Anger is not a sin. And that’s good news. Because right now, I’m spitting chips. And you should be too.
But when a violation so profound occurs in our Church, to the most precious and most vulnerable members of our church family, it breaks my heart—and it makes me angry. And I hope it makes you just as angry.
Am I sure anger itself isn’t a sin? Yes. Throughout the Bible, God presents Himself as full of love, full of grace, full of forgiveness, but also from time to time, angry (eg. Deuteronomy 29:27, 28). And while we may prefer to emphasise the “gentle Jesus”, we can’t ignore that our example was the muscular Carpenter raging through the temple overturning tables. Ellen White, writing of the momentous scene, describes Christ’s demeanour as one of “zeal and severity”. In Mark 3:5 we’re again presented with a Jesus who is angry; this time at the hardness of the Pharisees’ hearts. And even in Paul’s epistle on all things faith and grace, he states God’s anger is directed against those who suppress the truth (Romans 1:18). And it’s hard to read Christ’s scathing indictment of those who offend children and not detect anger (Luke 17:2).
It makes sense that a God of love expresses anger. Anger is the appropriate reaction when those we love are mistreated. It’s one thing to turn the other cheek when we suffer wrong; it’s quite another to look on with silent indifference when someone else is wronged. If we see evil perpetrated against the innocent, we are designed to feel anger. That anger should motivate us to action. Not incoherent, ineffective, out of control behaviour, but effective action designed to end, or at least mitigate, the wrong.
Which brings me to why I’m angry today. I’m angry because a Royal Commission in Victoria is examining cases of the abuse of children in faith communities. In the process of preparing for press enquiries, I’m having to wrap my head around the confronting truth about child sexual abuse in our community.
It’s not that I’m naive. I know we live in a wicked world in which evil people infiltrate all organisations and communities—not just ours. I know that in secular boarding schools exploitation occurs. I know child abusers are attracted to secular civic organisations too. And I know that other faith communities have a history as bad, if not worse, than ours. But when a violation so profound occurs in our Church, to the most precious and most vulnerable members of our church family, it breaks my heart—and it makes me angry. And I hope it makes you just as angry.
But the past isn’t the only reason I’m angry. I’m angry because I’m not certain we’ve all internalised the lessons from our painful past. I’ve been meeting with the Safe Places team that works to prevent and address sexual abuse today, and what I’ve learned makes me deeply disturbed. I’ve learned that some in our community still want to sweep abuse under the carpet. I’ve learned that some would rather protect a reputation than protect victims of abuse. And I’ve learned that sometimes we still confuse forgiveness and grace, with stupidity and a licence to reoffend.
Yes, everyone no matter how grave their sin, can repent and find forgiveness. But that doesn’t mean we put people in a position to reoffend. You don’t employ a recovering alcoholic in a pub. You don’t put a kleptomaniac in charge of your finances. And you most certainly do not put someone who has sexually exploited church family members in positions of power or opportunity. To do so isn’t showing grace; it’s showing gross disregard for the safety of vulnerable people.
Today, our Church has superb policies. We’ve got good resources. We employ skilled professionals. And our administration has unambiguously embraced a zero tolerance for abuse. But I fear as a community we still lack something we need.
I fear we lack the level of anger required to motivate every one of us to overcome our collegiality and transcend our comfort levels to confront head on the problem of abuse in the Church. We are still susceptible to valuing community peace and unity over confronting evil when it occurs and dealing firmly with community members who offend. I wish every adult Adventist could listen to the pain and experience the anguish of abuse victims. It would, I believe, make us so angry we would never let complacency reign again. Anger is, in this case, the answer. And we need an awful lot more of it.
James Standish is editor of RECORD.
* For more information visit <safeplaceservices.org.au>.