GRACE acronates “Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment.” Its story is well told in Kathryn Joyce’s “By Grace Alone,” an article in American Prospect (May/June; see “Sources,” below). Please read it, since it offers background and details vital to the questions of “abuse.”
I get asked, “Why doesn’t Sightings do more with the Catholic priest abuse story?” (It’s often blurted out as “Catholicpriestchildsexualabuse.”) Why doesn’t it? First, we don’t overdo overly-familiar stories. This one dominates elsewhere annually. Also, we are not anti-Catholic, so we don’t need it as an anti-Catholic pitch. In any case, the most persistent critics on this Catholic issue are themselves Catholics, wounded victims of abuse who hope to effect change.
Note, however, that the link “abuse=Catholic” obscures many realities, particularly accounts of abuse by perpetrators within other communions or movements. This week, inspired by the Joyce story, we focus on the non-Catholic world of Evangelicals and Fundamentalists.
We are not dealing with evangelical or fundamentalist outliers. The head of GRACE is Boz Tchividjian, grandson of Billy Graham, There’s no marginal evangelicalism in his family line! And note that Liberty University, founded by Jerry Falwell, is the school at which tireless Tchividjian teaches law. Also central to the Joyce story is Bob Jones University, the “mother ship” to some schools of fundamentalism.
GRACE and its allies and supporters claim that, if many evangelical and fundamentalist schools, camps, missions, and movements were to be under spotlights or magnifiers like those focused on Catholicism, many sad and shocking stories of leaders who prey on children would draw attention. Tchividjian claims that the evangelical-fundamentalist situation is even worse than the Catholic story. If so, one has to ask why is it less familiar, less frequently told?
GRACE leaders point to several reasons. First is the multi-organization chaos of Protestant life. They know that it is easy to focus on hierarchically formed and led Catholicism, and to plot who is or who should be responsible. But evangelicalisms and fundamentalisms include innumerable and often unaccountable bodies and agencies. It is harder for a TV network to sell a scandal-story about a Baptist summer camp or missionary enterprise than it is to expose bishops and cardinals who fail the Catholic faithful.
Some of the problems arise from theology, as when it takes the form of bad pastoral counseling. Evangelicals and Fundamentalists at Bob Jones—which is now evidently working belatedly to change—excelled at blaming the victims, easily cowing young people who sought counsel but met only authority and punishment.
Add to this the fact that most—but by no means all!—of the accused schools, camps, missions, and movements are fiscally fragile and vulnerable. It their story gets out, they fear they will go under. They cannot outlast persistent legal and financial challenges, so they turn their backs and shut their eyes and mouths. Hence effective cover-ups prevail.
When Sightings returns from its annual August hiatus, we will focus elsewhere, knowing that we have only touched the edges of this story of abuse, but we’ll keep a friendly eye on Boz Tchividjian and his colleagues. If Joyce is accurate in her chronicle, they are people of conscience and energy who want to resort to biblical norms of caring and to go about their work imbued by, yes, GRACE.
NOTE: acronate is a new verb which means “the action of creating an acronym.” (See Merriam-Webster: the Open Dictionary, “New Words & Slang,” http://nws.merriam-webster.com/opendictionary/newword_display_alpha.php?letter=A&last=80.)
Joyce, Kathryn. “By Grace Alone: As sex-abuse allegations multiply, Billy Graham’s grandson is on a mission to persuade Protestant churches to come clean.” The American Prospect Longform. Accessed July 25, 2014.
Marcotte, Amanda. “Billy Graham’s Grandson Is on a Mission to Root Out Sexual Abuse in the Evangelical Church.” Slate, May 7, 2014.
Bailey, Sarah Pulliam. “Billy Graham’s grandson: evangelicals ‘worse’ than Catholics on sex abuse.” Religion News Service, September 26, 2013.
Allen, Bob. “Insurance Companies Shed Light on Extent of Sex Abuse in Protestant Churches.” Ethicsdaily.com, July 6, 2007, News.
Rosenfeld, Seth. “Church settles sex abuse suit against [Greek Orthodox] priest.” San Francisco Chronicle, September 22, 2008, News.
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Author, Martin E. Marty, is the Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of the History of Modern Christianity at the University of Chicago Divinity School. His biography, publications, and contact information can be found at www.memarty.com.
Editor, Myriam Renaud, is a Ph.D. Candidate in Theology at the University of Chicago Divinity School. She was a 2012-13 Junior Fellow in the Marty Center.