When considering and reflecting on the proper actions to take for the grievous comment this pastor made regarding the use of ‘rape’ for spouses, it is vital to clearly distinguish between forgiveness and accountability. Of course, we can forgive, and if he is remorseful, we must forgive. However, accountability is a distinct action, that has nothing to do with forgiveness. We all know that the Church (across denominations) does not hold an admirable record of accountability. Our concerns for outside judgments too often cloud our use of reason and logic, and we have too often turned a blind eye when dealing with dilemmas such as this one. We toss the ‘forgiveness card’ around with too much levity and very little reflection on repercussions. As I reflect on this matter, I am reminded of Moses. When God told him to SPEAK to the rock the second time towards the end of their wilderness wanderings, Moses STRUCK the rock…TWICE! In my sight, this was not as grievous as what this pastor said, and I struggled for many years to understand God’s “harsh” judgment. Nevertheless, after much study and reflection, I think I understood why God could not allow him to enter the Promised Land. As I see it, God spent 40 years trying to teach the Israelites of His compassion and mercy in total contrast to the ‘gods’ they were familiar with. Moses’ actions went in direct opposition to the image God spent 40 years attempting to put forth of Himself. It seems to me that God could not allow that image to stay engraved in the minds of the Hebrews (emphasis on ‘image’). God forgave Moses, and what a forgiveness it was….Moses was resurrected. Can there be greater evidence of forgiveness!! Yet, God also held him accountable because of the possible repercussions on the vulnerable souls Moses was entrusted with leading to the feet of a benevolent God.
I am very familiar with the neighborhood this pastor works in. I grew up just 10 minutes walking distance from this church. This is my territory. I visit these neighborhoods year after year because my parents still live there. It is a neighborhood with high crime, drugs, and violence. It is filled with broken homes, domestic abuse, high levels of unemployment, drive-by shootings, to name a few. A comment like his can have serious implications for the church members and the residents at large. They may be informed that he has been forgiven, but the instruction of ‘raping’ your spouse will stay lodged in the minds of many for whom an understanding of relationships is synonymous with control and violence. A statement of forgiveness alone is not enough to undo the damage that this has already caused, and will continue to cause….much like in the minds of the Israelites. The Church-at-large (@GNYC, @NAD and @GC) can make a public statement of forgiveness, but in the same spirit as God’s in dealing with Moses’ gross distortion of God’s character, accountability MUST take place if only to show the ‘eyewitnesses’ that we don’t take lightly this gross image of God’s character. Only then will Church leadership enlarge God’s benevolent Spirit, and ,… maybe … halt the continued repercussions of his comment.
I don’t presume to judge this man’s heart, but I struggle with dismissing that his remorse has more to do with having been exposed to the world, than remorse for having used the word ‘rape’. In my mind, that word has absolutely no place in any spiritual discussions unless it is to condemn it in its entirety, so I fail to comprehend how it could have been a ‘slip of the tongue’. I will never understand how or why a spiritual leader would express him/herself with such violent analogies. Nevertheless, I will not engage in judgment as this is God’s domain and ONLY God’s domain. But let’s not confuse forgiveness with accountability, and in the case of a spiritual leader, accountability MUST be pursued. In conclusion, our actions should not be focused exclusively on how to deal with HIM, but on the greater impact his comments will continue to have in this community long after he has been forgiven….and moved on.