Abuse in the church goes right back.
1 Samuel 2: 12-7 and 22.
12 Eli’s sons were scoundrels; they had no regard for the Lord. 13 Now it was the practice of the priests that, whenever any of the people offered a sacrifice, the priest’s servant would come with a three-pronged fork in his hand while the meat was being boiled 14 and would plunge the fork into the pan or kettle or caldron or pot. Whatever the fork brought up the priest would take for himself. This is how they treated all the Israelites who came to Shiloh. 15 But even before the fat was burned, the priest’s servant would come and say to the person who was sacrificing, “Give the priest some meat to roast; he won’t accept boiled meat from you, but only raw.”
16 If the person said to him, “Let the fat be burned first, and then take whatever you want,” the servant would answer, “No, hand it over now; if you don’t, I’ll take it by force.”
17 This sin of the young men was very great in the Lord’s sight, for they were treating the Lord’s offering with contempt.
22 Now Eli, who was very old, heard about everything his sons were doing to all Israel and how they slept with the women who served at the entrance to the tent of meeting.
Even back before the Christian church began, right back to the days of the nation of Israel – the people who had the role of representing the one true God to all people everywhere, they were meant to reflect and express his love and mercy. The priests in the temple were primary in representing him to the people. In this passage we see these two priests who abused their position. First it was about the meat that was sacrificed, how it was sacrificed and who got what. Then in verse 22 we see it had gone from gluttony of the stomach to sexual gluttony where women serving in the temple were sexually abused.
There are two things to note. The first is these priests had no regard for the Lord. Other translations of verse 12 say they ‘didn’t know the Lord’. The second is they were treating the Lord’s offering with contempt. I don’t think anything has changed when it comes to contemporary examples of sexual and other abuse in the Christian church. Those who commit such crimes really have no regard for the Lord. They don’t know Him. They don’t know his heart for the lost, for the poor, vulnerable, the down trodden and the powerless. They treat the Lord’s offering with contempt – the offering of his own son broken on the cross, he offered his life that we might be brought in to his Father’s family of love where there is no abuse. But the abuser by his actions blocks that offering of forgiveness and acceptance and instead turns it into a reminder or symbol of the abuse perpetrated on the victim. Abusers in the church are trashing the name of Jesus.
Jesus said that many would come to him on the last day appealing to their status of having known him and represented him in the world. But Jesus rebukes them for their deeds and their lack of love and declares that he never knew them. And specifically, to abusers of children and disciples who are young in the faith, he says it would be better for them to drown in the sea with a millstone around their neck than to face Jesus’ judgement for their deeds.
So, what do we/can we say about abuse in the church? Jesus hates it more than we ever will. These actions and those who perpetrate them will be judged for what they are. And it will be better for them to be drowned with that heavy millstone than to face that judgement. Jesus is serious about this. But he is also one who shares in the suffering because he was abused. He was beaten, spat on, verbally abused and ultimately killed. For each of us called by Jesus to express his love and character to others we must continue to ‘know God’ day by day and hour by hour so that we might not fall into sin but continually reflect his love and character to all people and to remember Jesus’ sacrifice for us with gratitude and humility.
Head: What steps are you taking today to know the Lord and to value his sacrifice for you?
Heart: What feelings are evoked in you when you hear about a new case of sexual or other abuse in the church?
Hands: Are there opportunities for you to become involved in helping victims of abuse?
Prayer: Dear Father, it breaks our hearts to hear of instances of sexual abuse. Sometimes we want to turn off from it and sometimes we become dull to such news. But we know you don’t and that your heart continually breaks whenever sexual abuse occurs. Help us to play a part in the healing of these situations when they occur in the church and help us to stay close to you that we may continually know you and reflect you to others that we might not fall into this particular sin.
A song to listen to: What love, my God