We tend to err on the extremes too often. A pastor (especially a pastor of a megachurch) falls into moral failure. One extreme is to sweep it under the carpet, make excuses, and get the pastor back into a pulpit as quickly as possible. The other extreme is to villainize and demonize the perpetrator, fire, defrock, prosecute, and trash the former pastor’s reputation.
Both paths are unbiblical. Both are understandable. To restore too quickly may be motivated by genuine forgiveness, understanding and grace. To refuse to restore may be motivated by compassion for the victim and justice.
God desires to restore, but not without transformation. Both perpetrator and victim need transformation. The victim needs to heal, forgive, repair the damage, and understand why they were victimized. I don’t mean to imply fault, but simply saying, “I had no choice,” leaves the person a perpetual victim. The victim needs to work through the hurt, anger, rage, and childhood triggers. Did the victim idolize the perpetrator? Feel helpless before the perpetrator? Succumb to manipulation? Did the abuse trigger other memories of abuse from childhood? How can justice and forgiveness coexist?
The perpetrator needs to empathize deeply with the victim, understand the hurt and damage that was caused, make amends, if possible, come to understand what within caused the abuse, understand the power dynamics, and be transformed by God’s Spirit into a person who cannot repeat similar behavior. That process takes years of spiritual and psychological work.
I believe in God’s ability & desire to restore. Whether a person is victimized or a perpetrator of abuse, God can forgive & restore. It is a long, arduous process that requires years of spiritual direction, professional psychotherapy, discipleship, and spiritual formation. The underlying causes and motivations need to be unearthed. Forgiveness and reconciliation need to be fostered. Amends need to be made. Spirits and souls need to be transformed.
The process is long; it is painful; it is beautiful; it is worth every tear. I know because I’ve done it. Now, I try to help others.