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?