Love covers a multitude of sins, but not all.
Update: Jeff Crippen’s sermon The Badge of a Christian explains what “love covers a multitude of sins” really means and how we can apply it in our lives and our churches.
Love covers a multitude of sins is one of the texts that stymies victims of abuse. It is delivered with a wagging finger by other Christians, and it recycles like a mantra in the victim’s own mind. We can’t ignore this scripture, but we have to be careful when applying it to the situation of abuse.
1 Pet. 4:8 Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.
James 5:19-20 My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
Prov. 17:9 Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends.
Prov. 19:8 Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses.
These texts talk about love covering sins. But look at this text:
Luke 12:1-3 “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops.”
Hypocritical sins which are covered shall be exposed: that is God’s will. And it’s not simply that God shall expose them on the last day. God commands us to expose such sins.
Ephesians 5:11-14 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,
“Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
Prov. 17:15 He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the Lord.
When we are helping cover up someone’s sinful pattern of hypocrisy – the ‘behind closed doors’ sin of domestic abuse is a perfect example – we are implicitly justifying the wicked by keeping his sin secret. In her book “Why is he so mean to me?” Cindy Burrell encourages women: “Tell your secrets. Tell someone how your husband mistreats you.”
As victims we feel ashamed to even speak of the things our abusers do in secret, but we are commanded to do so. This doesn’t necessarily mean going on the internet and telling the whole world. But it does mean telling those who need to know because they have a duty of care towards us and/or towards our abusers.
UPDATE — the next paragraph was inserted June 1st 2015 by Barbara Roberts, after The Village Church’s reponse to Karen Hinkley and her erstwhile pseudo-husband Jordan Root (confessed viewer of child porn) was brought to light at Watchkeep’s post She Speaks.
If telling church leaders and those who have a duty of care to us and/or towards our abusers and their other victims has NOT been effective in protecting victims and promoting justice, then telling the world via internet — along with full documentation — is quite legitimate. The only caveat I would add here is that, under normal circumstances, it is unwise to publish the material if publishing would be a breach of a secular court order.
A duty of care includes the duty to restrain the abuser and deliver appropriate punishment for his wrongdoing (see Romans 13:1-7).
So when should we cover a sin, and when should we expose it?
I guess this will be a matter of discretion, but certainly we may consider some guidelines. If the person has confessed and truly repented of their sin, covering the sin is usually a good idea. They don’t need it brought up in their face all the time. However, it would depend on the seriousness of the sin. For example, a confessed or convicted pedophile should never be allowed to work in a situation where they have access to children. That’s wisdom and common sense, knowing what we know about how difficult it is to cure pedophilia. So ‘covering’ that person’s sin might not mean we proclaim his former sins to everyone who knows him, but it does means telling those who ought to know, such as the leaders in the church he has started to attend, so they can exercise a duty of care to the children in that church.
UPDATE — the next five paragraphs were inserted June 1st 2015 by Barbara Roberts, after The Village Church’s reponse to Karen Hinkley and her erstwhile pseudo-husband Jordan Root was brought to light at Watchkeep’s post She Speaks.
The manner in which the abuser’s confession came about must also be considered. Most abusers hide their evildoing from everyone except their victims. The vast majority of abusers do not confess what they have been doing so long as they are getting away with it and so long as they are receiving few negative consequences for their wicked behaviour. The vast majority, I would venture to say ALL domestic abusers do not admit to or confess their evildoing unless they get exposed by their victims and/or get caught by law enforcement. And from what I have read in forensic psychology and criminology, that is also the case with perverts, pedophiles, and other heinous sinners.
And the vast majority of such heinous sinners, when caught, when exposed, confess to PARTS of what they have done. The abuser does this partial (pseudo) confession to get people off his back. The do-gooders of this world, and Christians are often in that category, are delighted to hear a ‘confession’ from an abuser, and they are often so naive that they think the confession is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
Abusers know how naive most people are in accepting pseudo- and partial-confessions, and they play us for all they can.
So, if an abuser’s confession and supposed ‘repentance’ has only come about when prised out of him — when he realises that the s#*# has hit the fan and he’d better start confessing some things, so he can keep the rest of his crimes out of the spotlight — if the confession and ‘repentance’ has come about like that, the wise person will NOT credit it. The wise person will put on his or her shrewd-as-serpents hat (Matthew 10:16) and suspect that the abuser has not told the full truth and nothing but the truth. And the wise person will proceed accordingly.
When the wise person takes this stance, he or she is not being ‘unforgiving’ or ‘unChristian’ but is obeying the precepts of Christ.
When should a victim of abuse cover her abuser’s sins and when should she expose them? What we know about domestic abuse is that it takes often years for the victim to realize she (or he) is being abused. So there has already been a long period of her ‘covering’ her abuser’s sin by default because all that time she was in the fog, she didn’t realize the seriousness of what he was doing.
When she starts to wake up and disclose the abuse to others, it is quite inappropriate to tell her “love covers a multitude of sins” to persuade her to give the abuser a long string of further chances. He’s already had way too many chances from her already as she covered his sins, overlooked them, blamed herself when he was to blame, made allowances and excuses for him, been compassionate and long-suffering, etc., etc.
Therefore, if you tell a victim that the best way of loving her abusive husband is to cover his sins, that is fruitless, wrong and harmful. It tells her she hasn’t been covering his sins already! – which is quite false. It pushes her back into the lion’s den. It tells her that you think she hasn’t tried hard enough yet. It impugns her good name, her character, and her virtue. And it wrongfully binds her with guilt for having obeyed God by taking no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead exposing them (Ephesians 5:11).