Wolves Among Sheep: Why the 21st Century Church Must Guard Against Sex Offenders and Abusers
Today’s blog will be followed by a blog I wrote in January of 2018. This January 2018 blog focused on why the church must guard again sex predators. If you reside in Oklahoma, you will remember the circumstances surrounding Benjamin Lawrence Petty. I want to shift gears so to speak and take today to focus on why the church must also guard against other abusers in our midst. Both sex predators and abusers are wolves in sheep’s clothing. They will devour the young, vulnerable, and unsuspecting. They will seduce everyone else with their charm and deceitful speech. Do not be deceived!
I know when most of you think of abuse, you think of emotional/mental, financial, physical or sexual abuse. You think of something that occurs outside the church and in the home. Aside from the rampant sexual abuse that has been exposed in the church in recent years (thank the Lord), you don’t hear much about other forms of abuse in the church. I’d like to introduce you to one you may have heard of or maybe not, spiritual abuse.
The Watchmen Fellowship defines spiritual abuse as: the misuse of a position of power, leadership or influence to further the selfish interests of someone other than the person seeking help, in the church in this example. They further describe an abusive religious system as: legalistic, mind-controlling, religiously addictive, and authoritarian. Sounds evil enough to me. Evil with a pretty cross slapped across the front of it (Side note: just because it’s wearing a cross or uses a cross does not make it good or Christian). Spiritual abuse can be between pastors and parishioners, husbands and wives, parents and children, or organizations and the vulnerable persons they serve. These wolves thrive well in all these arenas if allowed to do so. Spiritual abuse can also involve other forms of abuse such as physical abuse, emotional/mental abuse, sexual abuse and even financial abuse. Allow me to provide some examples:
Spiritual abuse with physical abuse: a pastor beats his wife if she does not submit (you will submit or else).
Spiritual abuse with emotional/mental abuse: a deacon regular verbally assaults his wife if she does not do what he wants or refuses to agree with him (again this idea of you will submit or else)
Spiritual abuse with sexual abuse: a priest or church leader rapes a member of the church
Spiritual abuse with financial abuse in the church: A pastor cons his congregation out of millions of dollars for a specific ministry, only for them to find out after he is forced to step down, the money was used on himself.
Spiritual abuse with financial abuse in the home: A man tells his wife she must submit to his way of doing the finances, even if he is destroying their credit and spending them into debt (again you submit or else mentality).
All these examples have one thing in common: a self-appointed or organizationally appointed spiritual leader (a person in a position of power or authority) and a person in a (perceived) lesser position of power or in some cases, no power at all. Spiritual abusers use this imbalance of power to their advantage. They will also use scripture to supposedly back their behavior. However, their interpretation of scripture is very twisted and uses what I like to call “soundbites” and “snip-its” to wrap a little bit of truth around a whole lot of lie. For anyone reading this blog who has experienced abuse, you will see similarities without the spiritual aspect to domestic violence. Why? It’s a simple answer, evil is all the same. It needs someone or a group of people who will allow it to perpetuate itself at the expense of others. It just needs people not to care. I have personally experienced spiritual, verbal and physical abuse in my last marriage – all neatly rolled into one. My late used a lot of scripture to justify what he was doing, and he was good at the soundbites. As these examples point out, spiritual abuse can be in the church or in the home. The abuser can be a man or a woman. The victim can be a man, woman or child. Also, just like other abusers who aren’t in spiritual positions of authority, spiritual abusers can be charismatic, seem to love people, be fun-loving, and be pleasant to be around when they are around everyone else - same sickening, deceptive charm, different face and clergy clothes in some cases.
Church, we must guard against these types of abusers just like we would sexual predators. This type of abuser can destroy a church, a home, the dreams of children and spouses, the faith of a congregation, and the trust of the community. That is their mission! That’s a high price to pay to keep Mr./Ms. Slick Church Leader. That is a high price for families to pay to keep an abusing husband or an abusing wife in the home. Abusers of any kind need to know that when they come into a church, that unless they repent and allow Jesus to change them, they will not be tolerated. They need to know that if they come to divide, stir and perpetuate evil of any kind, the welcome mat will be withdrawn. You will know them by their fruit as Jesus said in Matthew 7.
