies accept evil acts as “norms”? Two reasons: fear and power. More precisely, a weak mind is fearful of worldly powers. No, not law enforcement. These minds fear social repercussions for the appearance of speaking out against “the” family, “the” institution, “the” church, “the” school, “the” organization–superficial hierarchies, social authorities. It is fearful of upsetting the status quo, even when that status quo is unholy.
A sound mind, though, has a spirit of power to see what is right, speak to what is right, and do what is right, despite that mind’s personal, irrational fears.
How much tragedy could be prevented if people, especially Christians, had more powerful spirits and ‘sounder minds’?
A grand jury report in PA revealed the sinister depths of abuse in places of faith. In over 1300 pages, the report found over 300 priests sexually abused over 1,000 congregants (children and teenagers) over a seventy-year time span. It takes a lot of weak minds in positions of spiritual authority for something like this to happen.
At the press conference on the report’s release, Attorney General Shapiro said, “Today was a day for sunshine. Sunshine is a powerful disinfectant. And sunshine is what we got here today in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”
AG Shapiro also said people can’t “fathom how men of God would weaponize” faith and use faith as a “tool” against the abused.
Sadly, this is a report from one grand jury, in one state, in one Christian denomination. What about the other states, other churches?
The grand jury said an investigation in any state would likely result in the same findings. And, no, the protestant churches aren’t immune. The F.B.I. developed a profile for church responses because, in investigation after investigation, the pattern of covering up abuse is so prevalent.
Is the Church culpable in systemic abuse?
It depends on whether where talking about churches (lowercase) or the Church (uppercase). There is a difference.
The Church is the whole Body of Christ, and it is a building not made with hands. Lowercase churches are buildings where the Church and other congregants gather for worship and fellowship. Many churches are pointing fingers at abuse survivors (i.e., #ChurchToo speakers), accusing them of denigrating the Church. Likewise, many abuse survivors are blaming the Church (i.e., God) for how some churches have harmed victims.
Neither abuse survivors who speak candidly about their experiences nor the true Church is to blame for systemic abuse. Abuse happens everywhere. That abuse happens in churches’ communities, too, isn’t surprising. That fact doesn’t damage churches or the Church.
That abuses happen in churches and many churches respond antithetically to Christ’s example is damaging. Having a grand jury review objective evidence and determine a church showed “disdain” for victims is damaging. Again, how does this even happen?
Having the Church be aware of this and fear boldly and openly addressing it–in every denomination, chapel, and congregation–is damaging.
Imposters have always existed in church pews. But the silence regarding sexual abuse has led to bacteria-like imposters infecting churches’ bloodstreams. When the true Church ignores the illness and allows part to poison the whole, a system-wide sepsis results. Members of the Body may become infected, even die. Then, “scandals” erupt and everyone asks, “How did we even get here?”
This is what has happened in the Catholic church, and this is still happening in churches of every denomination. The septic state of churches is damaging the reputation and mission of the Church. Sound minds able to act swiftly and communicate transparently are necessary for eradicating disease.
Qui tacet consentire videtur: He who is silent is taken to agree.
A church may be legally responsible for assaults occurring on its premises if similar assaults occurred on or near the premises in the recent past and the church failed to take reasonable precautions. What will the answer be when God asks why it took secular authorities to shine light on this evil?
What will the answer be when God asks why it took secular authorities for churches to see evil as evil?
We don’t know, but this is an epidemic. Churches can no longer claim ignorance. They can no longer disclaim jurisdiction over abuses turning worship houses into hostile environments. Secular society hasn’t the stomach for it–we think that means churches shouldn’t either, especially if they’re to have any credibility preaching to secular masses.
Basyle Tchividjian (grandson of Billy Graham and a former prosecutor of sex crimes) and Shira M. Berkovits discuss steps churches can take in their book The Child Safeguarding Policy Guide: for Churches and Ministries.
We are hopeful when we see sincere people in and among churches’ leaderships facing hard truths and breaking these horrific patterns (e.g., standing beside heartbroken families, speaking out, insisting all incidents of abuse are reported to law enforcement, and using external audits to assess internal processes).
Many, though, still say “pray it away.” That’s right up there with “pray your cancer away.” No sound mind says this. Oh, don’t get me wrong. Prayer is awesome. It is necessary. And it is powerful.
