Every now and then, a news story comes along that leaves a mark on us–for good or for ill. The story I can’t get past is the story of 61–year-old Los Angeles school teacher Mark Berndt–arrested this week on 23 counts of child molestation and other horrific stuff involving kids. The number of victims is expected to rise as more children in the pictures are identified.
As a father of three young daughters, I’ve been overwhelmed by the story. Last night, I listened to a local talk-radio show as I drove home after a great day of ministry. The question was: Is there something we can do to this guy that will send a message to other molesters to not mess with our kids? The ideas the callers came up with were vicious and cruel in some cases…and probably would deter others. In general, the consensus was: make it harsh and make it public–the way even Western society has for most of civilization.
As the calls kept coming, my question became: is that really the answer? The other “aha” I had was that Christians really struggle to know what to do these days with this particular issue. Child abuse/molestation is an issue that has or will impact every church in America. Even if a church has no reported incidents of such, they are still likely to have a sex offender seek to attend the church.
The calls continued.
Some people called in with cliche-heresies (Christian cliches that aren’t biblical) like “sin is sin,” and “let he who is without sin cast the first stone,” etc. The former is found nowhere in the Bible, the latter is actual Scripture made heresy in this case through misapplication. As these calls came in, all of a sudden, some began to see the teacher as the victim rather than the kids. This, I believe, is a common mistake churches make in handling these situations today. They misappropriate grace to the point they believe Jesus’ highest priority would be for the perpetrator to be able to attend that particular church. I believe it would be to protect His children from harm.
I remembered this:
“But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” – Matthew 18:6
I understand some read that verse as double-entendre. However, at the very least, Jesus does indeed love the little children and stands ready to hold accountable all who hurt them. Nevertheless, the question for society becomes: How do we protect children from harm and help victims through their pain most effectively? Also, what role can the church play in impacting positively this awful societal cancer?
Question: If Mark Berndt ever gets out of prison and starts attending your church, how would you handle it? If one of Mark Berndt’s victims’ families attended your church, how might your church respond to them?