Thursday, February 26, 2015

Showing Our Dirty Diapers to the World

Our church announced a new “child protection policy” that goes along with the state’s new “mandatory reporting” law, which states that the church needs to report anyone they so much as suspect of abuse, whether a staff member or the parent of a child (or spouse or any other relative or acquaintance, I suppose) who appears to have been abused. This is essentially “If you see something, say something” applied to the church.
The existence of the new policy was announced at a congregational meeting and promoted with a statemetn to the effect of, “We need to go along with this if people are to trust us to take care of their children.” I told a staff member that I don't think we're going to get a lot of trust from parents, abusive or not, who are afraid of something like this happening to them.
This was the reply.
There are some things that fall within the responsibility of the state and about which the state then has the right to regulate. The physical harm of one individual by another falls within that realm. And it is their job to punish the evildoer. We may feel the state is doing a poor job of regulating this, or is perhaps issuing improper penalties, and it would be right for us to address this and call on them to do a better job. But that is different from saying that they have no business telling us what to do here at all. It is one thing to say that the church should settle disputes among brothers (1 Cor 6) and another thing to say that the church should settle criminal matters. The church has no divine authority to imprison, take property, or take a life, and so cannot punish criminal activity in the way God has authorized the state. It can offer no protection to those being taken advantage of or abused by others. The most the church can do is to excommunicate, which is significant but not sufficient in criminal matters.
There may be some areas where we think that the state has overstepped its bound, but I have to say that in the area of child safety, I’m with the state on this one. I have had too much personal experience with individuals whose lives have been severely damaged through adulthood because they were abused as children. This is not something that just happens and people “get over” when they get older. The results are devastating. I am pleased that the state is taking it so seriously and is placing so much responsibility on adults. This is not something that the church can “settle” by everybody confessing their sin and saying, “I’m sorry.” A very clear and firm message needs to be sent that this behavior will not be tolerated. The temptations for some are so great (like an addiction) and the results so devastating and lasting that a clear deterrent must be instituted.
Where I think that Pennsylvania has unnecessarily regulated things is in the area of background checks. Most abusers do not have criminal records, and what sense does it make to do a background check on someone we have known for ten years? This to me is just a nuisance that really does almost nothing to make our children more safe. I can see it in a school setting where people are working with children all day as their job, but for one-hour-a-week Sunday School teachers or nursery workers I think this policy is unnecessary.
I have to agree that if the best that can be expected from those who will someday judge angels and are guided by the Holy Spirit, prayer, and Scripture is that they would be content with “I’m sorry,” God does indeed need to delegate the responsibility for dealing with big sins to the godless. I can also see why those outside the church consider her useless at best. (I recently saw The Shawshank Redemption, so its takeaway that Christianity and the prison system are frauds who depend on each other to perpetuate themselves is fresh in my mind.) I’m finding reasons to disagree with them taken away from me every time I turn around.
The Jesus I thought I knew (since I’m not sure one can know something that isn’t true) was big on repentance, restitution, and restoration. The perp doesn’t just confess his sins and say, “I’m sorry.” He makes things right by compensating his victim fully and then some. For abuse of any kind, that means paying for counseling at least, plus whatever those charged with arbitrating the situation determine needs to be done for the victim to be restored as much as possible to health. If the prospect of paying for months or years of therapy and whatever else is needed isn’t a deterrent, nothing is.
Obviously, if the perp refuses to repent (by making restitution) even after admonishment by those who will judge angels, he is to be treated as a pagan or tax collector: report him to the police and let them handle it. But this is the last resort, not the first.
If restitution is impossible (e.g., murder), the perp is executed by either the community by stoning or by the “avenger of blood,” a family member, but after a trial before a neutral party (not professional tax guzzlers trying to justify their above-market paychecks). Of course, that doesn’t happen in our present state system, so to complain that it wouldn’t happen if the church kept matters in house is pointless.
Either way, the sin is against a flesh-and-blood human being, and the primary purpose of the reaction of God’s people is to make things right for the victim. At least that’s the way I read the Torah.
Why Jesus would scrap that idea for a system in which the crime is against an abstraction (“the State [capitalization of divinity] versus Joe Blow”), where the punishment does nothing for the victim but satisfy a cowardly desire for revenge, and where the process by which the perp is convicted is often as traumatic to the victim as the original offense was is beyond me.
Jail time satisfies nothing but a cowardly desire for revenge. If the victim or his protector wants the guy’s face broken or his balls cut off or whatever else happens to child molesters in prison, he should do it himself (be “the avenger of blood”) and not delegate it to the court, who in turn will delegate it to their prisoners. I have no respect for a man who would not be satisfied until his daughter’s attacker was put in a cage, the attacker’s family publicly disgraced, his church’s name put in the paper (all this before the “trial”), and then have the attacker set upon by his fellow prisoners. Again, if a real man wants another man destroyed, he destroys him himself.
If he is physically unable to destroy the perp himself, he should at least be in the room and forced to watch when the man is destroyed so he can hear the screams and the bones breaking and see the blood flow. Otherwise, he’s a coward. And if he’s content to have his and his neighbors’ tax money used to put the attacker in a place that no one I know really believes prepares anyone for life in decent society (Shawshank again), he’s at best what the Proverbs call a simpleton.
I would respect a man who shows that he truly believes that his own sins against God are worse than anyone’s sins against him and who allows God’s people to work to see that both the perp and his child are made whole (which might mean holding the church elders’ feet to the fire on occasion).
As for the trauma of the conviction process, what I don't know about women fills libraries, but I can't imagine any of my girls preferring to tell a story of abuse by a church worker to a state functionary rather than to a church elder, especially if, as is often the case, the abused person hates the sin but still loves the sinner.
And, of course, I can’t imagine the parent of a prospective Sunday school student saying, “Ah, yes, X Churchthat’s where they had some pervert arrested for abuse.” If both the perp and the victim can be restored with the story going no further than the families involved and a few of the church elders, why does the whole world need to know what went on?
I'm with my interlocutor: better to make sure such a situation never happens. Doubly so if spreading our dirty diapers before the godless world is the best way we know of to deal with it when it does.

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