“The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him...
Therefore shall a man leave...and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh’” (Genesis 2:18, 24 KJV).
The Broken Circle
I was twenty-one years old when my beautiful bride and I took that long walk down the aisle of the church. We were both so very excited to finally make official what we were completely sure of. We were made for each other, forever! I still get heart palpitations of joy when I look back at that marvelous event.
One of the most touching parts of our ceremony was the exchanging of our rings. The minister, my good friend and colleague, Dr. Joseph Bohac, recited to us the symbolic significance of this act. The ring symbolized our never-ending love and devotion to each other, the circle of love which was never to be broken. Never!
Well, that’s the way it was meant to be. For Karen and me, though we have had our crisis times in our marriage and family, we’ve survived happily.
Yet so many of our friends’ marriages have not survived. Though many Christian couples state the same vows as we did, for all too many the eternally pledged circle is broken. But why? In the United States today, approximately 50% of marriages end in divorce (Christian marriages suffer at an even higher rate), thousands of children are abused physically and sexually, wives are battered, children run away, over 6,000 adolescents annually commit suicide, and families disintegrate. The pressures of our world are immense and most difficult to cope with. Even in our churches we are confronted with the “besetting sins” (Hebrews 12:1) that destroy the circle that was to be unbroken.
Over the past few years it has been my privilege to work with many families who were at their breaking point. There has been a renewed interest among secular and Christian circles also to recognize and acknowledge the immensity of the family breakdown. As impressive as the statistics of divorce, abuse, and self-destruction may be, there remain mixed views amongst the church of Jesus Christ as to how we should approach the wounded or broken family. It is apparent that something must be done to stem the tide.
Let me illustrate.
It was about 3:00 AM when the phone rang. As I rubbed the sleep from my eyes, I listened intently to a story that I have heard only too often. Late the evening before, a rather well-known member of a local church had been arrested. He was being held in custody for alleged sexual abuse against some children in the church. The pastor, a friend of mine, knew all the principle parties very well, and felt caught. He could clearly sense the outrage of the parents of the children who were abused. He was concerned for the children’s welfare. He also experienced a sense of outrage against his friend, a man he had ministered to and fellowshipped with, who had committed this horrible sin.
Yet, he also remembered the Christian commitment of Mr. Jones. He must be terribly frightened, and what about Mrs. Jones? What response would she have? Finally, he had so many questions regarding his own response. What would his church think? What would the Lord do? Excellent questions. Difficult answers!
After I processed through my own feelings of shock and anger (Why me, Lord? I really need the sleep!) I began to explore with this very caring and sensitive pastor some of the options that he and the church might exercise. I have since found that the options that we explored together are typical of evangelical churches and have listed them in their most often used fashion. What would you do?
The Ostrich Approach
Bury it and hide. Pretend that it didn’t happen. Think of the harm that could come if anyone found out. A former colleague, Mr. Gary Juleen, once told me of a certain pastor’s fears of exposing problems in the church. He likened it to the picking up of a rock. When you do so, the bugs start crawling out! Better to keep the rock where it is (and the inherent church problems) than to expose people’s problems, for fear of the repercussions. Let’s not let anyone know. We don’t want to hurt anyone. Unfortunately, this was the approach that this local church board (who overruled the pastor) used to deal with the problem. The results were devastating for Mr. Jones, the family involved, and for the church as a whole, as we will see later.
The Cancer Approach
Mr. Jones had obviously sinned grievously, guilty until proven innocent. The church board feared that, “If we continue to offer fellowship to him, the results could be devastating.” They concluded, “We must cut him off and give total support to the victims only.”
This would certainly be a better solution than the first option. This option does eliminate the “problem” in a hurry. In a hurry is right! Usually it is a hasty decision made out of fear. The use of this option offers much needed support for the victim. It is direct and decisive. But what about Mr. Jones? Where is the compassion he needs? Yes, he has sinned. But in spite of the ugliness of this type of sin, God continues to love Mr. Jones, and desires to restore him. Certainly there are legal consequences for his action. Yet, he still requires restoration through the body of Christ.
The Healing Community
Mr. Jones indeed had sinned in a most destructive and despicable fashion. The sexual abuse of children in our society is one of the leading causes of emotional problems in adults today. The church is not exempt from this sin, as we are now becoming aware. Yet, even in the case of this type of sexual crime and sin, there are some basic principles of operation that we must take in order to fulfill our responsibility in Christ.
First, we must confront the situation head on. We must know the facts as best we can. Yet, we must do so with an open mind.
Second, we must if possible talk with the responsible parties, offering comfort and support, motivated by love. Although Jesus never excused sin or the sinner, He was willing to love and pardon. Each individual needs to be heard and offered clear opportunity for restoration through repentance.
Third, keep all communication confidential, and where necessary, squelch rumors and gossip. There is a natural human tendency to want to know all the details. Fourth, offer continued ministry from the church so that continued restoration might occur. This could include ministry in areas of victim assistance (church support for needed counseling, etc.) and prison outreach. Whatever we do, when one of our own is wounded, even if self inflicted, we must be willing and able to bind up their wounds and allow healing to occur. We must not shoot our wounded.
Most of our churches today are ill prepared to handle such emergencies that will inevitably happen within the family, and the family of God. Few churches have trained laity or pastoral staff who can help in times of real crisis. Yet it is precisely there, between the rock and the hard place, that the love of Christ, carefully and judiciously applied, can most fully and completely “heal the broken hearted and set the captive free.”