Violence of Action: A Proposal for Dealing With Abusers Hiding in Our Churches
From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. (Matthew 11:12)
This is a difficult verse to understand. I am not sure that I do. At first glance it seems to speak of the enemies of the kingdom of heaven violently opposing Christ’s people. And yet in the context, it seems that Christ is speaking of His people: John the Baptist and the prophets and Elijah. That in some way, Christ is speaking of the zeal and earnestness by which we must press into His kingdom as opposed to being lethargic and careless like the five foolish virgins (Matthew 25). Some of you can probably add some insight and help me out. But here is why this verse came to my mind recently. Christ’s work, Christ’s business, following Christ and taking up our cross in this present life, requires zeal and watchfulness and clear-sightedness. You might call this zeal, violence. Violence of action. I don’t mean that we should pick up guns and do Jihad. No way. But what I mean is that when we are faced with evil, when the enemy is prowling about and infiltrating and deceiving and seeking whom he may devour, it is time for action. For zealous, immediate, definitive, action. That is what I mean by violence of action. I got the term from reading about the military and warfare. More than once the good guys, facing overwhelming odds against them in battle, emerged victorious because they went on the offensive violently. I haven’t seen the recent World War II movie, Fury, But I suspect that there would be quite a few examples in it that illustrate what I am talking about. Violence of action is definitive, offensive, courageous action in the face of evil. A kind of “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead” initiative in the face of the enemy. I maintain that the Bible record shows us that the Lord whom we serve calls us to this violence of action. A holy, courageous initiative to strike evil when the enemy of Christ’s kingdom comes our way. That initiative may take many forms, like Daniel of old publicly and fearlessly continuing to pray right on as he always had, no matter the threat of the lions’ den. And I would also maintain that this same violence of action is seen in the Lord Jesus on more than one occasion. He goes for it. He drives the wicked out of the temple. He confronts the Pharisees head on. He goes up to Jerusalem no matter what. Now, here is my point. I believe that this is what the Lord is calling us all to do in regard to this business of abuse hiding disguised in our churches. This matter of abusers who sneak in among us and work their way into influential positions and threaten to undo anyone who might oppose or expose them. Here is their victim coming to us and asking for help. What are we to do? Let me recommend to you what violence of action might look like in such a situation:
- We believe the victim and validate her
- We provide her with materials and other resources so that she can better understand abuse and get out of that confusing fog abuse casts
- We offer her protection, housing, finances, assistance in finding an attorney, and so on (working with her closely of course regarding how much she wants her abuser to know about her actions and when he should know)
- We confront the abuser, especially if he is a member of our church. We suspend him from the church and we let his sin be known to the congregation
- We stand firmly in the face of any threats the abuser makes against us or his victim
I am not proposing an absolutely fixed set of steps here for every abuse situation. But what I am proposing is that we take definitive, initiating ACTION, so that relief is swift in coming to the victim and consequences to the abuser. Just think about it. Think of your story. Think of all the scores and scores of stories abuse victims have told us over the years, including how their churches enabled the abuser and increased the victim’s suffering. What is a common denominator. Time. Long, long, drawn out processes and suffering. Often years of couple’s counseling. Years of fruitless waiting for the abuser to “repent.” But what if…just what if…the common practice in the Christian church was radically altered? What if action to help abuse victims and hold abusers accountable suddenly became swift, definitive, and certain? What if, through us as His instruments, Jesus took a whip and drove the evil one out of His church? What would happen? I can tell you:
- We would bring glory to the name of Christ instead of the dishonor that is so common now
- We would see victims and their children growing in their love for Christ, for His people, for His church…instead of being alienated from us
- We would see the power of Christ coming against the wicked
- We would see justice
- And I suspect we would see fewer and fewer abusers choosing the church as a favorite place to work their evil in disguise
Evil flees in the face of true righteousness. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Light always wins over darkness.
For further reading: Holy Violence, sermon No. 252 by Charles Haddon Spurgeon, from which comes this quote:
Another reason why every man who would be safe must be in earnest, and be violent, is this, there are so many adversaries to oppose us, that if we are not violent we shall never be able to overcome them. . . . do you still condemn this man, and say that he is an enthusiast and a fanatic? Then God himself comes forth to vindicate his despised servant. Know that this is the sign, the mark of distinction between the true child of God and the bastard-professor. The men who are not God’s children are a careless, stumbling, coldhearted race. But the men that are God’s in sincerity and truth, are burning as well as shining lights. They are as brilliant constellations in the firmament of heaven, burning stars of God. Of all things in the world, God hates most the man that is neither hot nor cold.
Update: a reader has kindly let us know that the Spurgeon’s sermon is also available on Sermon Audio:
Audio version of Holy Violence sermon by Spurgeon.