I’ll start by saying I don’t know this man. I have no intention of making any moral judgments about his character or his life as a pastor. I expect he has a genuine faith and is a committed Christian. However, what he said to a reporter from the Atlanta Journal Constitution on child abuse and how he handled situations of abuse is incredibly ignorant and, unfortunately, an all too-common attitude among people in positions of authority within institutions of trust like churches, schools, Scouting, and other similar places.
Pastor Griffith was apparently the pastor of Beech Haven Baptist Church in Athens Georgia where Ernest Boland allegedly molested Boy Scouts whose troop was sponsored by Griffith’s church. Here’s what Griffith told the reporter, “It was suspected, but there was not much done about it. . . These two men said, ‘We will handle this.’ They both were capable and it was under their authority. I did not get into it. It’s the kind of thing that can tear up your church. A wise pastor certainly will not do anything to hurt the entire congregation”(emphasis added).
Well. A wise pastor might also realize that if a child is sexually abused it hurts the entire congregation. And while this reasoning may seem outrageous to many of us, it’s what we’ve heard over and over again from such authority figures in institutions of public trust like the Boy Scouts, the Mormon Church and the Catholic Church. This myopic institutional view fails to recognize that one child abused is too high a price for silence. It also contradicts what most in such institutions would view as the communal inter-relatedness of each member. If one member is hurt or violated, all are hurt and violated.
I am glad to say that these days some in the churches are starting to realize that Christian thinking about abuse has to square with the words of Jesus, who reminded us that the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are as children, and that it would be better for a man to have a millstone around his neck and be tossed into the sea than to cause one of these little ones to stumble. Readers might want to check out an exciting new Christian initiative to eliminate abuse in churches, called “Godly Response to Abuse in the Church Environment” (GRACE), founded by Basile Tchividjidan, a law professor at Liberty University, a former prosecutor and the grandson of Billy Graham. This is a very encouraging sign.
Meanwhile, I plan on writing a respectful letter to Pastor Griffith, remarking on his comments. Stay tuned.