Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Loving Not Judging under fire

I should have known better than to talk with the press. My sound-bite that he was a “good person who made a mistake” seems to be showing up everywhere. It may not have been the smartest thing to say, but I said it. I admit that it sounds like I’m minimizing what Larry has done. That was not my intent, but that’s the way it sounds.

Not too long ago, I told my congregation in a sermon that they can count on the fact that the Spirit will always be pushing us to the limit as we try to live into our mission of “Loving Not Judging.” Just when we think we have a handle on it, we’ll be tested. And here we are. Certainly, loving not judging is the Jesus way of living in the world. And it runs counter to the dominant culture that always insists people get what they deserve. So, would Jesus show compassion for someone who has sexually abused children? Are there some sins that are so heinous they can never be forgiven? Are acts of repentance for some sinners rejected, regardless of the sincerity of the penitent? As much as I may not like it, I have come to know Jesus well enough to know the answers to those questions. Jesus would be loving not judging. Consistently.

Now, that’s not to say that the wrongs we do can just be wiped away as if they never happened. Particularly, when we have done irreparable harm to other people, there are necessary consequences. I have no doubt that this is the way the world works. And, I suspect that this is the way God works, too, although God’s justice is always tempered with mercy. Certainly, in the case of my friend, I do not excuse what he did. I also don’t minimize it. He was the perpetrator of some unconscionably evil deeds. There are consequences that he must face. But that doesn’t mean that God will turn his back on him, so how can I? The love of God isn’t reserved for the deserving.

By offering a loving not judging response to what Larry has done, it may seem to some people that I’m siding with the offender. This is especially hurtful for people who have been victims of clergy sexual abuse. I’m already starting to hear from them. Typically, when clergy are involved in sexual abuse, their congregations will gather around them and support them. They’ll talk about what a wonderful person thier pastor is and how the allegations couldn’t possibly be true. They will ostracize the accuser and blame them for whatever misconduct occurred. The church has a long, sordid history of re-victimizing victims of clergy sexual abuse. This is a grave injustice that I have always spoken against. And now, I am being accused of doing it myself. I can understand why. Perhaps I haven’t handled this appropriately. I am deeply sorry for any I may have hurt in the process. That is the last thing I wanted to do.

I was asked by a reporter how I might feel if the children in my congregation were the ones who had been molested. It was a good question and I’ve been thinking about it a lot. Of course, I have been ministering to the person in our midst, who happens to be the abuser. What if those he abused were also in our midst? Is it possible to show compassion to both the abuser and the abused? I don’t know if it’s humanly possible, but with God, I have no doubt that’s the way it works.

This loving not judging stuff is a growing edge for us at Holy Trinity. We’re figuring it out as we go. One thing I hope we’re learning is that people are not either good or bad; they’re more complicated than that. In Lutheran theology we say that we’re both saint and sinner at the same time. So, it isn’t really our job to go around deciding who the good people are and who the bad people are. We can’t begin to know what’s in another person’s heart. Heck, we can’t even begin to know what’s good and what’s bad, when it comes right down to it. There isn’t much we can be sure of, when it comes to standing in judgment over others. But one thing we can be sure of is that God’s love is extended to all.

This is tough stuff. It’s complicated. I’m still trying to sort through it all. It’s challenging me in some new ways. And it certainly isn’t anything I could relay in a sound-bite. But then, that seems to be the way the truth always is.


Linda Faltin said...

And soundbites seldom get to the truth of a matter...I so admire your very public struggle, Nancy, to minister when the going gets rough. I recall that Jesus said to love our enemies...and for some people, this member of your congregation is the enemy. So... know that there are others in the struggle with you, trying to love no matter what- which does not let anyone off the hook but rather makes of life a never-ending challenge.

Anonymous said...

I've just happened upon your excellent blog. You raise some crucial points regarding our Christian responsibility to this errant former pastor and the rest of your flock. To say that it can be a sticky wicket defies explanation. You are caught between the proverbial rock and a very hard place, which is totally understandable. Is he repentant? Has he attempted to make restitution for his wrongdoing? If not, then he should be lovingly judged as one who should not remain in your fellowship. If he is repentant, then the real work of loving him in and through your faith community ensues. I am an adult victim of clergy sexual misconduct (within a different denomination). When I left my other church and came to the ELCA in my part of town, the senior pastor was removed within the year for clergy sexual abuse of a woman in the congregation. And you're quite right that most of the congregation rallies around the errant pastor and shuns the victim for speaking out and shining a light in this dark place. I am still somewhat shell-shocked about it all and have my doubts about the safety of the church - ANY church. As you seek to love both this former pastor and your congregation, I'd encourage you to make it mandatory that your members study the ELCA's "Safe Sanctuaries" policy. It's excellent. Everyone in the pew should know what clergy sexual abuse and misconduct are and understand their prevalence. It needs to be discussed - often. Thank you for being someone who seeks to honor God in the midst of a mess.

Truth Seeker said...

I cannot yet come to the godly place of not judging pedophiles or those who are violent and abusive to children. Maybe one day I will evolve in my faith walk. I am just not there yet.