Over the past few weeks, many questions have been asked about why professional institutions like Michigan State University and the United States Gymnastic Association would cover up Larry Nassar’s crimes.
But these events force another painful question to the surface. Why do churches also do this? Why do Christians cover up similar sin within the church? The same questions can be asked of para-church ministries and institutions, and all of what follows here is applicable to them too.
I’ve seen and heard of multiple occasions on both sides of the Atlantic where good people (and some not so good) have made horrendous decisions about how to handle complaints against individuals within the church. Time and again I’ve found myself utterly perplexed: “Why are they doing this? How can they do that? What is their motivation?”
As I’ve processed this agony and listened to people who have made bad decisions in these situations, I’ve come to realize there is no one reason that explains everybody. Instead, there are numerous possible motivations, and often a few are found in the same heart.
I’m going to list the various motivations I’ve discovered over the years with a view to helping Christians in positions of power examine themselves as they make decisions and judgments going forwards. But, before that, a few caveats are in order.
First, This is not about one church or institution. I’m not referring to any particular case.
Second, this is not about recriminations about the past. It’s more about offering help and guidance for the future. It’s a kind of checklist to help men test their motives and therefore make purer decisions.
Third, I’m going to be referring to “men” throughout because, in most church situations, it’s men that are making these decisions.
Fourth, just because men find someone not guilty who is actually guilty may be a genuine mistake. It’s part of the pain of earthly justice, that men can make sincerely wrong judgments. When people make misjudgments we disagree with, we should not jump to the conclusion that they are corrupt and they are trying to cover up sin.
Fifth, many (I hope most) churches do the right thing. We only hear of the bad examples and the media only expose the cover-ups (as they should). However, there are many Christians who bravely and courageously stand up against evil and protect the innocent.
Sixth, the need for churches to conduct ecclesiastical investigation into alleged sin, does not absolve them of the responsibility to report suspected crimes to the appropriate authorities. In some cases, that is mandated by law. As has been pointed out repeatedly, obedience to the law of the land and respect for civil authority would save churches a lot of grief.
With these caveats in place, why do Christian churches, institutions, and ministries cover up sin?
Genuine belief in innocence: I just said that men can be sincerely wrong in their judgments and that we shouldn’t immediately condemn them as corrupt if they find a guilty person not guilty. However, this genuine belief in someone’s innocence can sometimes lead to a refusal to fairly consider evidence or even hear the accusers. That is corrupt and wrong.
Management approach: Some men who have been in positions of leadership for a long time can become pragmatic managers more than principled leaders. Their instinct when faced with serious accusations against someone is to manage the situation, to find a middle way, to take the path of minimal stress, to put peace above principle, to replace truth with accommodation and compromise. “Let’s see if we can come to some arrangement here.”
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Source: Core Christianity | David Murray