I worked in the Food and Beverage industry for many years, so that background has become a part of me.
Suppose a family becomes ill with a foodborne illness. Some of you might remember the e-coli epidemic that spread for a while. When people started dying, the authorities tried to find out why. The honorable restaurant owners looked at their own training and procedures to try to determine what it was that was making the conditions favorable to the growth of this deadly bacteria.
It wasn’t the conditions themselves that caused illness and death. It was the e-coli. But there was something about certain restaurants that caused deadly bacteria to thrive. Are the temperatures too warm or not hot enough? Are there appropriate hand-washing techniques in place? Is the staff thoroughly trained on food safety issues.
The goal of any successful food and beverage establishment is to create conditions that are hostile to the growth of deadly bacteria.
Many years ago, I noticed trends in conservative churches. There were way, way too many instances of abuse of women, degradation of women, despising of women and even criminal activity against women and deadly or potentially deadly assaults.
This trend was accompanied by a trend of child sexual assault by men in authority – pastors, youth leaders, Sunday School teachers. I know that, for the reasons mentioned further down, many will at this point say, “You are exaggerating! You are attacking Christ’s body!!” So suffice it for now for me to mention Anna Salter’s landmark work on Predators where she thoroughly documents everything that I just said.
One thing that Salter mentions is that predators against children find churches to be the easiest targets. As soon as they get out of prison, they lay out their plans to find a church with children, groom the leadership, and do as they please.
They make the plans. They carry them out. And the results are well documented.
So after seeing these disturbing trends, and being a pastor charged with the care of the sheep that God has placed in my care, I asked myself a very important question. “What is it in our churches that makes the conditions so favorable to predators, abusers, revilers, adulterers, and tyrants?”
At that point, I began to examine the interpretations of scripture that make the hunting grounds so favorable to wolves. And asked, “Is this really what scripture says?”
Does scripture really say that a woman must endure abuse “for a season” until she can get her elders involved?
Does it say that she must get the permission of the elders before she can get a divorce?
Does the scripture say that the steps of Matthew 18 must be followed before a parent is allowed to report a crime against her child to the authorities?
Does the scripture teach that a woman is at least partially to blame for her rape, no matter the circumstances, for “putting herself in that situation”?
Does 1 Corinthians 6 really say that it is sinful to report criminal activity to the police?
Does the scripture actually say that a man has the absolute right to command his wife to any degrading, insufferable thing that crosses his fancy and she must obey (as long as it isn’t ‘sinful’)? Does submission mean that she must scrub the kitchen on her hands and knees wearing only her underwear, using only her toothbrush, if that is what catches the man’s fancy at the moment (I have actually heard this used).
And I started to see that the e-coli of tyranny and abuse is actually finding the perfect environment to flourish in our churches – especially those trained in nouthetic counseling. We should, instead, do everything in our power to make the culture of the church as inhospitable to abusers and predators as we possible can.
The resistance to that idea is immediate, brutal, unrelenting and harsh. I have found that the unrelenting persecution against those who seek to purify the culture of the church is far, far greater than anything I have experienced from “the world”. People despise change, and the really, really despise losing their power over other people.
It is nothing new. There were many attempts to reform the morals of the church in the middle ages, but those few who dared to question the system that allowed immorality to flourish met with a quick, fiery, painful end.
It wasn’t until the Reformation that the problem was revealed. Immorality was not an anomaly to the Roman system. It was bred throughout every part of it. It was woven into the fabric of the system itself, until there was no hope for it at all. Money, power, control and the status quo are the perfect environment for all manner of evil to flourish.
While I was thinking about this, I watched a white police officer dispassionately kneel on the neck of a black man. He did not lose his temper. He was not frightened for his life. He knew that he was being filmed. And he knew that he was killing the man slowly and painfully, in public, and he didn’t care.
And I ask myself, “What is it about the culture of our systems of power that cause this kind of wickedness to flourish?”
“Well, we don’t know the whole story…” as if something can make a slow, public execution morally acceptable.
“It was one wicked man, not the system…” and yet it happens so frequently that he did not feel the need to hide his actions, cover his actions or make excuses. He wasn’t afraid or timid. He coolly, calmly, and without any emotion whatsoever slowly executed a black man because he knew he could and get away with it.
I hope he doesn’t, and I hope that there will be earthly justice done for George Floyd.
But even more than that, I hope that those in law enforcement and in churches and in positions of authority throughout the country ask themselves, “Why did he think that this was acceptable behavior?”
Was it a secret to his locker room buddies that he had within himself the ability to do such a thing?
Or did they hear his racist rants, and say nothing. How many other violent incidents were covered up, buried, exonerated, or just ‘put in his file”.
If we are going to put the power of life and death in the hands of a few men and women, should we not all hold them to the highest standards?
I love the church of Jesus Christ, and I love my profession. For that reason, I do everything I can to purge out the leaven that causes abusers and predators to flourish.
So please do not think that this is an attack against LEOs. It is a plea. If there are good and honorable men and women in this profession, which I wholeheartedly believe, perhaps now is the time to take a long look at the culture that continually allows this sort of thing to take place.
You will not ever be able to root out all evil. But you could at least make the environment intolerable enough so that it doesn’t flourish and never breaks out again into open murder. The way to stop e-coli is to create a hostile environment to it.
The way to stop predators in the church is to create a hostile environment to them. This is called “Church discipline” and is the mark of the true church.
The way to stop murderers, tyrants and racists in law enforcement is to create a hostile working condition to them.
When murder takes place openly, without fear, without passion, in a calm environment, over a period of 8 minutes, something is desperately wrong.
If you stand up in your own departments and your own agencies and say, “Not here. Not today. Not ever again” perhaps you can make a difference. I’ll stand with you. There is always room for more. In the words of Arlo Guthrie, maybe it could be a movement.