We obviously need to do what we can to prevent sexual abuse, but we also need to have a plan in place for how to respond if it does occur. Once your real interests are at stake and your church’s reputation is on the line, it can become far too easy to rationalize bad behavior.
“But what about 1 Corinthians 6:1–6?” some will ask. That’s the passage where Paul reprimands the Corinthian believers for taking their disputes to court. I would submit that this passage—like all biblical passages—should be read with careful attention to the context that surrounds it, chapters 5 and 6, in which Paul is especially severe on sexual sins. They are not among the “trivial cases” being taken to court that he refers to in 6:2; on the contrary, he goes so far as to instruct perpetrators to be handed over “to Satan for the destruction of the flesh” (5:5). It seems that certain transgressions are beyond the church’s power to address adequately.
That is especially true of sins of abuse. As Owen Strachan wrote in a Christianity Today article on domestic violence, “The civic ruler, Paul says, acts as an ‘avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer’ (Rom. 13:4, ESV). When churches teach otherwise, they not only fail to provide psychological and emotional care, they also fail theologically. Divine vengeance cries out to be exercised against evil.”
Given all this, and given how difficult it is to evaluate our own leaders objectively, it is essential to have sexual abuse allegations investigated by an independent party that does not have a vested interest in the church. If we want the church to be a safe place of healing, we can’t afford to cover up the truth. The first step, though, is finding it.