With the Christian Sex Scandals, We’ve Given the Secularists a Great Excuse

By Tom Gilson Published on September 10, 2018

Secularists want reasons to take away our religious liberties. The assault has been ongoing. Remember the Obamacare “contraception mandate.” Think about California’s attempt to keep pastors from offering homosexual people the chance the change. Remember the bakers and others persecuted for not serving gay “marriages.” Now secularists are going after church’s tax-free status.

The worst part? We’ve been giving them reasons. How? Through our sexual abuse scandals and cover-ups — Protestant and Catholic.

Responsibilities Come With Freedom

When our kids were young, we told them, “With greater freedom comes greater responsibility.” That applies to religion. Our Constitution gives religions the right to govern themselves. We risk having that right taken away if we don’t exercise that oversight responsibly.
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The FCC places stringent restrictions on amateur radio. There’s hardly any active FCC enforcement. Why? Because ham radio operators tend to be a disciplined community. They seek to do things the right way and they police themselves effectively. Only for truly rogue operators do they call in the FCC.

In the Catholic Church, prelates assumed the right to do their own policing, yet they did it immorally and incompetently. For years, many did nothing except perhaps shuffle the perpetrator to another parish or seminary. Things are better now.

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This is hardly just a Roman Catholic problem, though. I could multiply evangelical examples, but one will do. The case of Pastor C.J. Mahaney and Sovereign Grace Ministries reminds us how far across American Christianity the problem extends.

Rarely does anyone bring in the police or district attorney, even if the abuse is clearly criminal. Some evangelical churches, I’m told, even have “theological” reasons for not reporting crimes to the authorities. It’s a conveniently self-serving doctrine.

Undermining Our Own Cause

We’re doing a miserable job of self-policing. We’re not accepting responsibility befitting our freedoms. Ham radio operators outdo pastors, priests, bishops and cardinals in it. There’s something both astonishing and disgusting in that.

We told our kids that if they couldn’t handle the responsibility, they weren’t ready for the freedoms. Secularists won’t miss the chance to say the same to us.

Religious persons’ crimes and cover-ups undermine religions’ arguments for full continuing religious freedom. Why should religions be granted freedoms other institutions do not enjoy?

If this is self-policing — if it’s accepting responsibility befitting our freedoms — we’re doing it miserably poorly.

We can’t just answer “the First Amendment.” Not when secularists work so aggressively and so many Americans are disgusted with the way Christians have dealt with sex abuse. We have to make an argument.

One common argument has to do with religion’s moral authority. Another has to do with protecting individual conscience. Another has to do with religion serving as conscience to the nation, protecting the people from the state thinking that it is the entity with ultimate authority in their lives.

Good arguments. But here’s the problem. How will people view reasons like that, in light of all the sexual abuse and sex crimes in the Church?

Do Right. And Brace Yourselves

We may wonder what will happen to those who do not obey the gospel of God. But the Scripture that raises that question most directly, 1 Peter 4:17, begins: “The time has come for judgment to begin with the family of God.” 1 Cor. 5:13, written about one who was guilty of sexual sin, says it starkly: “Purge the evil person from among you.”

That means excommunicating them from fellowship. Where they may have committed criminal acts, it includes reporting them to the authorities. Some churches do that. In some very prominent cases, however, others have not.

We’ve got to clean up our act. And we’d better recognize that if religious freedom was under pressure before, Christians’ irresponsible use of their freedom has made it worse. Brace yourselves.

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