/ / Articles

Twelve Responses to Abuse Accusations in Christian Conferences, Part 1

Listen to abuse victims. Don’t respond with these lines. Reconsider whether victims must “forgive” the accused. Don’t make judgments about salvation.

Four professing Christian men, in the Christian writing industry, have been accused of committing abuse of power to different degrees.

Two of them have been previously named and featured here on Speculative Faith.

Publishers Weekly’s website proclaimed the story last week, 1 although women have already been carefully sharing these accounts around Christian writing and conference circles for years.

It should matter to us where these stories come from. It matters that any man, professing to be a Christian, has been accused of this kind of behavior. It matters that any person who associates his name with Jesus Christ (the literal meaning of Christ-ian is “Christlike person”) also has his name associated with these evils.

(Sensitivity alert: it’s necessary to describe these acts to understand them.)

  • Physical sexual assault
  • Begging women for sex
  • Proposing sexual hookups by email
  • Soliciting sex in exchange for career favors
  • Lying and covering up these abuses of power
  • Insisting that patterns of abuse are not typical or no big deal.

Just as the torrent of accusations against abusive leaders in entertainment call for prophetic Christian engagement,2 so do accusations against “our own” people require serious attention. And serious consequences. And serious challenge to ourselves, to determine what, if anything, we can do to glorify God, protect victims, and challenge any person who is tempted to abuse his power in creative industries.

I’ve written twelve do– and don’t–style ideas about how Christians may respond to claims of abuse. Part two will release Monday, and part three will release Tuesday.

Note that although these may apply to the article’s specific situations, I’m thinking in general terms about how Christians respond to claims of abuse committed by other Christians. But first, some personal housekeeping:

  • First, these accusations affect victims of abuse and harassment. Set aside all the doctrinal or professional factors. Real people, mostly women, have gone through a lot to tell their stories. I’ve asked several of them, along with Lorehaven magazine staff and supporters, to give early feedback on this article. They might also arrive here to comment. They might share the article and repeat part of their stories. Take great care and courtesy in response to their openness.
  • These accusations affect Speculative Faith. As I stated above, some of the men mentioned have written articles at Speculative Faith. At this point, we won’t take down the articles (see my sixth response in part 2). No one’s made such a call of us. But, it’s worth noting that if we could have known these individuals were accused of this behavior, we would have, at minimum, declined to publish.
  • These accusations affect our spinoff magazine, Lorehaven. Last fall, based on early and partial knowledge about these accusations, we changed the leadership of Lorehaven I’m now the sole publisher and editor-in-chief of this web magazine, which aims to help Christian fans find truth in fantastic stories.

With that in mind, let’s explore twelve Christian responses to accusations like these.

1. Listen to abuse victims.

This should go without saying. A lot of this should. But often a Christian who learns of these accusations3 behaves just like the naïve Christian who hurls a quote of Romans 8:28 in the direction of the grieving parent who just lost her baby in a car wreck. “Well, ‘all things work together for good …’!”

With the greatest possible respect: these folks must shut up.

Listen to the victim. If this isn’t someone you know in person, but whose words you are reading in an article or social media comment, pay attention to her account.4 Don’t talk. Just listen. You can work through your responses later. If you don’t yet believe her, maybe because you know or respect the person being accused, maybe you can say, “I listened to what you said and I’m so sorry you are hurting. I’m thinking about it and I’m also praying for you.” That’s it.

2. Don’t respond with these lines.

Every time I think maybe we’ve gotten past this nonsense, I see new examples of it:

“Why is it always about sex?”

My answer: Nonsense. It’s not about abuse of sex. It’s about abuse of power. (If it were about sex, he can get that just by going to the internet and watching porn.)

It’s not just social science that supports this claim. So does the Bible. All sin comes from our abuse of power. It’s our failure, going all the way back to Genesis 3, to steward our gifts and role as God our Creator intended. That’s idolatry. And it’s pride. Pride, which C. S. Lewis called “the utmost evil,” is an abuse of power.

“Wow, but he never did that sort of thing to me!”

My answer: Congratulations. No, really. It sounds like God protected you by some means, either because you were not that person’s “type” or because you were not vulnerable in this area. Very often, abusers target women who already struggle with poor self-image, or depression, or previous abuse, or thoughts of suicide.

Target, groom, push, defend, push more, suggest it’s her idea, lather, rinse, repeat.

If you’re strong, use your strength to support that vulnerable woman. As a Christian who is emotionally or spiritually strong in a particular area, that is your sober duty.

“Well, the way women dress these days …”

I actually saw someone say this. It’s an old and bad notion. It brings to mind the disciples’ mechanical cause/effect view in John 9:2 of “someone’s sin always causes human suffering.” This is not a thing godly Christians say to people suffering abuse, any more than we would say, “Well, he should have been buckled in” to the parent of a child killed in a car accident. That argument presumes there is something to the notion of “ladies who dress modestly5 won’t be sexually harassed.” If I had space here, I’d fiercely contest that notion also. It’s false, and fails to account for a man’s responsibility.

“None of us are perfect.”

