But who can detect their errors? Clear me from hidden faults. Psalm 19:12
Jesus said, “Anyone who comes to me I will never drive away.” John 6:37
My heart sank as I read the recent exposé in the Houston Chronicle about sexual abuse in the Southern Baptist church. Lord, have mercy! I can’t imagine the pain, shame, and distress those who have suffered such abuse must live with. To be betrayed by those who have spiritual authority over them – ones to whom they look as examples and spiritual guides – is treachery beyond imagination.
One might jump to conclusions about why this was allowed to happen. The Southern Baptist Convention is an association of more than 46,000 churches in the United States. Each congregation is autonomous, with little if any hierarchical structure. Some say it is because of that lack of control that the reported abuses occurred and were allowed to continue. Pastors and others were passed on from one church to another without warning or any centralized database to check.
Sadly, it seems not to be so easily solved. The Roman Catholic Church is on the other end of the spectrum of congregational control and oversight. The continuing sexual abuse scandal in that church body shows how little control the church actually has over these kinds of behaviors – even those with highly-developed oversight and hierarchical control.
I think of the church I serve and pray that God protects us from such horrific behaviors. When I see these verses I realize what a vitally significant role shame plays in all this. Shame prevents those who are lured into the darkness of sexual abuse from coming into the light. The victims do not wish to be known as having endured such abuse. The predators are afraid to come into the light because their deeds are so evil.
Shame is the caustic emotion that eats away our souls. Shame is all about me, not just about what I’ve done. Shame is embracing the reality of one’s sinfulness without any sense of God’s redemptive love. Jon Bloom writes about shame.
The key to breaking the power of pride-fueled shame is the superior power of humility-fueled faith in the work of Christ and the promises of Christ. Shame pronounces us guilty and deficient. Jesus pronounces us guiltless and promises that his grace will be sufficient for us in all our weaknesses (2 Corinthians 12:9–10). Christ is all (Colossians 3:11). As we trust Jesus as our righteousness (Philippians 3:9) and our provider of everything we need (Philippians 4:19), shame will lose its power over us.
I don’t believe we need to air our dirty laundry, but I do believe we need to be honest about our sins and faults. We must learn to admit – as Martin Luther is reported to have said on his deathbed – that “we are all beggars. This is true.” But we can also say we are loved by God, and received by Jesus. No one – shame-ridden or racked with pain and illness – will be turned away from Jesus. These are Jesus’ own words, and the foundation of humility-fueled faith which we all so desperately need.