I haven’t felt the need to write a blog post in quite a while- several months, in fact. But some recent events in the evangelical church have compelled me to write again. The Village Church, pastored by leader of the Acts 29 network Matt Chandler, has treated one of its former members in a way unworthy of Christ, and both what happened and the responses of the Christian community have concerned me.
The quick synopsis is that Karen and her former husband were missionaries, her former husband confessed to viewing child abuse pornography, they returned from the mission field, she filed for annulment of the marriage, the church placed her under “discipline” for doing so, and they did not place her ex husband under discipline because of his apparent repentance. There are many facets in this tragedy, not the least of which is how the church handled the confession of a pedophile and potential victims, but my focus is specifically on the treatment of Karen, mainly because the church has thus far been unrepentant in their choice to discipline her, though they do admit they could have communicated better. While there are many contested ideas and views about what happen, I believe that TVC and Karen agree to all of the above.
Now the first question might be, why is this important to me? I am not a member of the church, and I don’t know Karen. Shouldn’t I mind my own business? Well, it matters because Karen is a victim, and it is my job as a Christian to stand up for victims. Because I am someone who went through a divorce and experienced the hostility of the church because of it, I can attest that this is bigger than disagreement of opinions. Karen was harmed very much by the way her church treated her, and there are many, many more Karens in the world who need people to stand up for them. This isn’t just about TVC and Karen, it is about a system that would decide that disciplining a victim is OK.
But even more important is the very nature of the Gospel itself. Is the handling of this situation directly tied to how some Christians view the Gospel? If so, then this is something that affects us all, because either we agree with it and we are comfortable with how Karen was treated, or there is a fundamental difference that we need to be very clear about when sharing the Good News with the world. Because right now, TVC’s view of the Gospel is what the world sees.
In my reading up on this situation, I’ve read many comments on many blogs. One in particular struck me very, very deeply. I don’t have the specific quote, nor the stomach to search for it, but the takeaway was this (my paraphrase): “The Gospel is a blessed scandal- and the idea that a pedophile can be redeemed while a woman who fails to submit to her spiritual authorities can be judged is a prime example of what the world finds odious but the Bible commends.”
Does this make your stomach sick? It does mine, and yet, I do NOT think this is a fringe belief. I think it is the way many churches approach the Gospel. They have turned the idea of grace into something where righteousness does not matter; it’s far less important than submitting to humans in “authority” positions and having the right doctrine. That is a scandal alright, but it is not a good one.
Do I believe that Jesus can redeem a pedophile? Yes, without question. I don’t even have to think about it very hard. Jesus can redeem anyone. But his ability to redeem does not mean that a marriage to such a person is mandatory or even close to healthy. Especially not one who has not yet established long track record of fruit consistent with a repentant heart. At best, right now we are certain that Karen’s ex has regret. Repentance is only going to be seen in the long run.
The Gospel is not about forgiving the wicked and punishing the vulnerable. It is about making the repentant heart right with God. In the example with Karen and TVC, it is evident that theology is placed above the dignity of the human individual. Despite Jesus’ words that Christians will be known by their love for one another, and Paul’s declaration that spiritual knowledge without love is useless, TVC’s stand on marriage theology trumped the welfare of one if its members who was only seeking peace.
Yes, TVC and many others I’ve seen commenting the last few days, have essentially labeled it “loving” to force working towards the reconciliation of marriage in the case of a pedophile. I would accuse them of being disingenuous, but I suspect it’s an honest mistake. Somehow, in the world of TVC, their picture of love looks like this. That is something that should disturb us all.When we redefine love to mean something that is fundamentally oppressive, we need to back up and realize we’ve lost it.
If you are one of those who does think it is loving to demand reconciliation for a woman in Karen’s position, I will make one appeal for you to re-think this. You are talking about forcing a woman into an intimate relationship with a man who is sexually stimulated by the molestation of Children. Could YOU share your bed with such a person? Would she be expected to sleep with him and create children he would have legal access to their entire lives? How would the resulting relationship fit a reasonable definition of what a marriage should be? No intimacy, trust, vulnerability, respect, or even friendship. Do you expect Karen to actually build a life with the man, or do you expect her to just suffer in silence and stop pestering others with her pain?
This is one of those areas where I will not agree to disagree. If your view of divorce theology includes it being OK to demand such a woman to stay joined to her husband in marriage, then I am going to just flat out say you are wrong and you do not understand the character of God. Bold? Yes, but I think it’s important to say, because I do not want to be a part of a scandalous church that could EVER think it’s OK.