Repetitions of this confuse me. At best, they’re awkward attempts to change the topic, and redirect to safer, thousand-foot views of general “mistakes” and human “brokenness” rather than specific acts of human evil. At worst, they’re an attempt to ignore these potent and terrifying biblical truths: that each of us is guilty of sin, and sin brings God’s judgment and damnation to Hell, and sometimes we must confront specific sins against specific people and make tough decisions how to respond. That goes triple when the power-abusers will, if unchecked, hurt even more people.

“None of us are perfect (so what’s for dinner?)” is not how Jesus replied when facing specific instances of power abuse, or the reality of sin in every human heart.

“Maybe she started it.”

This utterly fails to take into account the power dynamics of the relationship: pastor/church member, mentor/conference newbie, publisher or agent/writer. In any relationship like this, it’s the leader who is more accountable, not the follower.

“If men and women could just avoid each other …”

This is often called “The Mike Pence Rule,” although the concept was first associated with Billy Graham and I’d prefer the late evangelist keep it. In certain contexts, such as those involving a fearful or spiritually weak man, avoiding one-on-one meetings might be wise. But at best this is a remedial solution, not an ultimate solution.

The Bible talks about treating “older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity” (1 Timothy 5:2, NIV). It does not encourage us to avoid one another based on fear, and does not lay out a Billy Graham/Mike Pence rule.

Now, in my case, I have spent lots of time in virtual “one-on-one” rooms, with several women, preparing this very article. In my editorial roles at Speculative Faith and Lorehaven, I simply must do that—it’s my job and it’s their job! However, my wife and I also have guidelines in place for similar purposes as the Rule. She has my passwords, and we frequently talk about the results of these discussions. Thus, in a world that’s confused and fearful about how the heck men and women can avoid nonsense while also getting things done and respecting/loving one another as spiritual family, we can take precautions while not going overboard.

“You’re forgiven, [name of accused].”

It’s not our place to say this. Literally, this is like saying, “Man, your sins are forgiven you” (Luke 5:20). When even the Pharisees have better theology—that God alone can forgive Person A’s sins against Person B (Luke 5:21)—we’re in trouble.

Nor is it our place to flock first to an accused person’s defense to assure him of God’s love and forgiveness (now or in the future). This presumes far too much about the accused person—that he is (1) already saddled with enough guilt as it is, (2) caught up with his real repentance to the victim (or usually, a group of victims), (3) a member of a local church that has begun a biblical process of rebuking and restoring him (1 Cor. 5), (4) is already hearing from some imaginary force of nasty Bad Cop Christians that he’s a terrible, terrible sinner, freeing us up to be the Good Cops, (5) an actual member of Christ’s body and therefore included in the warnings and promises of those who share our faith—a fact we technically cannot prove or disprove based merely on a long-distance or professional relationship with him.

That’s a lot to presume, especially over the internet. So let’s not presume that.

3. Reconsider whether victims must forgive the accused.

Here I must be very careful, and acknowledge that early feedback to this article included hearty disagreement with this concept. I’ll choose to proceed this way.

When Christian A accuses Christian B of abuse, others often give two responses.

Response One (Vengeance) says, “What an evil person. Never forgive him.” Some Christians may imply that the accused is outside God’s grace, or will go to Hell. (Pagans—or Christians who behave like pagans—do even worse then they gather and say things like, “Let’s ruin his career and send him death threats over Twitter.”)

Response Two (Cheap Grace) says, “You need to forgive him immediately. Then you act like the sin never happened, because ‘love keeps no record of wrongs,’ and also, ‘Jesus said to forgive anyone seventy times seven.’ To do otherwise denies grace.”

I suggest that both these responses show extreme notions of cheap condemnation or cheap grace, and both fail to capture the complexity of the biblical picture.

Further complicating the picture is this: Christians often use the word “forgiveness” as a shorthand to describe several biblical concepts. These include the concepts of (1) fighting the urge to become bitter or resentful, (2) fighting the urge to slander and take revenge on the offender, (3) reflecting that God in his grace has saved us from the chiefmost offense of prideful idolatry against him, (4) overlooking the offense of a brother—meaning someone (perhaps a family member) in otherwise good relationship with us, who has a besetting sin that he’s already fighting, (5) leaving the offense to God (Romans 12:19) and trusting him to avenge the wrong.

Here is a hard yet biblical saying: If victims of sinful abuse don’t want anything to do with these biblical ideas, then they’re in the wrong. They must consider “forgiving” this abuse, and healing to a point of wanting to offer this forgiveness. There is no room for the Christian to harbor resentment and choose the way of vengeance, either against an abusive nonbeliever or a believer who falls into abusiveness.6

Therefore, insisting “I’ll never forgive him” is not an option for the Christian. People who have stated this may fall to the Dark Side very quickly. According to Jesus, they imperil their own claim to live in light of God’s forgiveness of them (Matt. 6: 14–15).

Recommended in case you have ever needed to ask or give forgiveness.

