One of the hardest things for the church to accept is that there are a lot of people with a legitimate gripe against it. We like to talk down to people who do not participate in organized religion. However, for some people, it is in their best interest not to do so. Think about the boys molested by priests, girls impregnated by their pastor, men and women who were shunned because they would not tow the party line, or adults scarred by bad teaching and cultish behavior to which they were exposed in childhood. The list goes on.
The conspiracy to conceal the criminal behavior of Jerry Sanduskya, former football coach at Penn State, have left me speechless. How can a person witness the atrocity of a ten year-old being raped and walk away? How could university administrators value the illusion of honor over the sanctity of children’s innocence? Why would they not only continue to allow the perpetrator to be present alone with children and use the institution as cover?
The most valuable book for me as I recovered from my trauma drama with the church was People of the Lie. It is a disturbing account of the psychology of religion and how evil permeates the religious realm as we become increasingly organized. Of course, no one in the church recommended it. You won’t hear of any group studies of it. If you’ve ever been through anything in the church (if not, keep on living), you will recognize the wreckage and be healed by the analysis.
The author, M. Scott Peck, postulates that we do things as part of a whole that we would never do individually. There is something about being part of a group or wanting to do so. Anyone who pledged a fraternity or sorority (old school) can attest to the insanity of desiring to belong. On the front-end, we draw the line for how far we would go in pursuit of popularity, status, and networking opportunities. Once a person is in the mix and the prize is in view, there is little that they will not do as liability litigation has revealed.
Evil loves institutions. “So as they become larger and larger, our institutions become absolutely faceless Soulless. What happens when there is no soul? Is there just a vacuum? Or is there Satan where once a soul resided?” When people get locked inside them, they lose sight of their own values and adopt those of what they consider larger than themselves. The illusion of success supersedes moral integrity.
The same goes for Mike McQueary, the graduate assistant who witnessed a prominent coach raping a child. Under any other circumstances, he would have dialed 911. However, the prize of a coaching job was in view and he sacrificed all of his decency and self-respect to keep it attainable. Had he reported Sandusky to the authorities, his career would undoubtedly have been toast. Edmund Burke said “all it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.” Evil apparently has a better record at Penn State than Joe Paterno for this was not an isolated incident.
This brings to mind when my pastor was sexually harassing and withholding ordination from me. It pained me to no end to see people I loved and respected as passive bystanders. “That’s just the way it is” was the common refrain. For that reason, more than a few women have slept for their papers because no one was going to help them get them any other way. So much for the Good Samaritan. Help a victim, forget future preaching engagements, pastoral appointments, and other perks of the position.
Well, like Paul, I press on toward the goal unto the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14). Fifteen years after entering the ordination process, I still have no papers but my integrity is intact. My preaching engagements are few and far between and I cannot be a substitute Sunday School teacher in my original denomination. However, I sleep well at night. For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? (Mark 8:36). There will be preachers and self-satisfied religious types in hell and they will have a lot of familiar company.
People confide in me quite frequently that they don’t get very involved in their communities of faith because they don’t want to know about the evil that lurks within. That’s no different than turning a blind eye, thus aiding and abetting said evil. It is incumbent on you to confront evil if you know, or even suspect, that evil lurks about you. If you cannot do that, then you must leave lest you too have blood on your hands. Be not deceived, bad company corrupts good character (I Corinthians 15:33).
The good news is that not all churches or organizations are evil. However, they present the conditions for evil to flourish when they become institutionalized. We make choices as a part of a collective that we would never do singularly, especially when there is a reward involved. It can me money, a promotion, elevated social status, or something as simple as recognition.
The most shameful thing is that people have created gods that they consider higher than the crown of Christ. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen (I Corinthians 1:25). This played out at Penn State with more questions about preserving Coach Paterno’s legacy than ensuring human safety. The rub is not that we all sellout on some level on a regular basis, but most of us have not been offered enough for our souls.
Again, Mike McQueary rose from the lowest rung of the football ladder to a comfortable perch within the program as compensation for being complicit in an evil system. It happens every day in institutions everywhere, including the church. Officers, ministers, and those in other tony roles are usually most adept at doing the bidding of church leaders than discerning and obeying the will of God. Only the Lord, their partners in crime, and unfortunate victims know.
Before feeling too smug about how you would have responded in that Penn State locker room, or in any given situation, be sure the cock is not crowing thrice for you. Peck says further “Triggers are pulled by individuals. Orders are given and executed by individuals. In the last analysis, every single human act is ultimately the result of an individual choice.” Remain conscious of the systems you participate in socially, professionally, and spiritually. Strive not to do the work of the devil even as it parades as the higher good.
So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it (I Corinthians 10:12-13).