We must wake up church! There are wolves among the sheep! We must allow Jesus to show us who they are. We must take steps to protect those most vulnerable to their attacks and schemes. We must also recognize that everyone that comes with a message may not be God’s anointed person – they may simply be self-anointed. We must open our spiritual eyes and ears to hear and see! The church must be a refuge for the abused, not a place where the abused come to get more abuse! Lord forgive us for such things! Forgive us for falling for the schemes of the wolves! Forgive us for not standing against the wolves among the flock!
Church, I know we can do better, we must! People’s lives are depending on it!
Standing against the wolves,
It pains me to even write about this subject. I am both disgusted and saddened. In Oklahoma today, an injustice has been done to a young girl, not only by her family but by the court system and her overall church governance. A not-so-careful church, a misguided legal system and a family who did not want to be inconvenienced by a trial have failed this child. And this perpetrator - he basically got away with rape.
Benjamin Lawrence Petty, 36, whose legal blindness kept him from a jail sentence was accused of raping an OK girl at a Baptist church camp last summer. He pled guilty. Yesterday, the courts in Murray County, OK said he would be given 15 years of probation instead of a jail sentence because of his legal blindness - although he committed a violent sexual crime. The girl's family did not want inconvenienced by a trial, so they entered a plea deal (e.g. probation). The church did not run background checks on the employees working at the camp. I can bet you Mr. Petty used one of the oldest tricks in the book - use my health issue to cloud the issue and avoid responsibility.
The real victim in all of this is the 13-year-old girl who will now have to put her life back together. She will suffer because everyone in this case did not believe this was that big of a deal, including her parents. I honestly do not know whether to scream or throw up. I have not been this appalled at the failing of the justice system, the church and two grown supposedly Christian adults as I am today! I am praying for her and I pray we open our eyes!
Aside from the travesty of justice here, I wonder why once again a church (this is the 2nd time that I know of in recent years) did not take proper precautions for anyone working around their children - regardless of whether they were affiliated with the church or not. Church, what are you thinking? Do you not know the wolves will come where they know they will not be bothered and where they know they will be tolerated? They will come if they think you "trust" them and they will smile all the way out the door when they are done with their destruction! As for her parents, I wonder what would possess two parents, Christian or not, to not want a man seriously punished for raping their daughter. I believe these parents were and are ashamed of this whole thing as well as worried about what others will think which makes this about them not her - an issue for another blog. One day she will ask them why and they will have to answer.
American church, this is your wake-up call!! This is not about you and it is not about your ability to be seeker friendly! There are wolves among you, and they are after you and your children's lives. They are there to do three things: steal, kill and destroy! They are there to manipulate you and destroy unity! You must guard against them and you must never protect them! How can light and darkness co-exist? Can good and evil have any fellowship together? These people may be hurt themselves, but they are still evil, and they allow evil to rule their lives. They have not repented! Don't be fooled!
Church leaders let there be no cause for any questions regarding these issues. The church's already skewed reputation is further damaged if you leave room for doubt. Do as many background checks as you must for children's and teen ministry, no matter what it costs you! If someone in your church harms a child, teenager, woman or man, call the police! Teach your ministry workers what to look for where abuse, neglect and trafficking are concerned. Are we not to be a place of shelter for these broken people? Not a place where they will be re-victimized! Did you not think these things would attempt to make inroads into the church and disrupt the calling of the church? Well you know now that they do, and they will! Wolves are opportunists and we have let our guard down! This is your wake-up call! Head it! The time is now!
Do you want to know how to spot the wolves? I will leave you with Jesus's words from Matthew 7:16-18:
By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the unhealthy tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.
Standing against the wolves,