On Sunday, Christ Presbyterian Church included in our prayer time the congregation of Vienna Presbyterian Church. The Washington Post ran an extensive article on an abuse situation within the Vienna Church. In particular it highlighted their handling of it and how they failed to live out the full responsibility of the congregation to care for their members. Specifically, the church is seeking to work towards redemption with young woman that were caused great spiritual harm not just by the one who perpetrated the abuse but by the response of the congregations leadership and membership.
I think that this article highlights a few issues that we as a community of faith should be continually mindful of. The adage, “Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it” comes to mind. While we wish our bothers and sisters didn’t experience the brokenness of physical, emotional and spiritual abuse, we would be in sore neglect if we didn’t take their story and apply their lessons to our life. This is after all the reality of our relationship with God. We learn how to live the Christian life by applying the lessons taught and learned in Scripture. We regularly read, interpret and apply the experiences of those who lived out the life faith as found in Scripture. We should not stop this action of faith interpretation with only the words found in between the cover of our Bibles.
As I read the article, I was reminded that one reality of the Christian community that we often forget is that we are a collection of sinners not saints. While we seek to be those who are displaying the Gospel in our lives, we are also those “who fall short of the Kingdom of God.” I believe that at times we have lulled ourselves into a false sense of goodness. This article should remind us of Calvin’s assertion of the total depravity of humanity. Calvin highlighted the fact that everything we do, no matter how good it seems, is touched by our innate sinful nature. This should keep us vigilant in our personal and corporate desire to achieve transformation by the Spirit. It should also keep us on our toes as we interact. Everyone, from Pastors to sweet little grandmas, have the capacity to sin. Thus, when that sinful nature is expressed in the Church, we shouldn’t be surprised.
While the reality of total depravity is in our lives as Christians, we also seek to live in community that is partnering with the Spirit to transform that nature. This is another place where I believe Vienna’s pain can be instructive for us. Accountability is a critical aspect of our Christian community. As highlighted by the pain of the young women that were abused by an individual and the system, it is critical that we truly look deeply at how we extend grace, but also ensure that accountability is a reality. Far too often, in an attempt to protect “the good name of an institution or individual” we have dealt quickly and quietly with issues. I hope that we, as an individual church and the Church universal, pay attention to stories like Vienna’s and work to make our expression of Christian life together the most Christ-like as possible.