While many people list many reasons why they believe people leave the Church, where I live in Nova Scotia, we seem to have one reoccurring theme right now. Most would say it is because of the failings of those in Church leadership. We have had several high profile cases of people charged with different crimes including possession of child pornography and sexual abuse of minors. However, this is not something limited to just here. This week a scathing report was released on the abuse and cover up that seemed to be taking place for decades in Ireland, all by ‘men of God’. I do not want to signal out any one denomination though, as all have had their own share of scandals recently.
These things have a huge impact in several ways but mainly it is an issue of trust. Can ministers be believed? Can Churches and denominations, who have seemed to be more interested in covering up the mess their leaders have made for decades, be credible anymore? Where is God, when those who work in His name, are not only struggling with their own issues but are even abusing those who they are caring for?
There are a growing number of people here, as I know there are in other areas, who say they will never set foot in a church again because of this one issue. There is certainly a high level of confusion and disillusionment with the institutional church and its leaders which has caused the exodus of many.
There is not an easy answer to much of this. I know people will always fail, even leaders. Even many of our Biblical characters failed greatly in their own personal lives. King David committed adultery, Moses killed a man, Samson just never seemed to get his life in order. These shortcomings never meant God turned His back on them but there certainly were consequences for their actions. While we are to forgive that does not mean there shouldn’t be restitution and protection from future problems.
We certainly need a return integrity, credibility, and honesty. At times it seems that people are more upset with the fact churches have tried to hide their shortcomings more than the fact that people have failed. The Church, like ourselves, has to admit its own failings and shortcomings so it can move on. In the book of James we are instructed to confess our sins to one another so we can be healed. I believe this must also apply to the Church. It can only be truly healed when it confesses and nothing is left hidden. Honestly speaks volumes and builds trust.
I know another side also. In speaking to hundreds of ministers over the years most are under an incredible amount of pressure themselves. In many church circles if someone even admits they are struggling (not even failing) it can mean their removal and loss of income for their families. They cannot appear to be struggling with anything so they themselves begin to find ways to hide their own shortcomings. Also, add to this the spiritual dimension that people in leadership are attacked in ways to cause them to fail, give up, or be ineffective. All of these are just more causes that in the end all can lead to failure.
So where does that leave us? If you are a leader, you need someone in your life you can talk to freely. You may have to seek them out yourself. If you are one of those people who are disillusioned I hope you can forgive those who have hurt your or have failed. Not just for their sake but for yours. I hope you do not miss out on the ‘good’ the Church does possess because of the failings of a few. Even in writing that I know that is way to easy of an answer as these are difficult issues to wrestle with. I myself have to ask God sometimes, ‘where are You in the midst of this?’
In my own life I have come to my own peace on things like this only when I look inside myself. I know I have tried to do the right things many times and have fallen short. I have made promises to others, and myself, and have broken them. Despite my own shortcomings I don’t believe it has effected who God is. In a way, I try to look at others the same. Yes I am disappointed, in the actions of leaders, like I am of myself at times, but then I realize they are just like me. I don’t want to be the first to throw a stone.