“And Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am Joseph! Can my father be still alive? They were so dumbfounded at finding themselves face to face with Joseph that they could not answer.” (Genesis 45:3 REB)
Thus came to an end one of the great deceptions of the Bible with the deceivers dumbfounded by their own deception: they had no doubt come to believe their own lie about what had happened to Joseph and the lie regarding their own role in plotting his demise. Ten brothers conspired together to lie to their father about Joseph’s death, and through the many years accepted their own version of the lie as truth (after all, by this time, Joseph surely must be dead). What could they do? Once the lie had been told, there was nothing left but to live by it.
But in Genesis 45, the lie and cover up were exposed and now the conspiring brotherhood has to go back to their father, who is at this point an old man who bore the grief of losing a son all his life, and tell him the good news – you’ve been made to grieve for nothing all your life, your son is alive! Which of course simultaneously exposes not only their lie but their evil deed as well.
“Oh what a tangled web we weave, When first we practice to deceive.” (Sir Walter Scott)
Such I think is also the dilemma the Church faces in dealing with issues of clergy sexual abuse and misconduct. The Church not openly addressing these issues used to be justified on the basis that such truth would so scandalize the faithful and harm innocent souls that it was better to cover over and cover up such sins and deal with them internally and secretly. All done for the supposed good of the faithful who would lose their faith and trust… in God or only in the leadership? Would that it were the case that the institution was so worried about protecting its membership. But in failing to deal frankly with the problem, the membership is not protected at all from the problem, but only is prevented from understanding the risk. This ends up protecting the institution and its leaders, not the flock. Secrets and darkness are the friends of the devil.
Once the leadership of the church is trafficking in secrets, there is a horrible price to be paid by and in the Church. There should be no secrets about sin in the Church, for the Church exists to triumph over sin and death, not to hide its secrets: “since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” (Romans 3:23 – the “all” presumably includes the clergy). Three Scripture verses for the Church to consider in dealing with clergy sexual misconduct:
Jesus said: “For there is nothing hid, except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret, except to come to light.” (Mark 4:22)
“Meanwhile, when the crowd gathered by the thousands, so that they trampled on one another, Jesus began to speak first to his disciples, ‘Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees, that is, their hypocrisy. Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed from the housetops.’” (Luke 12:1-3)
“For it is a shame even to speak of the things that they do in secret; but when anything is exposed by the light it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light.” (Ephesians 5:12-13)
Now we live in a very litigious society and people sue and threaten to sue even the Church constantly over every issue. There is in the case of clergy sexual misconduct many factors for the Church to take into consideration in deciding how to publicly deal with such misconduct. There are victims and their rights and needs to consider. There may be other innocent victims – spouses and children not only of the victims but of the clergy who engage in misconduct. There are parish communities to consider, the law, confidentiality, human rights and innocence until guilt is proven. Lawyers and church legal committees favor a very high degree of secrecy to avoid lawsuits.
But what the Church has to do is taking into consideration all of those factors – courts, laws, victims, victim rights, the rights of the accused, innocent victims and witnesses and confidentiality – and come up with a plan for how to deal publicly and transparently with the sins and failures of the clergy. We should never be like the brothers of Joseph conspiring together to cover up the sins of some or one of the brothers. That is not Christian ethics.
Today in the OCA some seem to think that current controversies are only about a culture war in which one man wants to speak boldly and others want to silence him. A real battle has to deal with the temptation of secrets and of covering over problems within the institutional church. There is a need for consistent church discipline, rather than a PR campaign which mixes up what people want to be true with the truth of how things are done. It is not a cultural war but a spiritual warfare.
(See also my blogs Sexual Abuse in the Church, The Meek: The Avenger of the Abused, Christian Sexual Abuse: Apostasy of the Worst Kind, Celibacy and Sobriety, Allegations and Accusations, and Sexual Misconduct in the Church: Where Truth, Justice and Wisdom Meet)