"Doctrines can still be good, true, beautiful, and helpful despite the ways they've been abused or misconstrued in the past."
The Gospel Coalition recently featured an interesting post entitled Abuse Does Not Take Away Use written by Derek Rishmawy. It begins with these words:
In my online forays, I've observed it's increasingly common for people to explicitly reject a doctrine, or the notion of orthodox teaching in general, on the basis of its abuse. You'll often read something along these lines: "I grew up in a church that had a heavy emphasis on doctrine X (depravity, judgment, sola scriptura, etc.). My pastors and elders used that doctrine to berate people, cow them into submission, or excuse horrible evils." So now, whenever they hear doctrine X, they can't accept it because they know (feel) it's a tool being used to control them or bring about another harmful result. In fact, some will go further and elevate this reaction into a principle of theological methodology: if a doctrine could be or has been used to hurt or damage, it must be rejected out of hand. If they don't preach against the doctrine being applied that way, then people will.
After reading the post, I immediately wondered two things.
– Why was it necessary?
– Why didn't one of the high-profile bloggers linked to TGC's website write it?
It seems that those affiliated with The Gospel Coalition have been getting pushback, and we believe some of it is justified. Rishmawy goes on to state:
Any doctrine can be distorted or misused to harm others.
No one would dispute that statement. Again, the issue is: why is The Gospel Coalition taking a defensive position?
What we have been witnessing from those whom we label as Calvinstas is that they appear to set themselves up as the ‘authority’ when it comes to interpreting and applying scripture. This has been done systematically through the many conferences they hold, the plethora of books they generate, their version of the Bible (ESV), the networks they establish, etc. They have been working diligently for at least a decade (probably much longer) to establish this ‘authority’. To some degree they operated in a vacuum for quite a while, but it appears the internet has changed all that.
Getting back to the distortion of doctrine, Rishmawy writes:
Or take the classic teaching on forgiveness. Christians are told God is a forgiving God, having forgiven all our sins in Christ at the cross. We're then told to forgive those who sin against us as Christ has commanded. Unfortunately some have taken this teaching on forgiveness and used it to force victims to "forgive" their abusers in ways that essentially brush over sin and ignore the reality of justice.
Pick almost any doctrine (creation, fall, grace, and so on) and you'll find some way it has been abused and applied improperly. Given this reality, if our main criterion for accepting or rejecting a doctrine is whether it can be used to harm others, we'll be left with a mere two-word creed: "I believe."
What is terribly upsetting about this example – forcing victims to “forgive” their abusers – is that quite a few ‘survivors’ have alleged that this happened in Sovereign Grace Ministries under the leadership of TGC Council Member C.J. Mahaney. To make matters worse, we had three of Mahaney’s colleagues, namely Don Carson, Kevin DeYoung, and Justin Taylor, come to Mahaney’s defense in their controversial post Why We Have Been Silent About the SGM Lawsuit, featured on TGC’s website soon after the lawsuit was dismissed. It is worth noting that after the post has been up for a while, it was amended to clarify that this was strictly the opinion of the signatories and not all those affiliated with The Gospel Coalition.
We certainly hope TGC leaders would not take the ‘forgive your abuser’ position described in Rishmawy’s post; however, there are some Christian leaders who do. Perhaps those conferences and books can be used to instruct those leaders who have a tendency to take scripture beyond where God intended.
Rishmawy then states:
One of the most important rules I've learned in my theological studies is abusus non tollit usum—"abuse does not take away use."
In other words, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater!
If high-profile leaders in The Gospel Coalition would speak up for those who have been hurt and stop protecting their own, then perhaps Rishmawy’s post would be unnecessary. When there is a wall of silence on matters that many Christians believe should be addressed, the Calvinistas are only hurting their tribe.
The initial response to any form of abuse in the church should show compassion for the alleged victims. Furthermore, help should immediately be offered. Please, please don't sweep it under the rug!
Rishmawy concludes his post with this recommendation:
I'd encourage you to search the Scriptures, though, before rejecting something only on the basis of your negative experience. It may take some years of books, conversations, good churches, and perhaps a good biblical counselor, but it's worth it not to reject some key truth of the gospel just because some wicked teacher ruined it for you.
With a conclusion like that, we are left wondering whether Rishmawy has any compassion for those who have been abused in the church.
Perhaps it was divine providence that the following story appeared in yesterday’s Washington Post.
The Post article begins as follows:
In the first major study of child abuse and neglect in 20 years, researchers with the National Academy of Sciences reported Thursday that the damaging consequences of abuse can not only reshape a child’s brain but also last a lifetime.
Untreated, the effects of child abuse and neglect, the researchers found, can profoundly influence victims’ physical and mental health, their ability to control emotions and impulses, their achievement in school, and the relationships they form as children and as adults.
The researchers recommended an “immediate, coordinated” national strategy to better understand, treat and prevent child abuse and neglect, noting that each year, abuse and neglect costs an estimated $80 billion in the direct costs of hospitalization, law enforcement and child welfare and the indirect costs of special education, juvenile and adult criminal justice, adult homelessness, and lost work productivity.
Since we began blogging, we have heard from MANY who have been hurt, and those comments and private e-mails have spurred us on in our endeavor to speak out against abuse of any kind.
The Post article states:
Child abuse and neglect is a serious public health problem which requires immediate, urgent attention,” said Anne Petersen, a professor at the Center for Human Growth and Development at the University of Michigan who chaired the research committee for the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council of the National Academies. “The consequences can last into adulthood, with significant costs to the individual, to families, and to society.”
The report, produced at the request of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, found that while rates of physical and sexual child abuse have declined in the past 20 years, rates of emotional and psychological abuse, the kind that can produce the most serious long-lasting effects, have increased. Rates of neglect have held fairly steady. Researchers said they do not know why.
The article goes on to explain why it is so important to reach out to the victims and promptly get them the help they need. It states:
If we can intervene and change a child’s environment, we actually see plasticity in the brain. So, we see negative changes when a child is abused, but we also see positive brain changes when the abuse ends and they are more supported. Interventions can be very effective.
Finally, we find it curious that none of the TGC Council members who staunchly defended a certain pastor in ministry wrote this post.
If we continue to publicize abuse (particularly via the internet), then the Christian leaders who have been silent for far too long will only open themselves up to further scrutiny.
It’s time for those who embrace the doctrines of grace to show grace and mercy to those who have been hurt.
Lydia's Corner: Nehemiah 3:15-5:13 1 Corinthians 7:25-40 Psalm 32:1-11 Proverbs 21:5-7