The following piece is an excerpt from the devotional book entitled “Our Lives First: Meditations for Counselors” by Diane Langberg.
We believe much of what she has to say here speaks directly to this current situation in a powerful and biblical way.
Responding to Institutional Sin
The Christian world has been slow to recognize and speak about institutional sin. Perhaps that is the Western influence with its focus on individualism and independence. Institutions are often complicit in, and even condone, evil, while at the same time speaking out against it, denying its existence and justifying it when it is exposed. As counselors, we have seen this dynamic play out in family systems. When we work with families where there is domestic violence or sexual abuse, for example, we encounter systems that fight exposure and work hard to preserve the status quo regardless of the cost to the individuals within it. We also know that churches have sometimes colluded with these families, believing that preservation of the system, no matter the evil it contains, is the biblical way.
It is not a big step to understand, then, that larger systems can fight for self-preservation, even while rotting at the center. The Catholic Church has been in the headlines in recent years for preserving itself, protecting its pedophile priests, and thereby allowing hundreds of child victims to spend their lives struggling with the memories and aftereffects of sexual abuse. We have more recently heard about mission organizations and Christian schools that have behaved in a similar fashion, refusing to believe the children and investigate their reports. And of course, this is not just in “those” church or “over there.” These evils occur regularly in evangelical, Protestant churches in the United States as well.
It is ironic how institutions, ordained by God and set up to preserve, protect, defend, and nurture, can end up devouring people in an effort to maintain the larger structure. It is reminiscent of Israel, a nation chosen by God and given rules and teachings so as to preserve not simply the institution, but the people within it as well. Israel, as a system, sadly became like the families with which we have often worked. She stood as a nation; her people continued to follow some of the teachings with their sacrifices in the temple and, all the while, she was rotting at the core and destroying the very people she was meant to protect. God’s response was to obliterate the institution and scatter the nation like seed. He does not preserve structure with no regard for content. He wants purity in the kingdom of the heart, not the appearance of it in the institution that has to lie to make it seem as if it is present. He would rather the structure be destroyed so that He might work in the hearts of broken people and bring about transformation from the inside out.
His ways truly are not ours! Think about it. Can you imagine a global church, a mission organization, a Christian school, a denomination or a local church finding rottenness and deception in its midst and repenting to the point that the loss of the institution was subservient to obedience to Jesus Christ? What if power and words and resources were all used in concert to bring truth, reconciliation, restitution, and healing for the victims and the constituents? It is not our way. We are afraid. What if we lose all our money? What if we have to close down? We were established for good cause and will lose our opportunities in this world. Our organizations are not the kingdom of God. That is not where we will find Him. He resides in the hearts of His people who are called to live in obedience to Him even if it means their structures and institutions fall down around them. We are inclined to obey the institution rather than our God. In doing so, we are disobedient to Him and are calling evil good.
Jesus spoke very clearly when He told us that His kingdom is not of this world. His kingdom is to be the place where His will is fulfilled. No so-called Christian organization is His kingdom unless all aspects of that institution are governed by His will. So often we have preserved our institutions by pointing to the portion that follows His way, hiding or excusing those places that look nothing like him; or by using a small part of His Word to justify the evil we allow to continue unhindered and unexposed. The true kingdom of God looks like the King Himself in all His glory.
I pray that we, in this generation, will have the courage to speak the truth about ourselves and our own institutions when they hide sin and pretend righteousness. I pray that we will bow the knee in repentance when sin is exposed in our families, our churches, and our organizations. Such a response is the fabric of revival, something much needed in this land and this world.
For further thought:
Consider the power you wield with your clients, especially the power to name institutional sin. Pray for courage to speak truth to power for the sake of the name of Jesus Christ.
“Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”