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A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

Merciful Discipline 4: Hopeful, We Rebuild Trust

This is the fourth post of six in the Merciful Discipline Series. A complete list of available posts will be at the end of each article as they are made available.

Merciful Discipline 4: Hopeful, We Rebuild Trust

We do not want you to grieve…as those who have no hope. (1Thes. 4:13)

Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. (1Cor. 4:2)

Cursed is the man who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the Lord…He will dwell in the parched places of the earth. (Jer. 17: 5, 6)

One struggles to consider a more profound violation of trust than priestly abuse of children. Based on the trust Catholic parents grant the Church, they have entrusted their children to a handful of priests who used that trust to abuse.

Diabolical—the disintegration of young lives and long after, the disintegration of trust in the Church itself. What greater victory could the enemy of our souls achieve than the scattering of the sheep through such a violent abuse of trust?

We overcome evil through good. And that good comes through acknowledging the mistrust that remains and choosing to begin a process of forgiveness. Our wounds united with Christ’s, we have access to the antidote: Mercy. We can apply that Mercy to both abusing priests and those who unwittingly sustained the abuse through its mishandling.

Forgiveness is neither weak nor a set up for ‘revictimization’. Forgiveness is power. In the Spirit of Jesus, we entrust all involved in the abuse, including our own damaged hearts, ‘to Him who judges justly.’ (1P2:23) We choose to place the hemorrhaging mess into the only Wounds that can heal it; we gratefully remove ourselves from the role of Redeemer and Judge. In forgiving our captors, we begin to be released from an unbearable weight. Little by little, we chip away at the burden of another’s sin until Jesus alone bears it. Forgiveness is the power by which we triumph over beloved enemies.

Forgiving spiritual leaders means that we are growing up. As the laity, we have authority to name a leader’s sin against us or loved ones and to do something about it. In that process, which includes forgiveness, we strike a death blow to clericalism. We refuse to grant Catholic leaders the magic of perfection. We cease to be children and become discerning, engaging colleagues with clergy.

We can disagree with them. And we can go directly to Christ ourselves—to trust more in Him than in the priest or bishop. Jesus always wanted it this way. God wants to use the sexual abuse crisis to free the laity from childish reliance upon mere men, and to mature into wise and helpful members of Jesus’ body.

Trust must be earned. We forgive our offenders in obedience to Christ and to free our own hearts. Yet reliance upon those we have forgiven is wise only when their trustworthiness is evident.

There is evidence that the Church is repenting of her lack of transparency in failing to protect her young. Pope Benedict has championed reform here. He has repeatedly acknowledged the Church’s scandalous track-record and has exerted enormous energy in insisting on strict measures of accountability, discipline, and prevention in the world-wide Church. (He would be wise to keep doing so!)

The US Bishops have established arguably the highest standards for transparency and accountability and victim-care for the US Church than any other branch of the RCC. For that to become a living reality, ‘all diocesan leaders must be committed to transparency about their actions, ensure that immediate and appropriate responses to abuse become routine, and ensure that all such actions are adopted by all church leaders.’ (John Jay Report, p.93)

Having stumbled recently, the Kansas City Diocese under Bishop Finn has set up a new and solid system of checks and balances that line up entirely with recommendations from the Graves Report. Instead of alleged abuses going to the Vicar-General, an Ombudsman receives them and reports them directly to the police and the DFS, while initiating an investigation, which includes a Victim’s Advocate. An Independent Review Board operates as well, investigating whether alleged perpetrators should continue in ministry.

Jennifer Valenti, the new and apparently dynamic Ombudsman, urges all of us to do our part as faithful, discerning members of the one Body. She implores us:

In order for the safety net to be effective, you must take a stand. You cannot stand in silence when you suspect abuse. It takes courage, but you must report it.

If we discern any possibility of abuse, we are to call DFS at (800) 392-3738.

Our hope is in God, the Author and Finisher of His Church. To love the Church and to be whole-hearted in our service of her, we must forgive her grievous failures even as we discern her repentance. In so doing, we destroy the will of the evil one with good. Evidence of change in the ‘system’ still requires that we keep growing, learning how to trust others with a new maturity. That maturity requires that we do our part to ensure that the Church is a safe place for children.

Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him. He will be like a tree planted by the water, that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has now worries in a year of drought, and never fails to bear fruit. (Jer. 17: 7, 8 )

Since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. We have renounced secret and shameful ways. We do not use deception, nor do we distort the Word of God. On the contrary, be setting forth the truth plainly, we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. (2Cor 4: 1, 2)

O Blood and Water, that flows from the heart of the Savior as a fount of Mercy for us, we trust in You! – St. Faustina

MORE:

The Merciful Discipline Series of Posts (updated with each new post as they become available):

 

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Authority to Name

Creation of Adam and Eve, stained glass window in the church of Dinant, Belgium, created in 1821.

A federal appeal court ruled yesterdaythat Prop. 8–our voter-approved definition of real marriage–violated the US Constitution. Fear not: this is but the latest of numerous efforts to overturn the people’s will concerning marriage. Tuesday’s decision will be appealed and most likely ‘fast tracked’ to the US Supreme Court who will decide once and for all the definition of marriage for the USA. (In the meantime, we trust that no ‘gay marriages’ will be allowed in CA.)

Join us at DSM to pray for the high court to quickly and justly uphold what marriage is. As we await that decision, let us overcome our fears of defining marriage rightly. Our authority lies in our capacity to see and say the truth about marriage, for all to hear.

Authority to Name

In the beginning, God gave humanity the authority to name reality; one of Adam’s first tasks was to define the animals. Men and women, created in God’s image, have the unique, inspired capacity to know the truth and to name it. That is precisely what distinguishes us from the rest of creation, and frees us from being tyrannized by false definitions. We represent Him in naming reality.

That is our authority as human beings. And when we rightly name reality, we extend the rule and reign of the Creator. And wrest reality from those who distort reality by misnaming it.  That is precisely what is at stake in the efforts of gay activists to redefine marriage. Consider their efforts to rename reality. And its implications.

Is the sexual union of two men or two women really ‘a marriage’? Can two members of the same gender create the whole that creates and stabilizes life?

Can two same-gendered persons who for myriad reasons refuse the opposite gender as a worthy counterpart help secure little ones in their security as male or female? How can a ‘gay marriage’ prepare them for a life that their two mommies and daddies have actively defied?

Consider the naming of a fetus. Is that growing cluster of cells ‘a life’? The refusal to name a conceived life is what is at stake in abortion. Non-lives can be treated as so much refuse. Will ‘marriage’ meet the same fate in the USA? Will we allow others to take what is true and real and rename it? Renaming marriage as a same gender reality fundamentally distorts its original meaning and intention.

I just returned from a prayer meeting in Washington State where our Living Waters leaders gathered. We asked the Creator to restore our authority as citizens to name reality for Washington, a state poised to become the eighth in the USA to legislate ‘gay marriage.’

Many confessed to having conceded their voice, their naming power, to the drone of activists. They admitted the temptation to not heed their still small voice for fear of being judged as haters or bigots. We repented.

God is restoring our voices, our naming power. May we speak before it is too late.

‘If you repent, I will restore you that you may serve Me; If you utter worthy, not worthless, words, you will be My spokespeople.’ ( Jeremiah 15:19)

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Merciful Children

Through our four children, mercy breaks like waves upon Annette and me. They delight us. All in their twenties now, each possess unique gifts and strengths—Greg’s kindness, Nick’s astute analysis, Kate’s perseverance and lack of pretense, Sam’s integrity. All four remind us daily of the gift God gave us in each one, each the fruit of our marital love.

For us, the family is all ‘gift’, each child a sign and a wonder. In each, we marvel at the mercy of God towards us.

Our children are a direct result of God’s saving love to Annette and I. Were it not for His restoring love, they would not exist!

In this season, we are not without regrets. We have wondered: Have we made decisions in service to God that demanded too much? I have travelled extensively throughout most of our married life. As I globe-trotted, Annette had to compensate for my absence. Amazingly. Yet her single parenting skills, and my phone calls and homecoming gifts, did not close the gaps.

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Mercy for the Whole Image

After Massachusetts adopted ‘gay marriage’, we as a ministry sought to understand and pray for what was at stake for a nation that elevated the status of homosexual unions to those of heterosexuals.

