In one of his sermons, Jesus talked about the light and the darkness and said that, “if the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matthew 6:23) In a similar verse, Apostle Peter tells us that the judgment of God will start in his house (1 Peter 4:17). After God deals with the church, he will judge the world.
If there is a word that has been promoted in religion, politics, business, and education, it is the word transparency. While the word itself may be promoted, the reality is often obfuscation and darkness. From a code of silence among police officers to the private meetings of corporations and government officials, we are witnessing a lot of darkness these days. The revelations of darkness among Catholic priests and Southern Baptist pastors shook their pastoral colleagues and churches around the country. Many people are shocked, but some people were aware of these dark actions before they were revealed on the printed page.
Over 40 years ago, I was having lunch at a nearby seminary. In conversation with a young lady, I mentioned that one of my friends was at this seminary. The young lady responded that she knew him better than I did, in a very biblical way. She was excited to tell me that they were in a sexual relationship and thus her knowledge of him was much greater than mine. The seminarian in question belonged to a very conservative branch of Christianity. In that tradition, if a priest’s wife dies and the priest wants to continue serving, he cannot marry again. This young priest in training had already broken the vows of his priesthood, yet he was ordained because there was a scarcity of priests and his past was overlooked or unknown.
People writing apologetically about the Catholic priests have many reasons why these things are taking place. Some say that the abuse might not happen if homosexuality was accepted as the norm because gay priests would not have to hide their sexuality and lure children. Others wonder if affairs with married or single women could be avoided by allowing the priests to marry.
When I started ministry in the 1970s, the book The Thorn Birds was new and very popular. I was doing a Bible Study with a group of women in the church, and they told me that they wanted to talk about that book. I was surprised by how much sympathy the ladies in the study had for the bishop in the story and how often they used the word “natural” to describe his relationship. The Bridges of Madison County book and film came out a few years after that. The woman in charge of the ladies’ group said that she would do the same as the heroine from that story, if she was not appreciated by her husband and the situation was presented to her.
The 1970s eliminated absolutes not only in sexual morals, but in every aspect of society. Since there were no absolutes, the appropriateness of lying was determined by how much you would gain from the lie. Sexual relations were no longer considered sacrosanct; it was strictly seen as meeting a need—among college students, among married people, and among the adult single population. Since there were no absolutes for society, many priests and pastors felt that society would not condemn them either. Statistics show that the things that come to light in the church are practiced by society at large, but we still have different expectations for priests and pastors.
It took us a couple of generations to come to the darkness that we have now, and it will take a couple of generations for church leadership to be trusted again because the darkness is so big. But we serve Him who is the Light of the world. It may be that before God can use us effectively again, He will pass judgment upon the church and eliminate the great darkness.