What If Kermit Gosnell Came to Your Church?

April 24, 2013

imagesThe thing about monsters is that they don’t hide in closets or under beds like we thought.

They hide in plain sight.

Think about it.  Monsters stay well hidden not because they live in the dark, but because they are masters of disguise.  They build ordinary looking lives.  They hide in workplaces, in churches, neighborhoods and civic clubs.  They live in plain daylight with you and me and everyone is so surprised when they are found out.  They are always the person everyone least suspected.

Kermit Gosnell hid in plain sight for a while before he was caught.  He built a halfway house for people trying to get clean from drugs and a teen aid program.  He was an upstanding citizen in his community.

So, what if you found out that some respected citizen and professing Christian at your church turned out to be a monster in disguise?

You Can Hide In Church, But Not In Google

One of the most practical hours I spent in seminary was a discussion on how to protect churches from scammers, criminals and predators.  Sadly, much of what the professor had to tell us was learned the hard way.  The damage was already done.  And believe me, when even one person is victimized in a church, it tears the whole group apart.

It’s not like there is a kind of church that is more vulnerable than another.  The gamut ranges from tiny country churches to major Catholic churches where predators can strike.  And it’s clear to me that most of us are simply not looking for monsters in their midst.  Churches that don’t do background checks (or at least Google) everyone who wants to become a member or be in charge of anything aren’t just careless.  They’re negligent.  A church that thinks a monster could never show up here is just being stupid.

It’s just not a matter of if, but when.  You need to be prepared to uncover a monster in your midst.

Don’t Be Too Trusting

There’s a difference between finding out someone in your church is a drunk or looks at porn, and then finding out that guy over there is actually abusing others or engaging in criminal activity.

Pastors and teachers are legally bound to report to police when they suspect that children are being abused.  There is no such thing as church discipline when legal discipline takes precedence.  The problem with so many churches is that they are full of people who would rather cover-up, pussyfoot around, or play pretend that nothing is happening in order to protect the church, rather than protect victims.

Why are monsters able to hide so well in churches?  Because Christians are often just too innocent, too trusting and too forgiving.

There Are Always Consequences

Most of all, churches need to be ready to confront evil, wicked people, to protect their people, whatever the consequences are.

There will always be consequences when evil people are thwarted.  Some people may not like such decisive action, preferring to defend or forgive the abusers in order to maintain a facade of unity.  There may be unwanted attention from outsiders or any other negative effects.

But churches need to be thinking about the much worse consequences of doing nothing.  Is a child’s innocence worth the inaction of adults? What about when the monster gets caught by police?  When monsters get caught, there is always a big bright spotlight shone on all the places they hid in plain sight.  You don’t want that kind of awful publicity.

Look Who Decided to Show Up

Why do I care so much?  Why does Kermit Gosnell make me think about this?  Because several years ago I was in a church that was put in that very situation.

He seemed normal at first.  Respectable.  Affable.  Professed to be a Christian.  But he raised suspicions and red flags.  And it didn’t take more than a Google search to start tumbling down the rabbit hole.  In our little church of less than fifty, a monster showed up.  He was a physician.

But he was running an illegal abortion practice.  And…

…putting the fetuses on the organ black market.

All these years later, I can barely even type out those words, much less speak them aloud.  You’d better believe we were mortified and scared out of our wits.  We didn’t know what else he was capable of.  And there were devastating consequences for shining a light on evil.  It tore the church apart.

But I’ve never been prouder of my church than when we dealt with the consequences of doing the right thing.

What about you?  Has your church ever dealt with a predator, a criminal or an abuser?  What happened?

10 responses to What If Kermit Gosnell Came to Your Church?

  1. Matt, thank you for sharing and for your wise words.

    At the moment, our small town is reeling from a teen’s death and another teen who almost died from a drug overdose (injecting a variation of “bath salts”). Because most of our families and teachers and upstanding citizens are church-going folks, all your observations apply. I hope that this tragedy will inspire adults to deal with this problem and stop hiding behind the screen I hear over and over and over: “We have good kids.”

  2. I have attended a church where a shell-shocked pastor should have been removed earlier than he was and a monster showed up but was arrested and convicted a year into being part of our church and didn’t have the opportunity to ruin the innocence of children while attending.

    I agree that background checks for child care workers are necessary, but I think it most interesting that someone in your church first suspected your monster before investigating him. I think most true monsters will give people a feeling that they are “off” in one way or another as people get to know them better and I believe that there are people in the church who are more sensitive to picking that up than others.