However, I do not believe that Christians should use the word “forgiveness” to refer to this biblical choice of rejecting vengeance and only wanting to forgive offenders. I don’t say this only because the word “forgive” has been used so often, along with “… and forget,” to silence victims and make them feel terrible for being wounded. I say this because biblically, the word forgiveness describes, as Chris Brauns says:

a commitment by the offended to pardon graciously the repentant from moral liability and to be reconciled to that person, although not all consequences are necessarily eliminated.7

Among Christians, this real forgiveness is always a mutual arrangement between offender and victim. And it will always leads to actual reconciliation, if not in the present day, then in the future after Jesus has returned to make all things new.

Scripture, however, never calls us to “forgive” a person who has not repented.

This does not contradict Christ’s insistence that we forgive our brothers “seventy-seven times,” that is, offering unlimited forgiveness. (Most recall Christ’s words from Matt. 18: 21–22, but see the parallel text in Luke 17: 3–4, in which it’s clear Jesus is talking about situations in which the offending brother is first offering repentance.)

Nor does this contradict the Bible’s assurance—which many Christians believe—that any Christian is eternally secure. God’s word assures us that “no one can snatch” someone out of Christ’s hand (John 10: 28–29). Yes, that’s true, and yet we cannot ignore biblical warnings such as “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning” (1 John 3: 8–9). The Bible also teaches that real faith will inevitably show the fruit of good works (Eph. 2: 8–10), and that people who have “tasted the heavenly gift” can fall away (Hebrews 6: 4–8). Such warnings are part of the way God corrects and preserves his people, and cheap grace would get in the way of that.

In fact, this is affirmed by the very biblical teaching that God himself does not forgive people who do not repent. Hell is not full of forgiven people who simply refused to repent after God forgave them. (The very fact that Jesus said the Father will not forgive people who don’t forgive [Matt. 6: 14–15] shows that God does not forgive everyone—and that no Christian is outside God’s warnings about holiness.)

This is also affirmed by biblical teachings that reflect human frustration with power-abusers who get away with it. See the imprecatory Psalms, or Revelation 6:10:

They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”8

Yes, Scripture calls on us to be willing to forgive and to love our enemies. But loving enemies does not mean we gloss over their pattern of offenses against others, or even ourselves. By God’s standards (and often by the civil-law standards of our own regions, which I haven’t even touched on in this piece) we must confront the behavior. And if the person does not repent, we cannot (yet) properly forgive him.

Every time I contend for this view, someone presumes I’m automatically excusing grudges or bitterness, or justifying the person who abuses this truth to withhold a willingness to forgive an enemy. Not so. I’m simply saying we ought to use words properly, as God does. And God has given us a great phrase to use for what we mean by “letting go of the offense.” Instead of the word forgiveness (which, again, means an exchange between two willing parties), Paul says leave it. But finish the apostle Paul’s sentence: “Leave it to the wrath of God” (Romans 12:19). He does not say this is merely a feeling, or even a personal choice. He says this is based on the entirely practical truth that we trust God as the avenger. If your enemy is a Christian who refused to repent, God will discipline him. If your enemy turns out to have been a fake Christian, God will avenge the wrong and punish this enemy for eternity.

"Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord" (Romans 12:19, KJV).

“Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord” (Romans 12:19, KJV).

If I’ve been abused, I ought to want to forgive the abuser as soon as possible. But this is not simply a case of offense between brothers, spouses, or church members. Instead, this is a case of egregious sin, when one professing Christian for years has shown a pattern of acting more like the devil than like a true follower of Jesus.

At the very least, such a person needs to demonstrate true willingness to repent, which will require facing consequences (including potential loss of leadership positions and careers).9 The rewards, however, will be great indeed. He will have received real forgiveness (all the better if it’s nearly instant) from the persons he has wronged. That pattern of sin will no longer interfere with his relationship with God and claim to faith.

In any case, victims of abuse, and those who love them, must cling to the gospel, in which Jesus forgives people who repent. Don’t let people imply you must be more spiritual than God. But pray hard and train hard so you can forgive the offender as soon as possible. Meanwhile, try to leave it—the offense—to God, and find healing not through fake “forgiveness” but because you know the chief Avenger.

4. Don’t make judgments about salvation.

Two very difficult facts arise when we’re talking about professing Christians who are reputably accused of patterns of bad behavior like this: (1) that real Christians do terrible things, up to and including acts of fornication and abuse of power, (2) that God is the final judge of a person’s faith and pardoner of his sins.

That’s highly inconvenient for us. It means that we don’t get to decide who is and is not a legitimate Christian (now or future) because it is ultimately God’s place to judge. It means that we live in light of perfect future justice that may not take place until eternity. It might mean that we end up letting the guilty “go free” in this age, or might end up spreading untruths about an accused person. God will sort it all out. He will uncover all nasty truths we’ve hidden and fix all the lovely lies we’ve spread.

Knowing this, we deal with accusations as best we can, in the various settings to which we’re called—which includes local churches and other Christian groups.

On Monday, we’ll explore four more responses to abuse accusations, and how Christians might address ethics and abuse reports in churches versus other organizations, such as Christian writers’ conferences.

