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Sexual Abuse Among Us

The absence of 19 Kids and Counting from airwaves has caused no small disturbance in my home. The program, which follows the Duggars and their multitudinous progeny, was one of the few shows my wife and I considered a safe haven among the sea of filth on television. Our young daughters have become so familiar with the Duggar clan that they know each one by name and talk about the events in their lives like they talk about friends from church. As parents, we’re pleased they looked up to young ladies who practice modesty, active service, and an underlying concern to honor their parents and God with their lives.

And that’s why we’re so disturbed over the reason 19 Kids and Counting has been taken off air. The revelation of a trusted family member sexually molesting those young girls hits us hard—not just because we feel like we know them, but because if this can happen to the Duggars, what about families in our own church? What about our own family?

The media have responded with continued attempts to dig up and display the shameful details of Joshua Duggar’s past and repented sin. This has been accompanied by an analysis of how appropriately his parents, his church, and law enforcement did or did not respond. As both a prosecuting attorney and a pastor, I am particularly intrigued and concerned by these unfolding events.

But how should the church respond? How should we deal with similar situations of abuse and wickedness in our midst?

Remember, This Is Not Your Task 

When confronted with heinous and shocking sexual sin in the home, church members—pastors included—may be tempted to adopt a role they weren’t meant to play. Elders or pastors are not detectives, police officers, or judges. Our duty is to care for the flock. We express this care mainly through the ministry of God’s Word, but caring for the flock in these situations always entails practical steps to ensure the physical safety of the church in general and the victim in particular.

You must remember God’s appointed ministers of the law. Victims must be helped out of their victimization, and abusers must be cut off from all potential venues of abuse. Romans 13 commands us to “be subject to the governing authorities” (v. 1) whom Paul further identifies as “a minister of God to you for good” (v. 4a). The government bears the sword “for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil” (v. 4b).

Sexual abuse is a crime, and the task of investigating and punishing it is not yours. Nor is it the pastor’s. Pastors don’t bear the sword. They aren’t avengers who bring wrath. Our governing authorities do.

Recognize the Responsibility to Report 

In every state, laws identify “mandated reporters.” A mandated reporter is someone required by law to immediately report the abuse or neglect of a child to law enforcement or a public children’s service agency. In Ohio, where I practice as a prosecuting attorney, mandated reporters include a “person, other than a cleric, rendering spiritual treatment through prayer in accordance with the tenets of a well-recognized religion” (Ohio Revised Code section 2151.421).

Regardless of the specific language of the law in your state, every Christian has a moral duty to protect the abused by informing the governing authorities. A pastor, however, has both a both a moral and also legal responsibility to report claims of abuse. We must immediately notify the governing authorities when a child was or is at risk. Sexual abuse isn’t something to handle only within the church. We must involve the law.

When you notify the authorities, do so with sensitivity. The process will be difficult for everyone involved. Both the abused and the abuser will fear the consequences. Assure them that dealing with sin means accepting its consequences. God’s forgiveness doesn’t forego the sword of the government or the repercussions of sin. God can forgive a murderer of his sin and save him from eternal punishment, but the murderer still must face the punishment of men.

My Two Burdens

My burden as a prosecuting attorney and a pastor is that gospel-believing church members tell the world we hate abuse because it offends God’s glory and harms the innocent. We’re willing to cooperate with God’s means of common grace in the criminal justice system. We’re willing to comfort and receive victims. And we’re willing to walk through the just consequences with truly repentant perpetrators.

My other burden as a prosecuting attorney and a pastor is that gospel-believing church members tell both victims and abusers that the sound doctrine of God’s Word and the gospel of Christ is enough to meet their needs, heal their pain, free them from fear, and give them true and everlasting life.

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