One story is hardly finished before the media is moving on to the next; unfortunately our waning attention spans affirm this methodology. As a result, we often continue through life unaware of how something major today was affected by the minor shift of a month ago. Periodically, Christians would do well to engage in a review and reflection process, noting what was and the impact of it. As I look over the last months, two major Christian stories have brought forth the attention of the secular media: abuses propagated by the Southern Baptist Convention and by Harvest Chapel (specifically, Pastor James MacDonald).
If you are not aware of the stories, they are quite simple. Years ago many were left dumbfounded by the prevalence of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. Every few years now, society is left shocked when yet another group is exposed for its sexual sins. Recently, those groups have included United States gymnastics and even the whole industry of Hollywood. The latest revelation comes from a report on the Southern Baptist Convention and the prevalence of sexual abuse within its congregations. Unrelated to this was the infatuation with Pastor James MacDonald and Harvest Chapel (Chicago). In a story that has been cultivated for years, MacDonald was recently fired for abuses against the church (along the line of anger and verbal tirades).
Neither of these stories is a surprise. Over the last year and half, prominent Southern Baptists have attempted to direct attention towards this very serious problem. While they have had limited success, there was a clear call to note that there may be a problem within their churches and it needed to be addressed. In the same way, the charges against Pastor James MacDonald have long been made, both publicly and privately. Some have publicly questioned his ability to control emotions. While both are being charged with a level of abuse, there is a root cause to consider: sin. At the very heart of the issue is man’s propensity to sin. While we should always mourn over sin and sometimes shocked at the depths of it, its influence does not surprise us. Therefore, neither of these stories is unexpected in that sense.
Unfortunately, many of us undermine the serious of sin. We do not give it enough credit, thinking we are strong enough on our own to disengage from it. Seeing these public stories breakthrough the secular media should cause us to see something very important: we must take sin seriously and be proactive in protecting ourselves from it. This means that we put barriers in place to limit sin’s propensity to influence and we add levels of protection in order to limit our ability to engage it.
I lament that we live in a day that once a story is sensationalized we move on. That seems to be what is happening here. Society’s attention was captured, people were ridiculed, the damage was done, and now is the time to move on to the next story. This methodology of news presentation accomplishes nothing. It offers no dialogue, no solution, but only seeks destruction and division. For Christians, this methodology is more concerning because it damages our testimony and offers no ability for grace and redemption. Therefore, instead of merely avoiding the attention, these two stories offer an opportunity to present God’s grace and God’s capacity. However, there are five responses that Christians must have:
- Remorse: The first aspect is remorse. God is grieved over sin and we too should mourn it. Mourning of sin can demonstrate a conviction of it in light of God’s holiness.
- Repentance: Along with remorse is genuine repentance. Repentance is initiated by a willing confession to what took place, a willing attitude to turn from the sin, and a willing acceptance of accountability for it.
- Restitution: Additionally, restitution needs to be made. Let me be clear, I am not being charged referring to money and am not here saying, for example, that the Southern Baptist Churches need to financially pay to the point of losing all their resources. Perhaps monetary restitution is part of the process, but let’s be cautious that we don’t define sin’s impact by a monetary value. Restitution may also mean the loss of position, loss of respect, etc.
- Reflection: Reflection also needs to take place. Those engaging in sin need to understand that sin impacts others and need to be guided away from that sin. This is hard because it requires intense effort from others through counseling, discipleship, etc. Often we are not willing to give this kind of commitment to someone who has sinned so grievously, but in these moments is when we must be active in directing them towards God.
- Restoration: Finally, restoration. Restoration is a key activity in God’s kingdom. Christ’s work on the cross restores us to God in our sinful state and is a model for restoration to one another. This may not mean that a relationship may ever return to what it once was, after all, sin has consequences and impacts relationships. It does mean though that people are able to move forward by relying on and pointing to God. Also, restoration does not necessarily mean a quick return to one’s previous position – that may be a possibility depending on the circumstances, but only after much time and evidence of ongoing growth. Restoration in this case simply means a restoration of fellowship within the body of Christ by recognizing and acting on the graciousness of God.
Each of these aspects is deserving of pages of dialogue in order to be adequately explained and understood, but hopefully we can see how remorse, repentance, restitution, reflection, and restoration are key aspects to dealing with sin.
While addressing the James MacDonald situation on his podcast (Wretched Radio) on February 18, 2019, Todd Friel indicated that sometimes it takes the secular media to get churches to act. Those words are true. The secular media should not be allowed to dictate the Christian storyline though, because we can be certain that they do not understand spiritual things. Instead, Christians must be willing to address such serious sins first recognizing what is at stake (God’s glory, the church’s testimony, and the world’s salvation). These accusations are serious, therefore they must be seriously dealt with in a biblical way. We must seek to honor God by responding to the situations not hiding from them.
Photo by Emran Yousof on Unsplash