  1. See Ann Byle, “Sexual Harassment Uncovered at Christian Writing Conferences,” Publishers Weekly website, Sept. 12, 2018.
  2. See my own article “Harvey Weinstein and Sexualized Pop Culture Call for Prophetic Engagement,” Christ and Pop Culture, Nov. 10, 2017.
  3. I’m aware that it’s not just many Christians, but people in general, who respond in terrible ways to news about power-abuse claims. But in this article I specifically address biblical Christians.
  4. I’m also aware that men are often victimized too. For ease of reading, and for direct relation to this specific account, I’m sticking with male pronouns for abusers and female pronouns for victims.
  5. That is, prudently, because “modesty” is a poor word choice here.
  6. Remember that many of our most famous fantastical stories intentionally warn us against the dangers of vengeance, which will inevitably lead us to the Dark Side.
  7. Chris Brauns, Unpacking Forgiveness, page 72. For more about biblical forgiveness, and its differences from common “therapeutic” notions of forgiveness, Brauns’s book is an excellent resource. Pastor and author Kevin DeYoung also summarizes this book, with Brauns, in this free article.
  8. Revelation 6:10. Note that these saints are in heaven, unable to sin, and yet they carry a fierce and holy desire for God to avenge their own deaths. No one is insisting these Christians forgive their offenders.
  9. Half-apologies, or apologies for single offenses when the abuser has actually committed a pattern of grooming and other nasty actions, don’t count. Crucial here is the role of the local church to whom the offender ought to be held accountable. Of course, many churches have no idea how to handle this, and some have enabled abusive leaders. But all this is even messier without churches.
Similar articles

45
Leave a Reply

avatar
  Subscribe  
Notify of
Alan
Guest
Alan

Great piece. I agree almost completely. The only caveat I have is that while we are supposed to want God to avenge wrongs and do justice, I believe we ought to be praying for folks, all folks, to be saved. We are supposed to not want any to go to hell, or take pleasure in their suffering when they do face justice.

One thing I like is how you emphasized that forgiveness doesn’t mean lack of consequences. Discipline and punishment from God, from civil authorities, exposure, etc., all should happen. As a Christian, we ought to want this to happen, so long as we don’t take pleasure in the suffering of the party who has sinned and is rightly punished, and so long as we want God to save them according to His will.

I’m not saying you are advocating for wanting folks to go to hell, just that I wanted to add this caveat.

Marian Jacobs
Guest

I agree in part with this piece. I agree that these things should be made public and that these men should step down from their positions and that victims should be protected (and then some).

But I was one of the ones who heartily disagreed with this view of forgiveness. Although forgiveness for abuse takes time because we are only human. (I have personally suffered lengthy abuse as a child, although not sexual, and took many years to forgive so I do understand that process). However, biblical forgiveness is not conditional. It is also NOT synonymous with trust and reconciliation. That’s where our interpretation of the scripture differs. Below, I will refer to forgiveness APART from trust and reconciliation. I refer to it only as letting go of a record of wrong–releasing a debt unpaid. That is all.

I think it is possible to forgive someone while they are still in sin and are not repentant. Why? It is NOT CHEAP grace. I agree with Stephen when he says we should not “forgive and forget.” Forgetting implies trust which is unwise when someone has been abusive. They should not have trust! Their sin should be remembered so someone can hold them accountable for change and no more victims are made.

But let us preach the gospel of grace when we forgive–and when we are sinned against. We are called to love as Christ has loved us. Romans 5:8 says that “while we were STILL SINNERS, Christ died for us.” This means that he loved us while we still hated him. He died for us before we were saved. He forgave us before we were reconciled. Christ’s blood covered our sin and this is the biblical basis for our forgiving of others. We forgive because we have been forgiven. Our ability to forgive is not dependent on another person. The Lord’s Prayer says, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” This implies that someone is still in debt to us and we release that debt unpaid. Because, “if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (This doesn’t mean that you can lose your salvation, but rather that you never had it if you cannot live out the gospel through the forgiveness of other–although, like I said, this may take time for such grotesque sin. But it should still happen and growth should be made. You may think I’m being harsh, but how else can a victim, myself included in another situation, hold to the gospel as a lifeline if they are not aware of all of it?)

In the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matt. 18), the servant is forgiven a huge debt and then refuses for forgive another a small one. You may say, “But this is no small debt! They are sexual predators!” Although it’s a myth that all sins are equal, we still think very highly of ourselves in comparisons to people with uglier, dirtier, more public sins than our own. God have mercy. We have been forgiven so much more than this. But in this text, the act forgiveness is based only on the fact that the servant has already been forgiven and nothing else. It is not dependent on the debt being paid. It is not dependent on the heart or actions of another person.

Rebecca LuElla Miller
Admin

I agree with you, Marian. I understand that those who view forgiveness as including reconciliation will not think forgiveness is possible until a sinner repents, but I think of Christ first, who, while we were still helpless, at the right time, died for the ungodly, about God demonstrating His one love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, died for us. Then I think of Godly examples like Elizabeth Elli who forgave the men who killed her husband and went to their tribe in order to share the gospel. Or Betsy ten Boom who forgave the Nazi concentration camp guards who made her life a living hell. She expressed compassion and prayed for them, knowing that the next day they likely would continue their cruel treatment. In other words, these believers, and others we could name throughout history, demonstrate the forgiveness of Christ, in many cases without any hope of “reconciliation.”

