My former pastor once preached a sermon about another pastor who had invited a man to live in his home after that man was released from prison. The charge? Child molestation. The reason for the pastor's decision?
I'll give you three guesses. Actually, you don't get any guesses, you should have already figured it out.
Yep, the child molester had found Jesus while in prison. The pastor's decision made quite a stir, and he was interviewed by a local media outlet. He said that if Jesus was real and could change a person's heart, he had to put his money where his mouth is and invite this man into his home.
Anyone want to guess what Bible verse he referenced? Anyone? Bueller?
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:[a] The old has gone, the new is here! (2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV)But if you've spent any amount of time in Evangelical churches, you already knew that. You see, Evangelical Jesus isn't just the Son of God. He doesn't just forgive your sins. He's also a bloody wizard.
Not a magician who does crude parlor tricks. No, friends, the Evangelical Jesus performs actual magic. You see, when a person becomes a Christian by "asking Jesus into his heart", that person becomes a new person! It says so, right in the Bible! Avada Kedavra! I mean abracadabra!
Now, I don't know the end of this story. Maybe the molester in question had a genuine change of heart and the story ended happily (I certainly hope so). And don't think I'm bashing Jesus. I think Evangelicals are putting words in his mouth.
Because you see, at some point after a rookie Evangelical asks Jesus into his heart, they will experience their first Struggle With Sin. Perhaps they've even heard the above verse and can't understand why this is happening. They'll go to a trusted friend or their pastor for an explanation. They'll probably be told that Magic Jesus doesn't just wave a magic wand and change us all at once - it's a process. This process is called sanctification.
Phew! So Christians will change in small increments over time as they gain life experience and knowledge. The only problem is, this sounds an awful like how non-Christians change. It's called "growing up" and it does not, in fact, end when you turn eighteen (a fact which continues to surprise me despite having passed that mark some time age).
The example I gave is not an isolated one. Abusers within the church are frequently reinstated into positions of authority (or never removed) because they've repented. After all, Jesus has forgiven them, so why shouldn't their victims? They have, after all said the magic words - "I'm sorry". Sometimes with actual tears.
I don't sympathize with abusers. I save my sympathy for their victims.
However, I will say that abusive Christians and I have one thing in common: we were sold a bill of goods by a church that promised radical change that never came. I wanted to be released from anxiety; this didn't happen until I got on medication. Fortunately for everyone involved, I never committed a crime due to my anxiety.
Telling people they have changed when they haven't is irresponsible. In some cases, it's dangerous. The unnamed pastor in my story held his beliefs so firmly, he invited a convicted child molester into the home where his children lived. In doing this, he sided with an abuser over his children.
Let's let that sink in for a moment.
Sadly, this is not an isolated incident. How many victims of abuse have been forced to forgive their abuser? Face to face, no less? How many families have had a member commit horrible abuse, only to demand forgiveness and refuse to go to counselling because of this theology?
Don't think I'm letting abusers off the hook - far from it. They are the ones ultimately responsible for their actions. However, it is possible to be an enabler of abuse. I defy you to show me an example of Jesus doing this. When he saved the woman about to be stoned for adultery, he didn't make her forgive the people about to throw said stones. He didn't make the other disciples forgive Peter for his betrayal.
It is true that the early church made Paul, a man who murdered Christians like it was his job (actually it was his job) one of their chief missionaries.
But could it be that they sent him on trips all over the world so the families of the people he killed wouldn't have to be around him?
Of course there's no way to know. But there's certainly no account of those families being forced to forgive him.