Declaration by Nigerian Christian Ministers on Abuse: Commitment to Protect & Prevent
Declaration by Nigerian Christian Ministers on Abuse: Commitment to Protect & Prevent
Declaration by Nigerian Christian Ministers Regarding Sexual Abuse: A commitment to Protection, Prevention, and Accountability
July 1, 2019
We write with a deep sense of responsibility with regards to the recent discussions of sexual abuse in the church in Nigeria. Such allegations of abuse often make for complicated situations for Christians and may threaten to fracture churches. But these tough situations also present us with the blessing of a moment when the public understanding of the significance and integrity of our faith hangs in the balance. This is one of those moments. The current mobilization reminds us of the need to affirm the biblical framework for the role of righteous anger, accountability, and untainted justice, especially in the context of sexual violence.
We are Christian ministers from different ethnicities, gender, age, denominations, and locations. Our hope and allegiance are in the person of Jesus Christ, Savior of the world, and Lord of our lives. We are citizens of the Kingdom of God and sojourners in this world and recognize that we represent diverse experiences and backgrounds.
However, despite our differences, we have chosen to faithfully represent the example and teachings of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The centrality of the life and message of the Lord Jesus Christ and the “good news” of the gospel, especially for the poor and vulnerable, for women and children and those who are systematically disempowered and abused by culture, traditions, and class, must prevail over sentiments or personal loyalties.
Scripture is opposed to what Beth Moore has called “the colossal disregard and disrespect of women” by many within or outside the church. Sin is the reason for such behavior, not scripture[i]. We recognize that some may use theology wrongly as weapons to perpetuate abuse, silencing, and shame for victims of abuse; to pressure whistleblowers and muffle potential scandals in the name of protecting God’s work.
In opposition to these attitudes, we believe the fulfillment of the mission of the Lord Jesus Christ requires us to reject any explicit and implicit position that a Christian minister is above accountability. At the end of this letter, we provide some of the scriptures that guide this declaration. In sum, the Scriptures inspire trust that God’s righteousness will necessarily involve the righteous judgment of evil, and this message culminates in the Cross.
Speaking to victims of abuse, Jen Michel in Christianity Today reminds us that “the Cross stands over and against impunity …The Cross says that no sin is acceptable or incidental to God—not predatory behavior, not unwanted sexual advances, not lewd joking, not molestation, not rape, not any form of sexual abuse or aggression. The Cross is not just the site of God’s mercy; it’s also, very importantly, the site of God’s anger at sin.
Forgiveness is a central theme in Christianity but Biblically, it does not preclude seeking justice. To be sure, we are warned about the dangers of human anger and the temptation to wield it wrongly. (Ps. 4:4, Eph. 4:26, James 1:20). Nevertheless ... biblical forgiveness commits us to truth-telling and to moral reparation, just outcomes, consequences and ultimately, redemption”[ii].
We are mindful that seeking justice and protecting the vulnerable is a foundational call of the gospel and not just another issue. We believe that sexual assault erodes the good news of justice, salvation and healing that are at the core of the message of our Lord Jesus Christ. Sexual violence by church leaders and workers is an affront to the message of Christ, and to the sacred trust we bear, as we attempt to model Jesus’ command to “love your neighbors as yourself.”
As ministers who are charged with loving and protecting those who worship in our churches or with whom we associate in some form or the other, we affirm that we will not shield sexual abusers. We are deeply touched by the hurt, trauma, and pain suffered by survivors and many of us can identify with such experiences personally.
We reject public discourses that intimidate, castigate, delegitimize and humiliate alleged victims of abuse within or outside the church and their witnesses, women and men alike. We are committed to responding in a faithful, thorough and trustworthy manner when there are allegations or evidence of abuse of power or position, sexual harassment or intimidation, assault, emotional or verbal violence, statements or practices that hurt any congregant and damages our witness to the gospel before the watching world.
For this reason, we also undertake to uphold the necessity for due process in the pursuit of legal and social justice by protecting the rights of both alleged victim(s) and perpetrator(s) of abuse during the investigation of reported cases. Our goal is to ensure true justice, and the avoidance of errors that may create a tragic legacy of irreparable damage to either party through hasty judgment and acts of public tarring, shaming, social lynching or scurrilous condemnation of either party as the truth is investigated and established.
Justice also requires due process. Nicodemus queried the chief priests who condemned the Lord Jesus Christ to death without a hearing, “Does our law convict a man without first hearing from him to determine what he has done?” (John 7:50-51). The Bible states that “The one who answers a matter before he hears it—this is folly and a disgrace to him” (Proverbs 18:13). With this in mind:
We undertake to work steadfastly towards our goals that:
- Sexual, emotional, or verbal violence and abuse disappear from within our churches, homes and other networks and institutions.
- That our churches, homes, schools and other Christian institutions and agencies serve as safe spaces and havens for those threatened by any form of abuse.
- That we can begin to put into place appropriate and trustworthy mechanisms for responding to allegations of abuse in an environment that ensures the quest for truth and justice, the dignity of victims, accountability of leaders irrespective of their status, and a fair, impartial and just hearing for those who are accused of wrongdoing.
- We can effectively re-educate parents, teachers and church workers so that children and church members are not silenced through fear or shame.
The Bible says the Lord “heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3). We will join hands as much as we can to work toward ensuring restored community and healing from trauma-related wounds for survivors of abuse. We understand that God’s approach to justice involves a non-negotiable expectation of accountability, which serves a redemptive goal for alleged perpetrators and their victims.
This is a significant teachable moment for our churches and nation to bring about long-needed change. We do not pretend to be perfect but desire to grow toward God’s perfect ideals for humanity. Out of this belief, we have written this declaration, inviting you to be part of what we long to see in the churches and the world—a commitment to justice, and the protection of all who seek refuge in the Lord.
We invite you to stand with us, to join in this declaration, and pass it along and discuss it with your friends, congregants, pastors, students, and the church.
Dr. Aloja Airewele and Prof. Peyi Soyinka-Airewele (Pastoral Ministers and Counselors, Ithaca New York)
For More Information on Biblical Values and Guidelines
BIblical Expectation of Overseers: The Bible is unequivocal in requiring shepherds to watch over the sick and the injured, and condemns those who rule with force and harshness or allow God’s people to become food for wild beasts (Ezekiel 34:1-8). God says: “I will set shepherds over them who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be missing, declares the LORD”.
The Bible requires overseers to be above reproach (1 Timothy 3:1-5 and Titus 1:7); and “to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28) and decrees “woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” declares the LORD” (Jeremiah 23:1-4).
Jesus called his disciples to him “and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” ( Mark 10:42-45) and in John 10:11, he states that “ I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep”.
The Bible says “I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ … shepherd the flock of God that is among you … as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory( 1 Peter 5:1-4). The Bible cautions wisdom for those choosing to teach in the church for “those who teach will be judged with greater strictness (James 3:1).
Biblical Rejection of Sexual Misconduct: The Bible is unequivocal in taking a strong stance against sexual misconduct and expecting accountability for such “Galatians 5:19-26; Ephesians 5:3; Matthew 5:27-28; James 1:14-15”; Romans 13:13; 1 Corinthians 5:1; 1 Corinthians 5:11; 1 Corinthians 7:2 etc
Biblical Call to Justice and to a Fair Process to all Parties: Finally, the Bible calls us to do justice to all, without fear, favor, or corruption. With this in mind, our utterances and practices must be fair and just to all parties as we investigate allegations of wrongdoing: Proverbs 21:15; Genesis 18:19; Deut 10:18; Deuteronomy 16:17-20; Deut 27:19; Deut 32:4; Deut 24:17; 1 Kings 10:9; 2 Chronicles 9:8; Job 8:3; Job 19:7; Job 29:14
In this vein, justice requires due process. Nicodemus queried the chief priests who condemned the Lord Jesus Christ to death without a hearing, “Does our law convict a man without first hearing from him to determine what he has done?”. John 7:50-51. The Bible states that “The one who answers a matter before he hears it—this is folly and disgrace to him” (Proverbs 18:13).
We hold that this is not a prelude to silence, but an effort to follow the Biblical and legal path to true justice. The Bible instructs the church that when an abomination is reported, “then you must inquire, probe and investigate it thoroughly. And if it is true and it has been proved that this detestable thing has been done among you” then it will be followed with appropriate and harsh consequences.
Biblical Assurance of the Love of Christ and his Forgiveness: The entire scriptures are replete with instances of the extreme revolutionary love of Christ. We suggest starting with John 8:1-11, in which a woman caught in adultery is hauled before religious leaders and humiliated publicly (they clearly exempt the man). Christ is asked to judge her, but steps in to protect and restore her dignity in a redemptive act. This is our role model.
[i] Eliza Griswold, June 15, 2018, “Silence Is Not Spiritual: The Evangelical #MeToo Movement.” https://www.newyorker.com/news/on-religion/silence-is-not-spiritual-the-evangelical-metoo-movement
[ii] See Jen Pollock Michel, “God’s Message to #MeToo Victims and Perpetrators
Scripture offers a radical framework for understanding anger and forgiveness”. https://www.christianitytoday.com/women/2018/january/gods-message-to-metoo-victims-and-perpetrators.html