I don’t think, however, the wording is critical. If someone understands forgiveness as you and I do, then it needs to be offered as soon as possible. If someone understands it as Stephen does, then laying down a desire for vengeance and turning to God in trust that He will make all things right, needs to happen as soon as possible. And I think those two approaches aren’t necessarily distinct from each other. There’s a lot of overlap.

Becky

Christopher D. Schmitz
Member

Excellent article! In point 1, you said “With the greatest possible respect: these folks must shut up.” I’ve been saying this for years! You know the rules. We’re BFFs now.
But agreed on all points. The world is a fallen place, and our fractured humanity so often just below the surface… just because we are in a fellowship of other believers, it does not mean that we are in complete safety. With the amount of other ministers I’ve known and trusted having fallen or rejected their faith, little surprises me any more. Expect winners to sin, and while we are now saved by grace, we are not fully sanctified, and so we ought to all be prepared: for either a retreat for personal safety (or a fight if necessary) or for the uncomfortable, positional calling to bring a brother/sister back to grace.

notleia
Guest
notleia

Good job, this is a lots better response than many coming out of the Christian sphere (see: Brett Kavanaugh, Paige Patterson, etc).

But yeah, it’s more about entitlement and power abuse than sex. That type of dude thinks they’re entitled to indulge or gratify themselves no matter that it’s at someone else’s expense (ie, women’s). This is what feminists refer to when we talk about rape culture, that it’s an established pattern that men A) have these expectations, and B) that they can do this and effectively get away with it (until very recently).

Travis Perry
Editor

To say “it’s about entitlement and power” raises my inner contrarian. First, there’s lots of ways to show power that have nothing to do with sex. And of course, loads of forms of entitlement that are non-sexual as well.

But to be less contrary than I’m tempted to be, sure, entitlement and power are a factor. But sex is a factor, too. Think a Venn diagram, where a circle for power/entitlement links up with a circle for sexual desire. That common area is the sexual abuse zone.

Though in fairness, Notleia, you said it was MORE about power. It was E. Stephen himself who made the false observation “If it were about sex, he can get that just by going to the internet and watching porn.” Er, no, Stephen, Venn diagram. There are lots of uses of power that aren’t sexual…and a desire for power is not the only source of human evil. (Don’t make me slap you with a stack of verses that show sex is an evil that does not directly stem from power, Stephen. 🙂 )

It is beyond ludicrous from my point of view to imagine there is no sexual component to sexual abuse. C’mon now.

Kerry Nietz
Member

I tend to agree with that sentiment, Travis. Since two of the emotional / mental takeaways for men in sex (beyond the physical) are “I’m important” and “I’ve loved” it isn’t hard to see how the desires for those emotional confirmations might find false fulfillment in these sorts of situations. The abuser wouldn’t think of it as a power or entitlement thing at all. They’d think of it as getting what they hunger for, and may even fool themselves into believing it is consensual.

notleia
Guest
notleia

Well, yes and no. Yes, because duh, sex. No, because it’s related to the pattern where men also feel entitled to women’s attention and emotional labor. I imagine it as a spectrum starting with emotional on one end and sexual on the other, but the common theme is that there are a LOT of men who get super angry when women don’t cater to their fee-fees, whether of the weiner variety or otherwise.

Autumn Grayson
Guest

Somewhat had the same reaction to the power part of it.

That whole issue sort of reminds me of a common, nasty thread in human nature: if people want something, or feel like they need something, they will persist until they get it. Often, that also means hurting other people while obtaining that thing, or doing mental gymnastics to try and rationalize why they need/deserve that thing.

That can manifest in a lot of areas, such as drug addiction, money, or in this case, sex and power. People persisting in sexual harassment seem to want to commit that behavior so bad that their mind does the necessary mental gymnastics needed for them to think they actually deserve the sex, or they know it’s wrong and simply don’t care.

Brennan S. McPherson
Member

For once, I pretty much agree with you, Notleia. Men that do this sort of thing tend to have delusions of grandeur. They think very highly of themselves and very lowly of others. Hence the desire to USE people. Unbelievable…

Elisabeth Wheatley
Guest

A fair and balanced piece that can’t have been easy to write. Thank you. As it says in 1 Peter 4:17, judgment starts with the house of God.

Travis Perry
Editor

Good overall. The title of point 3 is pretty controversial, but on reading it through, the thoughts are not so much so. I am wondering what the other 8 points will be, though. I guess I get to wait to find out…

R. J. Anderson
Member

Thanks for this excellent article, Stephen. I especially appreciated your comments about forgiveness.

