One of the accusations leveled against our community has been our lack of care for the victims of abuse. And wound into that accusation is the assumption that instead of caring for children and victims, our refusal to cow to the accusatory catcalls is necessarily just an act of self defense, defending leaders and pastors instead of the vulnerable little ones. So I’d like to say a word about that. A few words actually.
First, I’d like to begin with the nature of pastoring and spiritual healing. Like Jesus, the Great Physician, pastors are physicians who care for the souls of their people. Unlike Jesus, we are not the medicine or the cure, but Jesus has promised to be present with us in the Word and sacraments and prayer to minister His healing to every broken heart, to all who suffer, to all who are enslaved, to all who are tormented by demons, to all who bear heavy loads of guilt, regret, and shame. And this is because faithful pastors minister†Christ to the victims of sin and every form of abuse.
I remember when my daughter was born extremely premature and underdeveloped, there was a week or two in which her digestive track was not yet up and running. The doctors waited patiently though they told us that eventually if it didn’t kick in, they might consider surgery. I remember the doctor saying that they worked very hard to avoid that scenario. The chances of complications and secondary infections shot through the roof when they went the surgery route. He explained that surgery is incredibly invasive and should only be used as a last resort. Ordinarily, the safest course of action is to trust the body to correct itself, to give the body the best conditions and nutrients to heal itself, and of course ultimately that’s faith in Jesus to work through the vast and glorious complexity of the human body to heal.
Pastoring is like that. Pastoring requires careful timing. Every pastor knows their own weaknesses, their own shortcomings, and no pastor is perfect with their timing. Sometimes we check on someone too much, sometimes not enough. Sometimes we ask questions the person is not ready for and sometimes we wait too long to ask. Sometimes we need to press a point even when it hurts a little to get to the point of healing, and sometimes we need to be patient, keep feeding the lambs, and wait for the right moment. It can be tempting to try to be Jesus instead of waiting for Jesus to open the door, waiting for Jesus to do His secret work through His Spirit. But when someone is hurting and they walk into the office with a deep heart wound, wise pastors don’t pretend they are in a Civil War medical tent and haul out their handsaw and start amputating limbs. I sometimes joke with my kids when they’ve hurt a finger or a toe that I could cut it off for them and it wouldn’t hurt anymore. They always look at me like I’m crazy.†But that’s sort of how I feel about the internet mobs lobbing accusations at us.
Yesterday was the fourteenth anniversary of 9/11, and I caught a few minutes of footage and interviews from survivors last night on the news. The footage of the trade towers collapsing and the men and women running (one pushing a stroller) is pretty haunting to watch as the smoke and dust billows out and down the streets of New York City. Then there are the wounded walking with blood on their faces. I watched a reporter run up to one man and put a mic in his face and ask what happened. But as the rescue crews dig in looking for survivors and medical professionals come on the scene to give aid, one of the first things they do is start putting up the yellow tape. In order for the emergency crews to do their work they’ve got to create a safe and secure space for that care to take place.
Pastors and elders are the emergency crews that frequently arrive on the scene moments after explosions. And when reporters show up and start accusing the rescue workers of harming people, it’s not helpful in the slightest. Maybe they even point to the wounded coming out of the rubble, they catch snippets of conversations on the radios, and then they set to their blogs reporting half truths and raising suspicions that the rescue crews are actually protecting the terrorists. Why are you protecting terrorists? Don’t you care about the victims?!
Imagine you’re a fireman, a nurse, a police officer in that situation. Yes, of course it is important for there to be true accountability. Yes of course firemen and law enforcement and medical teams could use their positions to do harm. But you don’t actually provide any true accountability by stirring up an angry mob outside the yellow tape, and rarely do you even get a complete picture by shoving a microphone in the face of one bewildered survivor. And please don’t read into this metaphorical scene as though I’m assigning certain people certain parts. I’m not. I’m just painting a scene that generally corresponds to the kind of work pastors have to do.
But if the mob persists, following the ambulances to the hospitals and rehab centers, and they go around holding signs and demanding answers and accuse the doctors of malpractice and not caring about the victims and accuse the police and firemen of hurting victims and protecting terrorists, how are they actually helping any victims? They aren’t. In fact, the deep irony is that they are actually doing everything they can to cause the victims more harm. What if some of the victims are in a fragile state? What if some of them are actually doing quite well? But now the mob comes announcing that they weren’t protected, they were mistreated, that the first responders who risked their lives and reputations were actually helping the terrorists. How does this make the real victims feel? Perhaps they begin to worry that maybe they weren’t really rescued, and maybe they even begin to doubt their own healing. I thought I was doing well but maybe I’m not. The nice lady on the internet says my pastor is a monster.
Sometimes deep wounds need invasive surgery, but many times with a little patience and lots of ordinary love, people heal — like my daughter, who never needed surgery. Beef stew on rainy days, hugs and kisses, singing Psalms around a dinner table, dancing in the kitchen, fellowshipping with the saints, running around in the backyard are some of the ways God heals the broken hearts of His saints, even the littlest ones. There may be questions from time to time. There may be the occasional fear or doubt. But Jesus is the Great Physician, and He heals every hurt.
Faithful shepherds imitate the Good Shepherd who lays His life down for the sheep. And they often lay their lives down by standing up to the paparazzi, to the reporters, and to the internet mobs that want to rip open the wounds that have healed, that are willing to risk further complications and secondary infections to satisfy their lust for knowledge and power, that want to diagnose your problems and offer you their home brew solutions from three thousand miles away. Pardon us if we object strenuously.
But Jesus has already been busy on the scene, giving peace, giving joy, giving grace, and bringing healing. And we offer the same healing to all. One astute observer replied to my last post pointing out that according to Tolkien, orcs were originally abused and tortured elves. And I have no doubt that some of our loudest, shrillest opponents truly are victims of great hurt and pain. And so I say to you, my friends, if you can hear me through the fray: Jesus our Savior bore our griefs and carried our sorrows. He was smitten, stricken, and afflicted, and by His wounds we all are healed. He was crushed for our iniquities. He was deserted for all our loneliness. He was exposed and mocked for all our abuse and shame. He was struck and pierced for the darkness we can’t shake. He was crucified to take it all away. He bore our awful load and rose up victorious on the third day to set you free. Do not look away. Do not pretend this is irrelevant. This is the answer you’re looking for. Here is where that clawing in your soul will be soothed.
So no, our defense has nothing to do with us. Let our names perish. Let us be forgotten. We are nobody. But we refuse to budge. We refuse to cower. We refuse to give an inch because we love our sheep. We love the little lambs, and most importantly, we love the wonderful work of our Savior who heals.†And therefore we won’t let the folly go unanswered. Bring it on. We aren’t even bleeding yet.
To him who has ears to hear, let him†hear.