My father came to Christ while in prison and then after serving his time, he became an evangelist and Rescue Mission Superintendent. As the son of an ex-con, I have seen the down and out loved, cared for and respected in his ministry. But in my memory, not one of those individuals was allowed in my home while growing up. And if there ever was a time that a stranger did come into the home, there were boundaries.
I remember times watching my dad preach to the men who came into the Saginaw Rescue Mission, in Saginaw, Michigan. The men would come to hear a short sermon before eating a meal and possibly getting a bed for their evening sleep.
I’ll never forget what I saw during one of those nights. One man, who had been drinking alcohol, was causing a disturbance. Suddenly my father asked all the men to bow their heads and close their eyes, which everyone did but this man and me. I wanted to see what dad was going to do because I knew something was up.
My father stepped down from the platform, walked to the row where this man was sitting; leaned in and took a hold of his little pinky and then, pulled him out of the meeting. He marched this fellow to the curb of the mission and returned to finish the sermon. I’m thinking “Wow!”
After the meeting was over, I saw my dad go out to the curb, sit down next to this man to put his arm around him and say something. Then he helped the man up, so he could take him to the dinning hall. Several things struck me about this incident.
First of all, dad wasn’t going to let one man disturb what could be a life changing moment for someone to know Jesus. Second, he actually respected this man by not putting up with his stuff. In spite of this fellow being intoxicated, my dad understood the man clearly knew what he was doing to disrupt the service. Third, this was not a muscle job so my father could show him who was boss. He not only had every head bowed and eyes closed to create a private environment, but dad went out to the curb afterwards and let this man know that he and Jesus cared. Fourth, you’ll never see anything like this mentioned in books to teach how to win people to Jesus. What happened was so radical, but in hindsight it reminded me of Jesus chasing the money changers out of the temple.
I can say my father did what he could to protect us from druggies, criminals, alcoholics, or any habitually irresponsible person from coming into our home, particularly if they were what we call ‘on the mend.’ But, I can’t say when the family went to Rescue Mission functions that I always felt protected, even though I understand striking the balance of expressing grace and understanding depravity isn’t always that easy.
Before I authored the book Transforming Twisted Thinking, I became acutely aware that my personal bent of wanting to sin against God and others didn’t go away just because I believed Jesus was my Lord and Savior. The Bible calls it the battle between the flesh and the Spirit; one in which the Apostle Paul confessed to in Romans 7.
I also saw this battle going on with some people in my past ministries. Whether it involved me, or leadership, church attenders, or counseling marriages at risk, there was no end to the depths of which believers in Jesus or unbelievers can sink to make sure they protect themselves. If sin can be defined as a failure to love, then all of us run into that wall occasionally and maybe more frequently than we realize.
Fundamentally, I’ve seen the Body of Christ – at least in the USA – shying away from a healthy respect for our personal depravity. It has been demonstrated in failing to protect children or slipping into twisted relational games to send a message that it’s okay to dehumanize others for the sake of pleasure or power. And, the pleasure isn’t only about the sexual but also the intellectual, emotional, financial and relational benefits that manipulate people into satisfying an egotistical desire to be worshipped.
We live in a worldview, and sad to say in many Christian Cultures, that look more at behavior above the street and won’t challenge the below the street direction our motives and behaviors are taking us. To mind this gap, it’s one of the reasons I believe there is no ‘sacred cow’ that can’t be challenged, or question that can’t be asked if we’re going to validate what a healthy respect for our depravity looks like.
Any culture without that can unwittingly or willfully foster a belief system where child sexual abuse can happen.