    I have a relative in the family who is a monster, fully prosecuted, convicted and served time. Even before the full story came out (like decades earlier), if you asked his sons and daughter and his wife about how they thought about him, you would receive an earful of anger and pain. He ended up marrying three times and the divorces were all “his wife’s fault”. Just thinking about him makes me feel sick in my stomach. So my impression of monsters is based on this person. Monsters can only talk the talk, they can’t walk the walk, which is why God puts people in His church who can sense when something is off. Monsters also can be smooth operators/snake oil salesmen who can, for a time, offer plausible explanations on individual events. But if they have a need to offer more than three “plausible explanations”, be suspicious. Ask them uncomfortable questions.

    This is where I have a great big trust in God, because time after time, He has come in with guns blazing. He is very protective of His church, whether it is a small church or megachurch. If it is truly His church, He will not let the monsters stay for long. He will make sure that what they do in secret will be on display for all to see in full daylight. He will not let them hide in the darkness because even darkness is light to Him. The church is His Bride and He will defend Her with his complete holy zeal, just like he did with your church.

    My recommendation is to never discount those people who raise flags about someone in church because God is using those people to protect the church.

    Great article, Matt!

    • Thank you! What great insight. We all have to be soldiers that protect Christ’s church decisively, yet find a way to be gentle with people who have left their past behind.

      Paul never really escaped his past as a murderer did he? But he was able to walk the walk because he really had been anointed by God.

      • I definitely think we need to be gentle with people who are truly repentant and give grace to those who humble themselves. But even reformed sinners can backslide, so if we know a brother’s or sister’s weakness, we need to be watchful of them in their area of weakness AND encouraging them to fight against it. And there are definitely times when some people need to avoid the reformed monsters.

        If Kermit Gosnell came to my church and showed signs of repentance and of the Spirit working in his life, I hope we would welcome him as Barnabas welcomed Paul. If the monster I know came to my church, however, because he is still trying to play the blame game and tell “his side of the story” to the few relatives that will speak to him, I would have a very hard time welcoming him into the church without him confessing his monstrous acts free from justification, free from “plausible explanations” to me and the church leadership in true prodigal son fashion. And I probably would still be watching him VERY closely to see if his walk matched his talk.
        tandemingtroll recently posted..Camping at Kartchner Caverns

  3. 1) ” There is no such thing as church discipline when legal discipline takes precedence. The problem with so many churches is that they are full of people who would rather cover-up, pussyfoot around, or play pretend that nothing is happening in order to protect the church, rather than protect victims.”

    And with that, thank you for injecting a welcome bit of common sense. It seems that whenever I read a blog post about abuse in the church there’s alway some idiot that shows up in the comments to either blame the victim or tell everyone to use caution in criticizing someone that God “anointed” or whatever. It’s bulls#$t and it should be called out as such.

    2) Never mind church–I’m wondering what would’ve happened if Gosnell was a member of my local medical society, or if I had come across him during med school or residency.

    I’ve been especially bugged by stories of unethical doctors–Gosnell, the Craigs List guy, now the guy at your church (holy crap!)–because I’m left wondering “How did these psychos become doctors in the first place?” When I was applying to medical school it was incredibly difficult–the admission process entailed multiple interviews and multiple letters of recommendation. You would think that would be enough to weed out enough of the creeps, but it isn’t. There are still practicing physicians out there that are egotistical, incompetent, or just outright evil. Are doctors not doing enough to police each other? Is it the patriarchal nature of the “culture” of medicine that allows these guys to get a god complex and think they can do this stuff with impunity? What did the other doctors in Gosnell’s area think of him?

  4. I wonder how much of this (again) comes back to a misunderstanding of the purpose of the church. If the church is for sinners/seekers, then we should be bending over backwards to welcome “monsters” into our midst – they’re the ones who need Jesus the most. But if the church is for believers (“the encouraging and equipping of the saints”), then I think some amount of effort should be made to weed out those who are really just trying to prey on a “soft” target (“wise as serpents…”).

    And the thing is, _repentant_ sinners _SHOULD_ be welcomed into the church….but that still doesn’t mean that we should enable their sins. Those who have had issues with children in the past should not serve in any capacity with a minor. Those who have had issues with money in the past should not serve in any capacity that gives them access to money. And someone who is truly repentant should have some understanding of their weaknesses and seek to avoid those situations.

    • Melissa, thank you for better articulating the problem than I did! Yes, repentant sinners need to be welcomed. But there are always limitations to just who can be welcome and how far we go to make those notorious people comfortable at the expense of the comfort of others.

  5. I will admit, when I first saw the title of this post, I thought this was going to be another call for grace for even the most vile of sinners. I’m so relieved that it was not. Yes, there is grace, but there is also accountability, standing up against evil and injustice, protection of the innocent, obedience to governmental authorities. And the church is very often failing in these areas in the name of “grace,” which often ends up meaning no grace for the victims and the vulnerable. I’ve been very uncomfortable with how easy it is to be accepted into ministry in a church, as I’ve served as a children’s ministry leader without so much as a background check. Thank you for standing up and calling the church to be more vigilant.

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