Who Goes There?

The pedophilia – recently we got into a discussion about sexual harassment, pedophilia, etc in our church threaded discussion email. A friend brought up the point that our lovely Mennonite church doesn’t have much put in place to protect children from suspected pedophiles.

Here is the first problem – we have a special name to separate these kinds of people, as though to take them from the place of humanity and place them somewhere far beneath such a high status for someone who does such crimes. I feel this tension, and agree that there may be, at least in our human eyes, no worst sin than such an act. I can’t imagine what brings people to come to the point where they strip the innocence of powerless individuals.

We must tread carefully on such subjects, for those who are victims forever struggle to regain a self-identity apart from the violating act – and many of those who are victims lay outside our own empathetically solidarity.

But we must move away from using dehumanizing terms for one another – terms that tie us to devilish deeds, terrorists, pedophiles, kidnappers, murders, etc. It is when we use these terms that we distinguish us from the other and once we have made those who we fear “the other” than we can dismiss them as human – they become non-redeemable, persons barely human and to be feared.

Fear – something that the world is full of, is ultimately existence apart from trust. For Christians fear is life outside belief in God. It is the practice of a-theism. Much of the way Christ’s disciples live today is evidenced by fear. Two noteable examples are “white flight” and the large amounts of credit that many Christians live under. Why is credit an example? My fear that what I have is not enough, my fear that the prayer of simple livelihood “give us enough bread for today” in the one prayer we are to pray constantly as Christians (the Lord’s Prayer) drives me to retort, “yes but, I need this, I need that. Jesus surely didn’t intend all things in this prayer.” But fear continues – a church struck with fear is a church on the defensive and a church that is bound to dehumanize those who test its own faith. The betrayer, the terrorist, the pedophile all challenge our trust in God.

We want to believe that if we do all the right things, say all the right prayers, and have the best theology then we will be protected – isn’t this why people who believe that Christians can bare arms say that what Jesus meant by loving neighbors obviously means we as Christ followers can use violent force against those who harm our neighbors? But then the question arises, who is whose neighbor? Isn’t both the victim and the victimizer our neighbor? Isn’t both Judas and the centurion soldier our neighbor? Isn’t Christ call to love neighbors, a call to love the Samaritan, those who are dehumanized out of fear?

So then the church wants to demand a screening process for anyone who wants to work with children; background checks for all. The background check is the “modern” solution to the church’s problem of fear of “the other.” Now I am not necessarily opposed to the idea of screening, please don’t get me wrong. I am against the notion that the church should resort to screening as the way out of fear. I am against the notion that screening provides the real answer to the real problem.

The real problem is located within how well the church sees itself as a community of Jesus’ followers. The answer is located in whether we place all of our ethics in the life and resurrection of Jesus, or only the ones that make the most sense to us. This is why simplicity, peace in times of war, and living among the poor are so easily dismissed – because we are only willing to place some of our ethics in Jesus, both the liberal and conservative Christians are baffled by this. Liberals see Jesus as useless – an old metaphor outdated for today’s issues, while the conservatives are so busy defending what not to believe, and who to not be like that Jesus becomes too radical for them.

Jesus is the divine trickster, he continues to subvert all that we do and believe, we only pretend to really understand. Better than understanding, we should act, the way Jesus acted. What astonishes me is that Jesus did not background check on his disciples. Unless we want to pose the possibility that his prayers prior to his picking the disciples was a background check – but this of course is to make parody of the Scriptures. In fact Judas was an answer to Jesus’ prayer in discerning who would be his disciples, so was Peter, so was Thomas, so was Mary Magdalene, and let us not forget about the “beloved” disciple (who though more highly of himself than he ought!). Jesus choose people who were messed up – hoping that by his relationship, his friendship, his solidarity with them that they may become “more human” not less.

Imagine if Jesus could have done a background check on Judas, only to find that Judas had a track record of letting his friends down, buckling under pressure and even stealing from time to time! Would Jesus have not called him? Would he have left him on the side of the road? What about Peter, what if Jesus found out, before calling him, that Peter was a violent man, a man who would try to overturn Jesus’ own non-coercive ways of bringing in his kingdom. Would Jesus have passed on ol’ Peter? I highly doubt it. But what of us? What if we begin using background checks as our primary passageway into service and discipleship into the church, what do we do with the thief? The traitor? The terrorist? The pedophile? Will our ethics be rooted in Jesus or modern day procedures prompted by fear?

What if the church – started to believe in Christ – I mean really trust that both the broken and the not-so broken are to be apart of the church? What if we took the offensive, and began meeting with each other to really get to know one another, to ask real questions, to tell real truths? What if before a parent dropped a child off in a room to be watched by a stranger, that parent spent time getting to know the babysitter? What if the church really discipled, had real almost difficult membership criteria – like commitment to a community for more than a year, regular service in the community, christ-likeness in what he or she does? What would happen then? How about if we welcomed those who we “bad” those who were “the other” and we prayed constantly the confession that we are all prone to sickness and sin – the prayer “lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” What if we made the community of Christ, a painfully open community, painfully honest, and painfully committed to one another?

Well…a few things would happen. A) People would leave, this idea doesn’t sound to good to many Americans. Of course we might remember that Jesus was not a real successful evangelist either — the Gospels record many people hearing his words and leaving because they were “too hard.” B) Some people would get hurt, feel judged by others, and then leave because the community was “too hard.” C) Some people would harm others, I mean really harm them, sexually, physically, emotionally. The difference is – the church would not be shocked by something like this – because this church knows that it is not ever exempt from the ills of the world or one another. One the other hand, it would have the ethics, the Jesus theology, the personal and communal resources to deal with and overcome such atrocities.

Finally this last point, C, is where I conclude. Whether we do background checks or not, whether we really know people well or not at all, the church is not exempt from evil. No matter how much we try and hide, no matter how much we try to only have the perfect people in the community, we are a people who must continually pray “forgive us our debts, as we forgive the debts of others. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” And this is it, there is no hard fast solution to these problems, no scan-tron sheet, or standardized test that will fix the world’s problems – if we are to follow Christ we are going to have to get our hands dirty.

-a final note- we can only hope to help heal the victim or/and the victimizer if we are first willing to hear the truth from these people – that is we must be willing to hear their own pains and struggles, and then we must be willing to be committed to their healing. Sometimes the healing requires harsh words, boundaries, closed doors, but often times healing first comes from the forgiveness and love of another…