Friday, May 5, 2023
It feels we are under siege. This week alone two new stories are widely publicised in New Zealand (both mainstream and socials) of two well-known Christian leaders. Jerry Falwell Jnr in the US and Mike Pilavachi in the UK. Pilavachi (Soul Survivor) has been here in NZ many times over 20 years or so (as recently as earlier this year) and impacted thousands upon thousands of young people, many of these young people in their 30’s and 40’s now.
This comes on top of all the other reports of Christian leaders misbehaviour that we are now, sadly, all too familiar with. It is devastating!
But there is another problem. As Christian leaders looking on we tend to be silent at times like this. And the closer we are to the individual (and/or the organisation they represent) the greater the likelihood we say nothing. That too is devastating for the people who were directly affected by the misbehaviour - the victims. This, by-the-way is one of the recurring themes being shared by survivors of abuse at the Royal Commission of Abuse in Care.
I personally experienced this when the Bill Hybels story broke in February 2018. I had worked for Willow Creek Association as the National Director in NZ for 6 years. I had only 4 months earlier resigned from this role having had no prior knowledge of what was about to take place…….not even a squeak. I personally knew Bill. I travelled with him and hosted his visits to NZ.
The temptation to defend Bill was overwhelming. The temptation to say nothing was very real. But I chose to speak out. I just knew it was the right thing to do. And as it turns out, it was.
Here is an excellent ‘Open Letter To Evangelical Leaders in the UK’. It is written by three people. Two are individuals who have reported their experiences with Mike Pilavachi to investigators, one is an individual who was abused within a different Christian context. The authors of this letter make the compelling point and I quote, “The silence of Evangelical leaders in the face of these allegations is a problem, particularly for those of us affected by church-related abuse and trauma. This is because the act of silencing is often a key contributor to trauma, and therefore silence from leaders such as yourselves can be re-traumatising for us”. This sentiment is supported by experts who work in this field as this letter clearly states.
Therefore and on this basis I believe we as evangelical leaders need to speak out here in NZ. Of course our speaking out needs to be careful and prayerfully considered and it must be appropriate to the context but speaking out we must. Anything else is tantamount to keeping things in the dark, sweeping things under the rug and pretending that it didn’t happen.
So who then should we speak to?
- We should speak to God, first. Three truths that are self-evident. A) God weeps with the abused. He wants to comfort and heal them. Isaiah 42:3. B) He calls upon us to confess our sins1. 1John 1:9. C) God wants to give us all wisdom better than our own especially at times like this. James 1:5.
- Our own members and constituency. This is where traumatised victims are. This is where people who knew about the bad stuff going on but didn’t say anything are. They need to hear their pastor talk about this, to make some sense of what otherwise makes no sense.
- The affected parties. Victims of the abuse of power and any kind of sexual misconduct need to hear from us. I have seen first hand the impacts of abuse on people within a Christian context. Again, it is devastating. In many ways it is worse than in non-Christian contexts on the belief that ‘this should never happen by Christian leaders or in a church (or church run organisation and/or event)’.
- The watching world. I know this is controversial but I believe that we need to ‘speak’ to the public at-large. However, that is only necessary IF the matter is already in the public domain. When misconduct and abuse is ‘in the news’ either because of wide spread allegations (as with Arise Church last year) or convictions in the court (as with these two cases this year) 'He stole my innocence': church leader imprisoned for sex with young girl then I believe we should speak out. It is always better that we front up, that we are humble, honest and deeply apologetic.
I would be grateful in any feedback you might have. Alan.firstname.lastname@example.org
1 There is a whole conversation I believe we need to have as to the place of public confessions when the sin in the church is public.