Yet its these poor boundaries within the institutional church that allow things like spiritual, emotional and sexual abuse to occur in the place where you should be the safest from such things. And the expectation of safety paradoxically makes us that much more likely to drop our appropriate boundaries and second guess ourselves when we experience abuse within the church. And around and around it goes.
Statistically speaking one in 25 people is a true sociopath, someone basically born without a conscience, in even a small church that means there will likely be at least three or four such people. Think people without conscience would be likely to avoid church? Not so. These people like power and the church all too often provides them with a modicum of power and a steady supply of victims. To refuse to understand this is to allow it to continue unchecked. I personally think that "The Sociopath Next Door" should be required reading for those responsible for placing people in leadership roles in the church.
Ah but there we go running up against that 80/20 rule again. When only 20% of the people are stepping up to do the work people aren't really placed into leadership, they more or less fall into leadership roles by default. Since sociopaths seek power it isn't unreasonable to presume that at least some of them will be found in prominent leadership positions within the political structure of the local church. Yay! Not!
So what do we do about it? Well for starters we look to the bible and the pattern God lays forth for conflict resolution within the church: Let's head to Matthew 18 shall we?
"15 If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the fault. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back. 16 But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses. 17 If that person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church. If the church decides you are right, but the other person won't accept it, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector."
I have never, in my 40 plus years of life, seen this process take place within the church. Never. Not once. Probably because those who would have to make such a judgment struggle the same way I do wondering if we really have the authority to make someone leave God's house.
But if there is any doubt that there is a time and a place to tell someone they must get out of God's house 1st Corinthians 5 puts it clearly:
"11 ...you are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a Christian yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or a drunkard, or a swindler. Don't even eat with such people. 12 It isn't my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your job to judge those inside the church who are sinning in these ways. 13 God will judge those on the outside; but as the Scriptures say, "You must remove the evil person from among you.""
In other words, those sins that most harm others. Sexual sins, which harm the vulnerable among the flock, often children. Greed, which prevents needs from being met because resources are being horded among the selfish and powerful. Idolatry, which God has prohibited from the beginning of time and which invariably leads others astray. Abuse, which leaves broken bodies and battered spirits in its wake and which leaves scars that last a lifetime in all too many cases. A drunkard, ask any family of an alcoholic or addict and they will tell you that living with such a person causes long term permanent harm. A swindler, those who fleece the flock. About those people God says "You MUST remove the evil person from among you." In other words...Not in MY House!
Somehow I think it is past time for the church to get over its enabling ways and realize that we have the permission and the authority to say enough is enough. Even "gentle Jesus meek and mild" got ticked off enough to take a whip to those people who were making a mockery of his house. As a friend of mine's recent facebook status said:
"When someone asks you 'think about what Jesus would do', remember that a valid option is to freak out and turn over tables" Unknown author
Maybe its time we "turned the tables" on these folks. What do you think?