It’s certainly true (as Marian and Rebecca have pointed out) that Christ loved us while we were yet sinners and laid down His life for us — but that doesn’t mean that all sinners are therefore forgiven regardless of whether they repent or not. Even God’s forgiveness still requires that we come to Him, confessing the severity of our sin and that we fully deserve His judgment, and ask Him to save us. Only then can we receive the benefit of the salvation He has provided out of love for us.

So sure, I can (and should) be willing and ready to forgive someone who’s sinned against me, and may even make all the necessary preparations to do so should the opportunity arise. I can pledge in my own heart and before God not to take hateful revenge on the person who’s wronged me but rather to pray for them and actively seek their good*. But I can’t extend forgiveness to them in actual in practice until they ask for it.


*Which in some cases may include reporting them to the necessary judicial authorities and/or bringing their sin before the church for discipline — because experiencing the painful consequences of sin and the loss of fellowship that comes with it is often exactly what a sinner needs most to bring him or her to repentance.

C. Koepp
Guest

Well done. I appreciate the very sincere look at this difficult topic.

I was smacked upside the head with a Bible over the matter of forgiveness hard enough to have a spiritual and emotional concussion for years. In my family’s opinion, forgiveness was to pretend the event never occurred and involved restoring the relationship happily. The abuser was never accountable for his actions.

In a recent Bible study at church, the pastor explained forgiveness differently:

Forgiveness is not pretending it never happened. Forgiveness is giving the matter over to God so you can deal with the results and move forward without being consumed by anger and bitterness. Forgiveness you can do regardless of the other person. Forgiveness is required.

Reconciliation is the process of restoring the relationship to where it was before the offense occurred. This is not required because unless the offender is really, truly repentant, reconciliation can be imprudent or even dangerous.

I’m curious to see what your other 8 points are.

Kristen
Guest

A thoughtful and compassionate article, Stephen. Well done.

Tim Akers
Guest
Tim Akers

I was going to be PC and be like Travis and Kerry, those guys are much better men than I am. To be honest, E, I think your theology is horrible and misguided and you said a whole lot that was misguided. You did get in a few good points on how to talk to victims, but your assumptions were showing. That’s not saying I’m not open to learning and correction, but let’s talk about my biggest obstacle. This point: “Reconsider whether victims must forgive the accused.”

You said, “When Christian A accuses Christian B…” and then you sighted the “cheap grace” and “the cheap condemnation.” Seriously? The first thing I always ask? “Is it true?” Accused people don’t require forgiveness, they need careful justice and investigation. Guilty people are the ones that need forgiveness. So maybe you can forgive me for thinking my very first premise as I read this, “E. thinks all men are immediately guilty if a woman accuses them, or If Christian A accuses Christian B, Christian B must be guilty.” That syllogism is just wrong.

I’m reminded of Clarence Thomas and his nomination to the Supreme Court many years ago, and the problem Brett Kavanaugh is facing now. The accusations against both were horrible and equally unprovable one way or the other. I would also say, an accusation hardly constitutes fact. 1 Tim 5:19 speaks to accusations of elders. Don’t entertain them if there aren’t two or three, but the implication is, you better be sure they are true. Then reprove them publicly. Lots of churches have gotten sued for doing 1 Tim 5:19 all wrong. Before you denounce an elder publicly, make sure they’re truly guilty of breaking well-communicated dogma and well-defined codes of conduct This brings me to your next point: “Maybe she started it.”

if you don’t think there aren’t women in the world that trophy hunt, son, you live a pretty sheltered life. I’m not calling anyone named in the original article you referred to a liar. I’m just saying that your phrase “She started it” made me shake my head. After 57 years, and close to 30 of them in ministry, there were times when “she did start it.” If you want to chat sometime at length feel free to IM me. You also stated that one person is more accountable than another and that makes me ask, “accountable to whom and for what?” Everyone is accountable to God. We all have pretty much the same Biblical mandates though expressions of those mandates vary. We also have the same Word of God and are held to the same standards as each other in its regard. If you wish to hold a leader to a higher code of conduct, cool, that’s biblical. But holding one believer to a higher standard of accountability is unscriptural. So we skin the agent for abuse of power while the plagering author wannabe gets a candy bar? We’re all accountable to God and each other. All have sinned, all were dead. God doesn’t gradiate sin, it all leads to death.

Another problem I’m having is that your main thesis is really about the abuse of power and how to respond as Christians. You didn’t start with a clear definition of “abuse of power.” You seem to lump a bunch of things together and assume we all share the same concept of said abuse, and even the same view of what scripture says about that abuse. I don’t believe for a moment that anyone is more accountable than any other, and no one is less culpable than anyone else. I can also assure you, depending on the era you grew up in and the economic strata you inhabited, how you define the abuse of power can be as different and varied as snowflakes.

In terms of a clear definition, allow me an example. If the editor in power says, “Sleep with me and I’ll publish you,” or something similar. I would call that an abuse of power. I would also take a strategy from Carla Hoch’s book and punch that person in the throat then run away. The said editor may have violated a ton of ethics, but not necessarily broken any of the laws of men, unless the potential victim was truly coerced with harm (but I’m no lawyer). By the way, If anyone is dumb enough to take said editor’s offer, get everything in writing first. From here the social percepton of power gets convoluted quickly. Take flirtations.

