Child abuse isn’t just a Catholic problem, it’s also a Calvinist problem, according to an April 20 podcast sympathetic to the so-called “young, restless and reformed” movement popular among evangelicals belonging to denominations including the Southern Baptist Convention.
Mortification of Spin, a weekly podcast from the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals — a coalition of pastors, scholars, and churchmen seeking to recover and promote biblical doctrines central to the Protestant Reformation — this week examined highly publicized scandals involving celebrity preachers accused of turning a blind eye at the expense of victims of child sexual abuse.
While they don’t say so explicitly, the program’s three cohosts appear to have in mind last week’s appearance at the Together for the Gospel conference in Louisville, Ky., by C.J. Mahaney, a T4G founder who for years has faced unanswered allegations of mishandling abuse as a pastor and ministry leader in a lawsuit thrown out of court on a legal technicality.
“When we’re dealing with pastors and elders, we’re not dealing with legal burden of proof,” Carl Trueman, a professor at Westminster Theological Seminary said, referring to a qualification in 1 Timothy 3:7 that an overseer “must be well thought of by outsiders so that he may not fall into disgrace and into a snare of the devil.”
“There is gossip out there,” Trueman acknowledged. “There are malicious people who bear vicious rumors, but some of the recent cases of allegations of child abuse in the Protestant evangelical church are not just malicious rumors. And when lawsuits get dismissed on technicalities, that’s a problem. When allegations are made that would be easy to refute, such as the acceptance of vacations or money or whatever, that could be easy to refute if they’re not true, and they’re not refuted, then I think reputations are publicly tarnished in a way that puts you in the crosshairs of First Timothy, chapter three, verse seven.”
“I would plead with ministry leaders with well-known evangelicals to sit and talk with some of the victims of child sexual abuse, to some of the parents, and to begin to empathize with the horror that they’ve gone through,” added Todd Pruitt, pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Harrisonburg, Va., a graduate of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary who served as a youth pastor and pastor in Southern Baptist churches before “crossing Lake Geneva” to become a reformed Presbyterian.
“I came running to the Reformed faith, not just because I became convinced it was biblical, but because it’s biblical and it’s a beautiful, wonderful thing,” Pruitt said. “I am still so thankful to be part of the Reformed faith, to be a member and a minister in the Presbyterian church, and I grieve the fact now that the Reformed faith is being tarred and feathered for this. There are people departing and saying awful things about the Reformed faith, about the doctrines of grace, because of this issue.”
Pruitt was one of a number of voices including the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests whose earlier pleas to organizers of Together for the Gospel to reconsider having Mahaney speak out of respect for abuse survivors fell on deaf ears.
“If you’ve been in ministry long enough you know that sometimes there’s smoke where there isn’t fire,” Pruitt said. “We know that’s true, but we also have common sense, and to hopefully have a measure of sanctified common sense, where allegations can be reasonably made, even if not convincingly made in law or not measuring up to a particular technicality, if a man’s reputation is so tarnished by reasonable accusations, he needs to really consider whether or not he’s able the fulfill the requirements in Second Timothy and Titus.”
Aimee Byrd, described on the blog as a wife, mother, blogger and author, said attempts by pastors to suppress and withhold communication about abuse cases can backfire into creating an environment of mistrust more — and not less — likely to breed false accusations.
“There’s wondering,” she said. “There’s mystery involved. ‘Was my child around these sex abusers I’m hearing about? Was my child in one of these people’s homes?’ Kids go through normal things in life like night terror and stuff like that, but you might have that in your home and think, ‘Maybe my child was sexually abused and this is going on and we’re not getting any answers. So maybe someone has abused my child.’ I can just see how if it isn’t communicated well, and if the proper steps aren’t made, then I would think there would be more false allegations because of that.”
Byrd said attempts by male leaders to minimize abuse also sends a message about “how women are viewed and treated in the church.”
“Is it a culture where women are hurt by these things?” she asked. “Are women just seeing boys clubs where they’re not being heard and it’s not even approachable for them?”
Trueman said child sex abuse “has done incalculable damage to ordinary Christians, not only those who’ve been abused but those who quite frankly get sick of the cover ups and sick of the self-serving rhetoric at the top.”
“I can understand why people drift away from the Reformed faith on this score, and that’s why I think the leaders need to take more responsibility,” he said. “We’re not trying to score cheap points here. We’re trying to make the point that our faith is being damaged by the need to preserve certain organizations. That’s a problem.”