Peer Pressure Among Pastors Tends toward Silence About Abuse
Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” (John 3:1-2)
Nicodemus would, as you know, eventually embrace Christ as the Son of God. He came to Jesus “by night” in this now famous account in which the Lord told him, “you must be born again.” The Apostle John uses light and darkness frequently as images of Christ’s kingdom in contrast to the darkness of the kingdom of this world. But here we want to consider just why it was that Nicodemus sought Jesus out at night.
Darkness hates the light. The religious power brokers of the day hated Christ. He was a threat to their privilege base. They were being exposed by Him for what they were. And yet…Nicodemus saw something else here. He confessed that at minimum, Jesus was a teacher or prophet sent from God. Who could be honest and still deny it? The power of God was the only explanation for the signs Jesus did.
Yet Nicodemus came at night. Perhaps this statement in the account of Jesus’ healing the blind man in chapter 9 explains it —
His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess Jesus to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue. (John 9:22)
Nicodemus in other words, this leader in Israel, was fearful of his peers. There was intense pressure among “the clergy” to reject Christ and anyone who broke ranks with the established power structure would pay the price. Some decades later the Apostle Paul would find this out himself. These “holy ones” of Israel could be a nasty bunch if opposed and the same is quite true today.
Why do pastors and church leaders today so typically refuse to see evil and call it out? Why do they tell abuse victims they must remain in the abuse? Why do so many hand victims the same old lines that sound like they are quoting from some common source book? Largely it is because they have been taught the party policy in the churches they were raised in, in the seminaries they attended, in the books they read written by the big shots of the visible church, and in the denominational organizations they belong to. And they also know something else — that if they go against the party platform, there will be a huge price for them to pay. Power brokers in their own churches will come unglued. Career paths will be closed to them. Many websites will no longer publish or repost their articles. If they write books, sales will plummet. And perhaps even more frightening — they may find that (like Nicodemus) the very fabric of much of their so-called Christianity is going to unravel.
There is, among pastors, a very powerful undercurrent of pressure to conform. You see it at annual denominational gatherings. You hear it, and yet you don’t hear it, in the conversations in the hallways and at lunch. You see conformity to man-made tradition (parading as the Word of God) rewarded and any disagreement punished (if not through formal sanction then through unofficial shunning or gossip). And this pressure to be molded into the image of tradition works to the harm of abuse victims and to the empowerment of evildoers. It promotes a climate in which standing for the oppressed becomes very, very costly. For myself, I have become extremely wary of ecclesiastical organizations beyond that of the local church.
Nicodemus had to come to the Light. He began with a visit at night, but in the end he stepped into the glory of following the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. That is what soooo many shepherds of the church today need to do as well.
After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away his body. Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. (John 19:38-40)