(This is a cut-and-paste entry from my public blog.)
"Dad molested me when I was a kid."
Those are hard words for anyone to say, hard words for anyone to hear.
When preacher Jimmy Hinton heard those words, they punched him in the gut.
Because the person who said those words, Alex Howlett, was Jimmy Hinton's sister.
So when Alex said, "Dad molested me," she was saying that it was their father, Church of Christ pastor John Hinton, who'd preached for the Somerset Church of Christ in Pennsylvania for 27 years, who'd done it.
Jimmy Hinton did two things.
First, he told Alex, "I believe you."
Second, he reported his father to the police.
That report prompted an investigation which resulted in John Hinton pleading guilty to the sexual assault of four girls, ages four to seven. John Hinton is now in the Rockville State Prison, serving a 30- to 60-year sentence.
Contrast this with an incident in the Uniontown Church of Christ in Uniontown, Pennsylvania.
When a judge sentenced volunteer youth minister Clyde Brothers on charges of "corruption of minors and indecent exposure", part of his ruling was to order Brothers not to attend the church "until and unless there is a signed waiver of this provision . . .by the governing authority of the said Church."
Soon after, the elders met to consider granting that waiver and to allow Brothers to continue worshiping with the congregation.
A mother of one of the victims told the Christian Chronicle, "It's almost like Clyde is more important than the victims are."
(The judge's decision was reversed on appeal due to the fact that the statutes of limitations had run out.)
Les Ferguson, pastor for the Lake Harbor Church of Christ in Mississippi, is tragically familiar with the subject of sexual abuse. A member of his former congregation, the Orange Grove Church of Christ in Gulfport, Mississippi, offered to babysit Les' son Cole once a week. Cole was severely disabled, and Les' wife Karen badly needed the break.
The member used that time to rape Cole, and he threatened Cole with death if he told.
Cole eventually did tell, and Les and Karen reported the predator to the police. The man was arrested, released on bail, and while out on bail, he murdered Karen and Cole before committing suicide.
And just last week, a Church of Christ minister in the Sarasota, Florida area -- a registered sex offender -- was arrested on charges of possession of child pornography.
I've deliberately picked stories from Churches of Christ because they are my "tribe" of believers. The news media, over the last several years, has covered the abuse of children by Catholic priests, and more recently, they've covered widespread sexual abuse in Southern Baptist convention churches and in other evangelical churches. But this is not a problem that exists only in "denominational churches". Churches of Christ deal with it, also. We are no different.
I grow weary of the continual reports of sexual abuse among people who claim to be Christians. Jimmy Hinton grew up admiring his preacher father, and it was because of him that Jimmy, himself, entered the ministry. Christians tend to be trusting of other people who claim to be Christians. We love a good repentance story and we love a good story of forgiveness. God does forgive. People do repent and change and stay changed.
On the other hand, sexual abuse is a crime that stays with the victim for life. I don't think we appreciate just how shattering the crime of sexual abuse is. Too many of us treat it as a "sin" and tell the victim, "the Bible says you must forgive," and demand immediate forgiveness. I don't hear the same emphasis on telling the offender "you must repent and prove your repentance by your deeds".
Jimmy Hinton still preaches. He also is an advocate for victims of sexual assault and consults with church leaders on the topic of abuse.
Alex Howlett no longer goes to church. She said in an interview, "I don't like the idea of God as a fatherly thing. If that's who He is He wasn't there for me. If my dad was supposed to be someone who was spreading His word -- that's not the case at all."
None of the victims from the Uniontown Church of Christ remain in church. One victim is in jail, and two of them have committed suicide.
Les Ferguson has remarried, and he preaches, but he is still without his first wife and his son.
(Snark alert here.)
But go ahead, let's keep arguing about instrumental music, and whether or not women can preach, and whether or not we can have kitchens in a church building, and whether or not it's a sin to turn in your contribution to the church early because you're going to be out of town on Sunday.
Because we all know that we are saved by the five-step plan of salvation in order to perform the five acts of worship -- preaching/teaching, singing, prayer, taking up of a collection, and taking the Lord's Supper -- on Sunday, and only on Sunday.
After all, that's the most important thing.