Flirtations also happen between human beings. Sometimes they get out of hand and people get caught up in the moment, and no one says “stop” until the morning after. I’m not sure that hardly constitutes the abuse of power. I realize people often get caught up in those kinds of situations, and when passions have cooled, they announce “I wanted to say no, but….” I can see that might be an abuse of power, but most of the time its nothing more than buyers remorse. Was it a sin, yes, but not illegal. My comment is a general comment, and not aimed at anyone in the article referenced by E. The lack of a solid definition of the abuse of power and the idea that being accused equates with guilty, makes it hard for me to take the article seriously.

Unlike my dear brother in Christ, Travis, whom I love and admire, I’m not a contrarian. I’m a college composition teacher, which is far worse. Though I applaud the scope of what was attempted, It gets a C-minus because as much as I love that you want us to treat victims lovingly and kindly, we have to do the same to the accussed. As far as the guilty go, well, that’s a very different topic.

notleia
Guest
notleia

And then people say “why didn’t she come forwards years ago.” Because sh*t like this, right here. Dr Ford is a mensch and a patriot for coming forward even tho she is guaranteed sh*t like this and also death threats.

People don’t act like this about any other crime. If a woman was mugged, they don’t wonder aloud about whether she was lying or mistaken or led the mugger on somehow. Why are women magically not trustworthy about sex?

Maybe part of it is the lingering idea that sex has to be bargained and manipulated and tricked out of women (because of course they don’t like it). Or the other myth about how men are were-rapists who aren’t really in control of their bodies so women have to do the work for them. Any other misogynist myths I’m missing?

Imma get out my soapbox for one announcement: ENTHUSIASTIC, INFORMED CONSENT. Once again for the people in the back: ENTHUSIASTIC, INFORMED CONSENT.

Travis Perry
Guest
Travis Perry

If someone gets mugged it’s crass to say so right away, but loads of people do in fact perform actions to that make themselves easier targets–so I wonder if someone contributes to bad things that happened to them, other than sexual abuse. To the mugging victim, “Were you in a high crime area by yourself?” Likewise, it is not misogyny to suggest women take some reasonable precautions (like, when at a dance club, don’t leave your beverage unattended). It does NOT excuse abusers to wonder if the abused could have done something to avoid what happened.

Nor can it be assumed 100% of the time that everyone is telling the truth about accusations. Even if 98% tell the truth, it’s reasonable to ask questions to verify stories. That’s being objective and rational–no misogyny is implied in wanting to be certain of the facts.

notleia
Guest
notleia

You know the “missing stair” theory of social interaction? Where someone is a difficult a-hole but it’s hard work to actually deal with it so everyone just avoids setting them off? And when someone new in the group finds it hard to cater to this a-hole, THAT person is blamed for “ruining” everything when actually it’s the a-hole.

This is like that, except women have to navigate an entire apartment complex full of missing stairs and also there are bees. Links!

http://pervocracy.blogspot.com/2012/06/missing-stair.html

https://captainawkward.com/2012/08/07/322-323-my-friend-group-has-a-case-of-the-creepy-dude-how-do-we-clear-that-up/

https://captainawkward.com/2018/07/02/1120-the-creepy-guy-in-the-friend-group-revisited-four-more-geek-social-fallacies/

https://captainawkward.com/2015/11/03/784-the-geek-social-fallacy-host-missing-stair-guest-relationship/

Travis Perry
Editor

Notleia–you’ve shared the Captain Awkward stuff before. I seem to recall taking your sharing at that time as a personal shot at me, to which I responded (rather ungracefully) that you might be the “difficult a-hole” and not me. (Sorry I did that, by the way.)

Actually though on further reflection, the entire worldview of the Captain Awkward post doesn’t ring true to my personal experience. To change the metaphor back to the missing stair, I don’t avoid missing stairs and blame others if they bring it up–I say, “Hey, the stair is missing!” and I put up a sign and ask someone to fix it (unless I’m too busy at the moment). Though there are things other people might trip over that I don’t notice at all, I don’t play a game of covering for a difficult problem and would not expect anyone to cover for me if I were the problem.

Though it’s also true the Captain Awkward assumes a group of people who do certain things as a group to maintain group cohesion. I actually do not have a group of friends like that–I don’t see me as in cohesion with any group in that way, though I do have individual friends. Actually the entire point of view of the Captain Awkward post is like reading about a foreign culture to me–I presume it is really true for someone else, but it isn’t natural or normal in my experience.

Perhaps for that reason, I actually don’t know why this set of posts is supposed to apply to the situation women are in. Perhaps I’m just not getting it, but it as if everyone else is discussing ice cream flavors and you’re jumping in with “mayonnaise”…

notleia
Guest
notleia

You’re just coming off as rather naive (to me) when you claim that doing basic precautions will keep you safe, when statistically speaking, hahahahahahahaha no they don’t.

