I’ve been pretty easily distracted over the last few days. I’ve caught myself changing the channel to ESPN or going to ESPN.com to check for updates on the Penn State scandal that’s happening (if you haven’t followed it, you can here.)
As I’ve watched the coverage and read the articles and police reports I have noticed myself slowly, steadily becoming more and more uneasy about the whole situation. First there is the horror of child molestation, something that pains me more than ever now that I am a father. Then there is the response by the university and the officials/staff who knew about it. The “coverup”, or lack of an appropriate response from the people who had the obligation and ability to prevent this from continuing upsets me. I think it upsets me because it reveals a truth about Penn State that, if we are truly honest with ourselves, we must admit we share.
The institution trumps people.
This is mostly conjecture, but my guess is that Penn State did the bare minimum to address the problem because they didn’t want to cause a scandal that would negatively impact the football program and the university. In their mind it was probably better to “take care of it” in house and sweep it under the rug instead of doing the right thing and attacking the situation head-on.
The result of that approach bothers me. The situation should have been about the victims, and not about Penn State or the football program, but it was reversed. As a result, many young children had their innocence and childhood taken from them. Maybe I’m being a bit dramatic there, but I’m a father of two girls little girls and it hits close to home . I’ll be the first to say I’m not terribly objective.
It’s so easy to condemn Penn State and their administration for their initial response. I wonder though, if the church is all that different.
Let me be clear: I’m not saying most churches will intentionally cover up an abuse scandal like this.
What I am saying is this: I think churches are sometimes just as guilty of placing their institutions ahead of their purpose. In a very basic sense, we are all about people. It is our job to care for them and reach out to them with the Word of Life. Everything else is secondary. The church does not exist to perpetuate itself. Unfortunately, I have seen evidence of that mindset in pretty much every church I’ve ever been in.
We stop giving money to missions when our budget is tight, but do not cut the fellowship donut and coffee time budget.
We shut out the people in our own neighborhood because they are different.
We complain about the squirrelly kids who are loud and obnoxious and *gasp!* run in the church.
We shut the doors of the sanctuary once worship has started and prevent late-comes from entering, or completely bar small children from being in worship with adults.
The list goes on, and I’m sure you could add your own examples, but the point is this. We are likely just a guilty as protecting an institution over doing what’s best for the people we serve.
Penn State’s biggest failure was not dealing with this and preventing the abuse from continuing. Their primary concern was to protect themselves, not the ones who need to be protected. When we place instituions over people we have made the same failure. Sure, most of us won’t be dealing with sex scandals, but we all are dealing with matters of eternity. That, my friends, is far more significant than the institution of the church!