There is always a certain sense of hope that accompanies the coming of a New Year. However, very early on in 2012 as we are, familiar refrains continue to sound in our ears, not all of which resonate with hope: the ongoing scandal in the Roman Catholic Church in the Diocese of Antigonish being the most recent discordant leitmotiv. Because I am an Anglican I want to be sure to point out that this is not about one upmanship or pointing fingers at another tradition’s woes. My beloved Anglican church has its own share of such scandals and vexations.
These thoughts are about one aspect of what I feel ails the “Church.” What I want is for us to reflect upon, as Christians affiliated with mainline denominations, the harsh realities we face as we move further into this decade. Pointedly, this should be read from a perspective which embraces the most inclusive notion of Christianity as the “Body of Christ,” those baptized into the faith of the Triune God. I am a member of that Body and as such share in the responsibility to come to terms with not just the presenting issues, such as those which are devoured by the press, but the underlying causes which we must address if we are to continue to make claim to being Christ’s Body, regardless of denomination.
So, as I watched this week as yet one more fallen high ranking cleric forced his way through the requisite gauntlet of ravenous reporters, I mourned and prayed. Then I observed the resulting interviews with disgusted, and perhaps disaffected, individuals bemoaning the heinous character of the acts that had been committed. I recoiled as I listened to such individuals demonize this person placed in a position of great trust, and who chose to abuse that trust; all of which stirred a variety of distressing emotions within me.
First, was that of great sadness.
There is profound sadness within me that the pornographic exploitation of children is such a huge industry enjoying phenomenal profits around our world, and that any individual is only a few moments away from viewing, purchasing, and promulgating such materials. Sadness that our culture is more at ease with condemning those who engage in procuring such things rather than dare to commit to fully and properly funding the eradication of the industry of child pornography.
It continues to shock and sadden me each time this occurs that a person whose vocation was to tend and care for the vulnerable should so clearly violate that trust. It also continues to equally shock and sadden me that the events which led that person to use such materials is usually not something that happens overnight or in a vacuum, and how the church somehow covers its eyes and lacks the will to help prevent such things from coming to pass. There is also sadness that the character of such offenses is not an individual occurrence relegated to one denomination in the Body of Christ: it is something that vexes all of the Church.
Second, my anger arises at the superficial righteousness of those who decry and condemn the church.
While there is no doubt that all denominations must stop ordained individuals from abusing their power over others. While there is no doubt that anyone whose life has turned to the use of such banned materials should be immediately removed from positions of trust and receive help. While there is no doubt that the Church’s complicity of silence in such circumstances should not be treated as an internal matter – and should be seen and tried with the full extent of jurisprudence as complicit after the fact.
Yet, there are no demons and monsters involved here, as so many characterize these miserable individuals caught up in the shadows of our human make-up. What we see before us in these woeful men (almost exclusively) is just how proximate is the stumbling block of misdirected desires which can lead any one of one of us to fall victim to both sides of this trap: On the one hand the ability to choose to engage in the use of child pornography and on the other the propensity to judge as only God would judge. Neither of which should ever occur in our lives lest we forget our calling as Christians to be compassionate.
Third, my utter frustration and inability to respond to such events in a manner, which might helpfully address the issue, we have before us: the existence and use of child pornography is not an insoluble problem, it is matter of our collective will – or in this case lack thereof.
Do we as the church (regardless of denomination) have the will to engage the reality of the existence of such material, and its use by some of our leadership? More appropriately, do we have the will to recognize that it is a problem which will not be properly eliminated by demonizing those who become caught up in its tendrils? And do we have the collective will to look into the dark corners of our culture (and ourselves) and raise our voices, despite our complicity, to protect those children who are tragically exploited by this industry?
So I pray.
Not as an act fostered by my sense of powerlessness in the face of such collective inertia. But as a means to open my will, our will, to God’s will; the God who so often named that which diminished us as he walked with us and forgave us.
I pray that the church will stop burying its head in the sand because of the consequences of misunderstanding, overlooking or denying the length and breadth of our human sexuality. I pray that the church will stop relying on proof texting favourite biblical passages to address serious issues that demand a mature and nuanced response to the manner in which we, as a culture, have trivialized and grossly exploited the God given gift that our sexuality truly is. I pray that Church leadership will stand up, bemoan, and eliminate its complicity in the ongoing abuse of trust which exists in its handling of clerics who fall victim to their own misdirected freedoms.
I pray that the Body of Christ will dedicate itself to finding ways to eliminate all forms of abuse of trust and power. I pray that we will strive to protect the innocent and that our energies will be devoted to reconstituting the Church to embrace and embody its particular calling to be a place where all may safely find God’s life giving refuge and healing.