Maybe another analogy I know might work? Like when you’re a kid and you’re being driven around, everything seems hunky dory, but when you start driving yourself, you realize that some people just don’t effing know how to drive? Except instead of seeing crappy drivers, you seem to think that the cars move according to the pull of earth’s inertia and Brownian motion or something?

I might have to give up on trying analogy on you at all, but maybe other people reading this are grokking me better.

(Also linking back to an earlier conversation, if you were looking for a good example of what I’d call a “Pastor Bob,” this Tim here is a good one.)

Travis Perry
Editor

I would not say basic precautions keep someone safe. I would say it helps. And while I have heard of statistics on clothing wear (that I think are a bit dubious), I haven’t heard any stats on the whole suite of things I would recommend.

Though I don’t really know the best way to fix this kind of thing. Progressive countries which have laws that feminists applaud tend to have horrific problems with illicit sex trade and their citizens traveling the world, often looking for minors (male and female), in the seedy side of sexual tourism. Though the USA has sex trafficking AND customs feminists don’t like.

Sometimes the modern world makes me want to retreat into a cave…

notleia
Guest
notleia

I might let you make supervised visits to my gender-fluid hippie-socialist commune. 😛

Travis Perry
Editor

I think the Amish are more my style…though I obviously wouldn’t fit in with them, either.

Travis Perry
Guest
Travis Perry

Tim, I don’t entirely agree with you (you, of course, are not surprised by that 🙂 ) and I think your tone is harder than it had to be, but in this context of everyone standing in lock-step agreement at least 90% on the comments above, disagreement took some courage. I’m afraid you will be villified for your stance by some people, but I don’t believe you deserve that. And I applaud your courage in speaking your mind.

Autumn Grayson
Guest

At this point, I’m starting to wish there were different words for multiple types of forgiveness, just as there are multiple words to describe types of love. Perhaps there are multiple words for forgiveness, in some language, and we just don’t know of them.

Still somewhat deciding what I think the ‘right’ type of forgiveness is, but this is kind of how I handle it now:

People don’t ‘have’ to forgive. They don’t have to do anything, in fact. However, they ‘should’, for both their sake and others'(and also because God forgave us). If they don’t forgive, that means that their abuser is going to have a psychological hold on them forever, and how is that a good thing?

That said, it’s not that simple. Forgiveness can be just as hollow as apologies if the person doesn’t mean them. Someone can say ‘I forgive you’ because they feel forgiveness is expected of them, but that doesn’t mean they’ve worked through their resentment. Saying ‘I forgive’ doesn’t magically make it true.

At an innate level, it does bother me to see people that absolutely refuse to forgive, because it tends to come from people that see themselves as incapable of ever doing anything bad. (Yeah, they might not ever abuse anyone, but that doesn’t mean they can’t cause vast amounts of harm they themselves will need forgiveness for.)

Obviously, forgiveness isn’t easy, so acknowledging that it may be impossible to completely forgive someone may be coming from a place of honesty. But making the effort to forgive on a consistent basis, or at least acknowledging that forgiveness might be healthier, would probably help victims achieve more peace. Demanding this from them, though, especially when the demands come from the abuser’s side, are a problem.

As a side note, one thing that seems to be important for abuse victims(of any type of abuse, not just sexual) is to document everything, gather evidence, and maybe even file reports, whether or not the victim chooses to press charges right away.

Another side note… There should still be a due process for handling sexual harassment reports(or any other kind of accusation, really). Evidence should be given before meting out punishments. If, however, nothing can be proved, the two disputing parties should be kept separate if possible. Regardless of who is guilty or lying, one side is trying to hurt the other, and needs to be kept from causing further trouble. Keeping them separate seems to be one of the few things that can be sort of fairly done in a situation where nothing can be proved.

Ann Byle
Guest
Ann Byle

Thank you, ESB, for a thoughtful and measured response to this issue. So much crap has been written in response to the PW article, and also so much good. Yours falls into the “good” camp. As author of the piece, I can tell you that the stories left unshared because of PW’s stance on anonymous sources were horrifying. Several of the men wrote preemptive apologies or denials before the piece ever ran (but after I contacted them for a comment). Some denied outright. Some played on my knowing them and their “good” reputations to tone down the piece or not include them. Others, who were not accused, asked me to pray about not including the men in the piece at all and just include what conferences are doing now to help stop such actions from happening again. I’m a Christian, raised in the Baptist church and who still attends one. But I’m not a theologian. I’m a reporter who reported.

Mary DeMuth
Guest

Ann, thank you for your bravery.

Travis Perry
Editor

This is the first time I’m seeing this. Good to know.

(This has caused me to change my position on the PW article, as I’ve explained elsewhere.)

Mary DeMuth
Guest

I’m grateful for your voice. Thank you for a measured, even-handed response to a chronic and devastating problem. Sadly, as a victim of heinous sexual assault at five (over a year), I had some sort of predatory beacon. I’ve worked through much of that, but I find myself overly afraid and cautious now at Christian publishing events. However, I am also very grateful for some of my close friends (male and female) who have dignified my story, protected me, and prayed for me.

Sarah Grimm
Guest
Sarah Grimm

Thank you for writing this.