I was saddened last night to read a news story about a case of historic abuse related to the Christian summer holiday at which I was taught how to follow Jesus and at which I served.
I wasn't surprised. Not that I have ever experienced anything other than the highest standards of care for the boys and girls who came to have a great holiday and hear the gospel. But simply because abusers and paedophiles will be attracted to places where they can have closer contact with children. Sadly that makes Christian youth work vulnerable to the attentions of such people. That's why most churches have the highest standards of safe guarding.
As with so many historic cases the initial crimes appear to have been exacerbated by the way that they were dealt with. Despite a report instituted by the trust that ran the holidays, the abuse wasn't reported to the police. The perpetrator was urged to leave the country, which he did. The reason given by the school involved was parental pressure not to further expose the boys to emotional distress. Though with hindsight this was clearly wrong, it is hard to condemn totally people making decisions in the very different culture of 40 years ago.
My prayer last night was that this news story wouldn't ruin the work of the Christian summer holiday. Because it has provided thousands of young people the opportunity to consider the life changing news of Jesus in a non-threatening and safe environment. Many of them have come to follow Christ as a result, rejoicing in God's grace and treasuring his forgiving love.
That's because God works despite his people, not because of them. I was reminded in my Bible reading this morning that the church has a history of being worse than the world at times.
In Genesis 34 Jacob's daughter Dinah is raped by the pagan Shechem. Perversely, he declares his undying love for the girl and begs Jacob for her hand in marriage. Her outraged brothers see the opportunity for revenge. They say that the deal will only be on if Shechem and all the men in his village are circumcised like they are. Shechem sells the deal to the blokes back home on the basis of being able to get their hands on Jacob's wealth and women. But while they're still struggling to walk, two of Jacob's boys come along and butcher the lot of them.
When Jacob complains that this is going to mean trouble for him from the locals. His sons point out his failure to do anything about it by asking their dad, “Should he have treated our sister like a prostitute?” (Genesis 34:31).
It's a story where no one comes out well. And that's the point. The Lord is going to bring about his plan of salvation and blessing despite his people, not because of them.
God's sovereign grace is so big that he can even work through the church when it behaves as badly, if not worse, than the world. That doesn't justify either the actions in Genesis 34 nor the behaviour of the man who brutalised boys in the name of Jesus during the 1970's and 1980's. But it does mean that there is still hope despite them.