We prayed for mercy, not judgment, for this ultimate expression of idolatry—the creature shaking its fist at the Creator and declaring that (s)he would image herself anyway (s)he wanted.

Yet we had a small emerging hope: we as a nation could turn back before it was too late. God might relent and have mercy.

Of course we knew that ‘gay marriage’ was simply the logical conclusion to the desecration of marriage itself; we had already burned her boundaries and assaulted her integrity with no-fault divorce and all manner of sexual abuse, including adultery, premarital sex, and porn addiction.

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A Deeper Well, Waters Rising

The move to Anaheim was a shakedown. Everything that could be shaken was—from our relationship with our previous church to the still reverberating effects of our sexual abuse crisis.

God was merciful. He used both earthquakes to level us. He was preparing us for a new season of growth founded on simple trust in His goodness towards us. We sent our roots down a little deeper in the Source, and ceased to be so readily dismayed by hardship.

God demonstrated that goodness through the advocacy of John Wimber. As head of the Vineyard movement, a pastor of pastors, John had navigated dozens of sexual messes created by unhealed churchmen and women. He knew the need for safe and powerful places in the church for getting real and getting healed. He loved our main offering– ‘Living Waters’–and insisted it become a primary offering in his church and beyond.

Strength in weakness: could our little band of wounded healers step up and quicken our training of lay persons to make their churches such a merciful haven for the sexually broken? John said yes; DSM prayed: ‘Lord have mercy.’

God had mercy and insisted we do it His way. John featured me in one of the annual conferences sponsored by the Vineyard Anaheim. This 5-day conference sold out and so another was slated for the next week: total conferees over two weeks? 10,000 people! (Desert Stream did daily workshops for hundreds and I was scheduled to address the large group a couple times each week.)

Like every novice given such an opportunity, one tends to over-function, jamming a brief talk with every sparkling insight ever mined. Not helpful. God knows this. After laboring over ‘the talk above all talks’, He made it clear to me that my efforts were unacceptable. (A few hours before?!)

He led me to preach on PS 103:6: a simple word on how God works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed, those like me who had been damaged by sexual sin.

I essentially shared my story. I left my impeccably prepared teaching on my seat, and mounted the podium with a few notes jotted on scrap paper. I taught for 20 minutes and prayed over the people for 40.

God poured out His mercy in a manner I had never seen before, or since. This ‘mercy surge’ lanced the shame and pain of a Christian people who had little experience in bringing their sexual brokenness into the light of Christ’s merciful body. The screams and agonizing sobs sounded like hell breaking loose but actually it was Heaven freeing captives.

Pastors took note of the healing available for their people if the church would take up her responsibility. Desert Stream began to flow with a new force and freedom throughout the USA and beyond.

Our strategy was to train a group of lay leaders to do ‘Living Waters’ in a church; then, when locals were digging a good well of healing for their people, we would come and stir up the waters a bit in order to bring people into ‘Living Waters.’

Around this time, I recall fondly a conference we did in the heart of San Francisco.

That Vineyard Church happened to be on Folsom Street in the middle of the city’s notorious sadomasochism district; and our conference happened to coincide with the weekend of their annual ‘Leather Festival’. It was hard to bear the oppression of the enslaved. How much more heartening to watch over 400 Christians of every ethnicity pouring out of the church and bearing powerful mercy for the sexually broken!

The Kingdom of mercy is more potent than the rule of any perversion.

We were in the right place at the right time. The Vineyard Anaheim had become the hub of an international network of churches and Desert Stream benefited. Following the Vineyard model, we began to plan an international strategy for identifying and raising nationals to dig deep wells of Living Waters in their lands.

We were digging a network of wells vigorously. The waters of mercy were rising and beginning to pour out to the nations.
‘As You have shown us mercy, O God, in the desert places of our lives, would You show mercy to the beleaguered state of marriage in the USA? As the Perry vs. Schw. case wends its way to the National Supreme Court, prepare for Yourself a victory. We shall render to Caesar what is Caesar’s but we shall prayerfully fight that what is Yours, O God. Prepare the hearts of each justice, especially Justice Anthony Kennedy, to uphold marriage according to Your merciful design. Remember mercy, O God.’

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