But faith without works is dead. If you’re (mis)using prayer as a cop out to getting “messy” with the real stuff, then you aren’t being “faithful.” You’re being a hypocrite. Real talk.
Life is messy, and the whole point of the Bible is to prepare us to deal with the messes. Not avoid them. Here are some hypocrisies at odds with preventative “prayer” only:
- Taking antibiotics when sick.
- Preventative healthcare–vitamins, exercise, water drinking.
- Brushing one’s teeth.
- Purchasing car insurance, health insurance, homeowner’s insurance (any insurance).
- Locking one’s car.
- Setting a home alarm system.
- Going to the doctor for annual check ups.
- Investing in retirement.
These people may “pray the cavities away”; “pray the thieves away”; “pray the bad drivers away”; “pray the fires and floods away”; and “pray bacterial infections away,” but they likely follow prayer with action. What must God think about self-professed Christians who give more preventative care concern to their cars than other humans?
Would He say these are ‘sound minds’?
We’re a bit idealistic, but we hope church congregants and leaders everywhere will read this report, assess their own communities for such patterns, call out the sin AND the crime, and clarify that each violation to our fellow church members’ bodies is a violation to the very Body of Christ.
The grand jury said churches followed a “playbook” for covering abuse.
“It’s like a playbook for concealing the truth,” they wrote. “The main thing was not to help children, but to avoid ‘scandal.’
The F.B.I.’s National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime found particular patterns of coverup common among church communities:
First, make sure to use euphemisms rather than real words to describe the sexual assaults in diocese documents. Never say “rape”; say “inappropriate contact” or “boundary issues.”
Second, don’t conduct genuine investigations with properly trained personnel. Instead, assign fellow clergy members to ask inadequate questions and then make credibility determinations about the colleagues with whom they live and work.
Third, for an appearance of integrity, send priests for “evaluation” at church-run psychiatric treatment centers. Allow these experts to “diagnose” whether the priest was a pedophile, based largely on the priest’s “self-reports,” and regardless of whether the priest had actually engaged in sexual contact with a child.
Fourth, when a priest does have to be removed, don’t say why. Tell his parishioners that he is on “sick leave,” or suffering from “nervous exhaustion.” Or say nothing at all.
Fifth, even if a priest is raping children, keep providing him housing and living expenses, although he may be using these resources to facilitate more sexual assaults.
Sixth, if a predator’s conduct becomes known to the community, don’t remove him from the priesthood to ensure that no more children will be victimized. Instead, transfer him to a new location where no one will know he is a child abuser.
Finally and above all, don’t tell the police. Child sexual abuse, even short of actual penetration, is and has for all relevant times been a crime. But don’t treat it that way; handle it like a personnel matter, “in house.”
The Church (whether leaders or congregants) are AGENTS for Christ, acting and speaking on His behalf. The Church must repent for churches’ failings, repair relationships, and restore trust slowly.
Churches and the Church must see sexual violence as both a sin AND a serious, violent crime against God’s creation. Ignoring the crime and engaging in the above reactions crosses into millstone around the neck and getting cast into the sea stuff.
Churches whose primary focus is to avoid “scandal” following abuse have crossed into perilous territory. Responding with silence to avoid conflict is incredibly injurious to the work God has called his disciples to do. Unholy people extort truth in exchange for salvation and community acceptance, and excise the sincere, injured members of the Body rather than the gangrene imposters.
In short, the church wounded the Church. It wounded the heart of God.
Churches recklessly disregarded the men of lawlessness in their temples and allowed them to take boastful seats. Those seats were platforms for continued hurt and humiliation of already-abused victims. (“As much as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it to me.”)
So now is the time for humility. This is a call for Godly leaders everywhere to lay aside fear and humble themselves. Be Good Samaritans and Red Cross nurses. Search the battlefields, set up triage, and bind the broken. Get to work in power and love. Get to work with sound minds.
2 Thessalonians 2 King James Version (KJV)
2 Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him,
2 That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand.
3 Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;
4 Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.
5 Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things?
6 And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time.
7 For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way.
8 And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming:
9 Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders,
10 And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.
11 And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie:
12 That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
13 But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth.