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Hello! I'm Ashley.

I’m a Christian feminist, writer, speaker, TV producer, news pundit, ordained reverend, and abuse-victim advocate who educates churches and secular communities on abuse. I’m the founder of The Courage Conference, for survivors of abuse—and those who love them.

Should Abusive Celebrity Pastors Get A Second Chance?

Should Abusive Celebrity Pastors Get A Second Chance?

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Pastors. Priests. Ministry leaders.

It seems everyday we hear a new story of a church leader who abused or covered up abuse.

In the wake of these stories a big question has emerged: Should pastors and leaders who abuse get a second chance?

A common response I see from the mainstream Christian churches is yes, if the abuser is repentant. When a pastor or other ministry leader abuses someone under their care, they are pressed to give an emotional “apology” if the abuse becomes public, and a short sabbatical is taken but then after this “repentance” process is finished they are allowed to regain their role in ministry leadership. The justification for this position is that God is a God of second chances, the church should be too. But is this a truly biblical response to abusers?

Zacchaeus, A Biblical Example of True Repentance

When Zacchaeus, a tax collector, met Jesus he showed true signs of biblical repentance, not just in words but in action. Tax collectors were given power by the government to extract money from its citizens. With this power backed by the government, tax collectors notoriously took more money than they were supposed to and kept it for themselves. After Zacchaeus met Jesus, he had a true repentance experience. Not only did he fully admit to wrongdoing and blamed himself alone... he also made every effort to restore (fourfold) the money he had stolen.

Abuse is always rooted in stealing power and control from the victim. And, it is a more serious type of theft than financial fraud. Abuse is a theft of power, voice, peace, security, and more. The traumatic aftermath of abuse can last a lifetime for the victim. A truly repentant abuser will follow Zacchaeus’ example and seek to restore what they have stolen. A truly repentant abuser will take every opportunity to return the power, voice, and peace to the victim (fourfold) by gladly stepping out of positions of power, voice, and spotlight. Nothing can ever fully amend for the trauma they have caused, but they can do everything in their ability to repay the wrong by taking long-term, reparative action.

 

Some Practical Applications For Biblical Repentance:

  • Admit fully to the abuse without excuse or justification.

  • Submit themselves to law enforcement officials and enroll in long-term therapy.

  • Step down from leadership positions and recommend the church finds a replacement, preferably someone who has previously been marginalized like survivors, women, and people of color...who at the same time has been thoroughly vetted by trained victim advocates.

  • Reach out to influential contacts who had previously provided platforms for speaking and influence them to feature the stories of survivors and marginalized persons in their place.

  • Ensure press and media are focused and centering on the victim’s side of the story rather than justifying the abuser’s actions.

  • Pay for therapy, medical, and/or other expenses the victim(s) may have accumulated due to their abusive actions. And, pay for future expenses.

  • Remove themselves from situations where they would come in contact with the victim or other vulnerable people so that the victim does not have to change their life habits.

  • Anonymously donate to organizations that support healing for survivors.

 

As Jesus said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” -Matthew 20:25-28 {NASB}

Being great in the kingdom of God is not about building a massive following or gaining a high-level leadership position at a megachurch. Rather, Jesus said to be great is to become a slave or servant.

So, do I believe in second chances for abusers? Only in the sense that they have the chance to lay down their life by giving back fourfold the power and position they have stolen. (At least, the Biblical example is fourfold.) They can do this by submitting to law enforcement and by putting themselves last and victim’s voices and needs first. This is NEVER accomplished by re-entering a ministry leadership position or championing their own story. This is only accomplished by stepping out of the limelight and giving voice and opportunity to the abused and marginalized.

A few things to Remember about abusers:

Abusers Rarely Face Appropriate Consequences

Out of 1000 rapes only 6 predators are ever incarcerated. Churches notoriously fail to report abuse and assault in a timely fashion to the police, therefore not providing the accountability or consequences needed for the abuser’s crime (1 Peter 2:13).

Abusers Thrive on Power and Risk Re-Offending

Abuse is always motivated by a lust for power and control. Abuse is a fundamental misuse of power. Church leadership positions carry multiple forms of power. One relapse could lead to a lifetime of trauma for one or more victims.

The Church’s Responsibility

In my advocacy work, I have yet to see an abuser willingly take a position of long-term, biblical, reparative repentance. When this is the case, the church must stand up for the sake of the victim(s).

Will we give power to a person who has historically abused power or will we empower those who have been on the receiving end of abuse of power?

Will we give voice to those who have used their voice to destroy lives or will we give voice to those who have had their voice stolen?

Will we spotlight “redemption” stories of those who have caused great pain or redemption stories of those who have survived great pain?

It is my hope that the church will begin to press abusers towards true, actionable, biblical repentance and that they will champion the voices of the victims when abusers fail to do so themselves.

-Ashley Easter


 

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