The Church and Secrecy
By Ian Boyne
July 16, 2006
Everybody, Including some who may well be sex perverts themselves, has condemned the action of the 46-year-old married deacon, Donovan Jones, who was allegedly complicit in the sexual escapade of some teenagers involving a 14-year-old girl.
We now have to move beyond that to some larger issues.
The grossly and repulsively immoral behaviour of the church deacon, clear for all to see in his X-rated movie of sexual exploitation, and the reaction of church founder Ruby Kelly, again highlight the need to understand how religious people think.
The secular media which don't have specialist religion reporters generally don't know how to cover religion. There are ace reporters and journalists who do excellently at covering politics, business, economics, entertainment, sports and foreign affairs, but are usually at sea when it comes to giving hard-nosed and nuanced coverage of matters involving religion, religious groups or philosophical issues.
The Jamaican media and civil society representatives who are non-fundamentalists were flabbergasted and horrified by the comments of Sister Kelly, who sternly and piously chastised the disloyal and rebellious informers who leaked the offending sex tape to the media.
The reaction of Sister Kelly on the Sunday after the scandal broke in the media has incensed people, perhaps even more than the dastardly act of the deacon.
Raining down fire and brimstone on those who sought to defame God's people to the world, church founder Kelly rebuked: "You gave up your own to be tried by unbelievers. Because of you, the name of 6 Dayton Avenue is all over the place. I know them that betray. I know them that sell out."
Not only would the informers and traitors be dealt with by the God of Vengeance, but the aged founder of the 43-year-old church, Dayton Diamond Ridge, (whatever that means) also announced in her Sunday service that God was saying through her, "I know the reporter and I will deal with them."
People who don't understand the landscape of fundamentalist and cultic religion will be shocked by those statements, but those who do, know they are by no means extraordinary, but logically consistent with that belief system.
If a wicked and murderous leader like Ahab could repent and be accepted by God; if David could kill a faithful warrior of God (Uriah) and commit adultery with his wife and still retain his kingly throne; if Noah could be involved in a drunken stupor with his daughters and if Jesus could associate with prostitutes and say He did not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance; if His grace can reach down to the depths of the sin pit to fish out any sinner, why can't a sex offender be forgiven for his sin and move on?
This is the reasoning of the Sister Kellys of the fundamentalist world.
Secular people don't understand that religious people, as Augustine said, inhabit two cities - the secular and the sacred.
And, to them, the sacred is primary. The laws of the sacred - including mercy, forgiveness and compassion - override secular laws.
In fact, there is one Scripture which says plainly "mercy rejoices over justice." What is mercy and grace except the withholding of punishment when justice demands it?
New Testament Christianity, not just fundamentalism, is filled with admonitions to forgive, to overlook wrongs and to embrace, not reject, the sinner.
In fact the New Testament says plainly, "Love covers a multitude of sins". This is repulsive to the secularist for whom justice is the supreme virtue.
At the heart of Protestant Christianity is the view that grace and mercy trump justice, in the sense of giving people what they truly deserve. The very Gospel of salvation, they remind, is about grace triumphing over law.
Secular people don't understand how some religious people reason and exegete Scripture. What we are having increasingly in the world is a clash of cultures.
We used to think of a clash of cultures occurring between East and West; between Western democracy and Eastern communism, between Western Christianity and Middle Eastern Islamism, or Western materialism and Eastern mysticism.
Today, we are living in the same geographic space but inhabiting vastly conflicting philosophical spaces. Unless we understand one another, we will be engaging in a dialogue of the deaf.
The issue which faces some ardent religious adherents is: How do I balance loyalty to my church and the brethren, with my responsibilities as a citizen of a secular state to report crimes and not to shield law-breakers?
Do Christians have a higher 'law of love' which they should apply rather than turn over their own brethren to "worldly authorities" for punishment?
There are fundamentalists who recall Jesus' prophecy about brethren's betraying one another and putting them before the courts and they genuinely don't know whether that applies in the case of incest, rape, etc.
I guarantee you that there are many pastors in this country who know of incest cases, rape and other atrocities against the law but who have maintained confidentiality about it (at least in so far as the authorities are concerned; for some gossip about it to others).
It is not just Justice Martin Wright's church alone which is guilty of withholding information on law-breaking. Pastors know a lot and they cover up a lot.
People still confide a lot in pastors. Even murderers do. And counsellor-client confidentiality is an established and sacrosanct principle in counselling and in the ministerial and priestly vocation.
This issue of how far church leaders should go in disclosing information to the authorities has been a major issue in the Roman Catholic Church in North America and Europe.
The Catholic Church paid out multiple millions in compensation damages to victims of child-sex abuse by priests, who were often shielded by Bishops and Cardinals. Cardinals simply moved around priests to other congregations when their abuse was discovered.
Priests have confessed to sexually abusing minors to their bishops and they were not turned over to the police. This has been well documented.
But, what many don't realise is that the Jehovah's Witnesses have also been the subject of many scandals in the United States and the United Kingdom involving paedophila.
So serious have been the charges of child-sex abuse among Jehovah's Witnesses that a former Witness of 43 years, who was an elder for 20 years, founded an organisation to fight this scourge within the movement.
The movement is called Silent Lambs and maintains an active website with some harrowing stories of abuse in many areas of the United States particularly.
It is very easy for top-down organisations like the Roman Catholics and the Jehovah's Witnesses, where there is no democratic polity and where organisational loyalty is stressed, for abuse to be covered up. In many cases, those who are abused end up feeling guilty and are fearful of reporting the abuse to even those inside the church.
When the abuses are reported to church leaders in hierarchical organisations concerned about their reputation, the victims are usually told to forgive, to remember their own sinfulness and Christ's mercy toward all.
Most of all, they are urged not to repeat the story as it might affect the unity of the church and its mission.
Members in these organisations usually feel like traitors to speak to other members about the abuse, much less to report it publicly and "wash the dirty linen in public".
That is to become Church Enemy Number One and no human rights activist outside of certain religious contexts knows what that feeling is psychologically in a fundamentalist or cultic context.
Jehovah's Witness Elder William Bowen was disfellowshipped for "causing division" when he dared to raise objections to the culture of secrecy which surrounded child-sex-abuse among Jehovah's Witnesses.
The Jehovah's Witnesses are highly moral and law-abiding people in the main and they hold, organisationally, to high standards. They don't tolerate sexual immorality the way some liberal churches do and yearly they excommunicate about 36,000 persons, mainly for sexual transgressions.
But, they have been accused of creating a 'paedophile paradise' by their strict interpretation of Deuteronomy 19:15 which say no one witness can convict a person and a thing must be established with two or three witnesses.
When a man is abusing a minor, is there usually a witness? If the leaders call up the man and he denies it, what happens?
Well, what has traditionally happened among Witnesses is that the case is written up but not brought to the police for it has not been established according to that Deuteronomy text which the Witnesses say was reiterated by Jesus in Matthew 18.
But, the Witnesses have been so stung by the bad publicity in the United States that since 2003 they have refined their policy on child-sex abuse and now say openly that elders must report the charge of incest or child-sex abuse even if it is not corroborated, if the laws of the state or country demand that (It does in Jamaica now!)
But ex-Witnesses say that is not good enough for the cases to be reported automatically only when the state or country demand it. The Witnesses keep a database of all reported child-sex abuse charges but they have refused to hand over those files to the authorities, pleading confidentiality.
Other churches have information, too. How can we have a complete Registry of Sexual Offenders if churches refuse to tell what they know?
Church leaders like to do their investigations before calling in the authorities. The Dayton Avenue group is not alone in that.
But, in other cases members keep quiet instead of telling on their leaders.
No wonder Sister Kelly was so mad with the whistle-blowers. They were not loyal like other church members. Church people usually protect their own and feel it unchristian to publicly expose fellow Christians for wrong-doing.
Notice that while many secular organisations and even politicians have expressed condemnation, to date the Jamaica Council of Churches, the Jamaica Association of Evangelicals, the Association of Full Gospel Churches, and not even the Church of God in Jamaica have issued any public condemnation.
The culture of secrecy and of not washing dirty linen in public is deeply embedded in our church culture.
Ian Boyne is a veteran journalist. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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