The Book of Ecclesiastes, Ch. 1, verses 9-10 states:
“What has been, that will be; what has been done, that will be done. Nothing is new under the sun. Even the thing of which we say, ‘See, this is new!’ has already existed in the ages which preceded us.”
It goes on in verse 11 to say that—and I paraphrase here—we just tend not to remember what transpired in ages past, and future ages will tend not to remember what happens now.
This can be comforting, because if we do look back at history we clearly see that our generation is not the first to be scandalized by members of our beloved church. Going all the way back to the beginning, we find the very first scandal; one of Christ’s own chosen inner circle betrayed him to his death. We don’t stop and think much about this aspect of Christ’s betrayal, but I’d be willing to bet that the other eleven apostles and the rest of Jesus’s followers also felt very betrayed by Judas, who was one of their own. As we progress throughout history, we see the church embroiled in scandal after scandal. The Holy Roman Empire was created by Constantine’s forced conversion on its citizens under threat of death. Moving on, we find soldiers representing the church at the behest of the popes, looting and killing in the “holy wars” against Muslims, the Crusades. The Great Schism found eastern and western branches of Christianity excommunicating each other in fights over words in the Creed and other, mostly political, differences. Yet further along, we come to the Spanish Inquisition, with church leaders literally murdering people, who did not accept or dared to question official church positions, the most famous example being the burning at the stake of Joan of Arc, later declared a saint. Great scientists and thinkers, even theologians, have been silenced or excommunicated for grappling with important questions about the universe. Think Galileo, condemned by the church for centuries, because God’s great gift of his scientific mind led to questions about whether the earth really was or was not the center of the universe. He, too, has now been vindicated. The point, my friends, is that scandal is not new to our beloved church— not by a long shot. We have faced many scandals throughout history and this is simply one more—no doubt, there will be others in the future.
Scandal at one time or another enters into any human institution. And even though the church is a divine institution, its day to day affairs are left in the hands of human beings. And human beings are always tempted by power and control. There is much truth to the old adage, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” No one knew that better than Jesus Himself. That’s why he made it clear to his disciples that they were not to lord it over anyone, but rather were to be servants of all. And make no mistake; contrary to popular belief, this sexual abuse crisis and any cover-up it has engendered are in no way about sexuality; they are entirely about power and control—power and control over oneself and over others.
But let us not fall into the trap of negativity. If we do that, evil will have won. Though our history is filled with scandal, it is also filled with much good and we have tried to learn from our mistakes. Our history clearly shows that our church has survived all the scandals of history and it has prevailed. We will again prevail. We may not be able to see, right now, how or when or what the future will look like, but the church has survived every scandal throughout history and we can say with assurance that it will survive this one, too!
So, let us never give up. Some of our leaders may be flawed, as all humans are flawed, but they are not the church. We all together are the church. Without a community, there would be no need for leaders of any kind. Yet every successful community needs leaders, and there are many good leaders among us. Let us work together with these good leaders to continue to build the church and to move it more in the direction that God is leading it. And if we let God and ask for God’s help, God will lead us!
If this crisis teaches us anything, let it teach us that human beings make up the leadership of our church; let us no longer expect them to be super-human. Let us no longer place them on pedestals from which they must look down at us and from which it is nearly impossible to relate to the rest of us as equals and in a healthy manner. Let us turn this crisis into something positive, by using it as an opportunity to create a system which better nourishes our good leaders, and helps them live the ideals for which we all strive as Christians. Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to be with us always—till the end of time. Jesus and His Holy Spirit always keep God’s promises! So let us never despair!