By Jim Denison
On Nov. 14 the Associated Baptist Press published an essay I wrote on Herman Cain and Joe Paterno. Here’s the background behind my article.
I write a cultural commentary for our ministry each weekday morning based on that day’s news. On Nov. 8 I responded to the Herman Cain allegations by quoting Matthew 18:15, “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.” Jesus’ words were clearly intended for adults, describing the process by which Christians who are dealing with relational problems can initiate reconciliation.
The next day I wrote an essay titled “The tragedy of Joe Paterno.” In it I said, “The greatest tragedy is that on his watch, eight boys were allegedly abused by Sandusky over a 15-year period. They are innocent victims who will live with the scars of their abuse for the rest of their lives.”
I stated that Coach Paterno “should apologize personally and directly to the men victimized by his employee. He should lead Penn State to take steps ensuring that such a failure of accountability does not happen again. And he should resign for the sake of his players, protecting them from this scandal and its repercussions.”
On Nov. 10 I combined my previous Cain and Paterno essays into my FaithLines submission. Then I made a mistake. When I came to the statement from my Herman Cain essay that cited Matthew 18:15, I combined the Paterno story by including these words: “It would have been best for the alleged abuse victims at Penn State and the NRA to go directly to those who wronged them.” I was writing on deadline; had I checked the essay before submitting it, I would immediately have omitted those three words. Nonetheless, the mistake was mine alone.
Today I want to describe what I have taught for many years on the subject of child abuse, not only to set the record straight but also to set out clear biblical guidelines for dealing with such tragedy.
First, our Lord made very clear his love for children: “Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked those who brought them. Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’ When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there” (Matthew 19:13-15).
Jesus taught his disciples to “change and become like little children” if they would enter the kingdom of heaven. He then declared that “whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3-4). When we love children, we prove that we love their Father. Anyone who abuses children has committed the most heinous crime imaginable.
Second, Jesus condemned those who would harm a child: “If anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea” (Matthew 18:6). Child abuse is a horrific crime. It leaves deep scars that can last a lifetime. There are no words to describe adequately the tragedy of this depravity. Or God’s anger against those who commit it.
As a result, it is always wrong for institutions to shelter those who abuse children. Always. In the churches I pastored, adults who worked with children were subjected to periodic background screening and monitored carefully. Anytime a school, church, or other organization learns that a child entrusted to its care has been harmed, it must take immediate, proactive steps. It must remove the adult from any contact with children, initiate every means of helping the child and his or her family, and notify legal authorities about the crime committed on its watch.
The only currency for ministry is trust. In a culture that views people as commodities and measures success by possessions, we are entrusted with the good news that God loves us personally and passionately. But people will believe that God loves them only if we do.