The church of Christ in every age,
 beset by change but Spirit led,
must claim and test its heritage
and keep on rising from the dead.
—Fred Pratt Green

In August, a Pennsylvania grand jury released a statement on clergy sex abuse in Roman Catholic parishes in the state. The allegations named 300 priests and more than 1,000 child victims. With all the cultural turbulence this nation is experiencing, the news of this additional evil surfacing in the midst of our communities makes a populace of caring people feel completely powerless. This is the church, for God’s sake! We’re the ones who are supposed to be creating solutions to the world’s evils, not contributing to them.

Immediately the mind goes into compensation mode: “Compared to the overall number of Catholic priests and Catholic children, this is a relatively small number,” or even “I’m Lutheran, so this isn’t my problem.” These rationales, however, are lies we create to exonerate ourselves of social responsibility and accountability. Whether Catholic or Lutheran, we are all members of Christ’s church; their children are our children; this brokenness is our brokenness.

Sexual immorality also happens in the ELCA. I don’t need to cite statistics, I can simply relate parts of my story. This is my truth, and it hurts to share it: I was groomed for several years by an ELCA camp counselor but established boundaries before things became physical. During my senior year at seminary, my former internship supervisor was removed from the ELCA roster for having an affair. In my work with bishops across this church, I have yet to hear of a synod where a rostered minister was not removed due to allegations of sexual abuse. I could go on. My story is not unique. Ask your pastor or deacon; they could likely share a similarly sad litany.

The most insidious evil is that which hides in plain sight. The people in whom societal trust is placed too often fall prey to the temptation of abusing their power for personal gain. Because the human mind desperately yearns for a normal reality, it is easy to ignore the danger signs in our community. We must be vigilant. The church must constantly be about the business of re-formation unless we want to run the risk of becoming blind to the predators in our midst. In the words of Fredd Pratt Green, the church must “keep on rising from the dead.”

Children are the church’s most precious asset, for it is to such as these that the reign of God belongs.

As Lutherans, we believe it’s our moral responsibility to provide loving and caring environments for children and youth so they can grow safely in love toward God and one another. For Martin Luther, the state of marriage and children was a foundational tenet of the Christian life.

Consider this quote from “A Sermon on the Estate of Marriage,” which Luther published in 1519: Finally, if you really want to atone for all your sins, if you want to obtain the fullest remission of them on earth as well as in heaven, if you want to see many generations of your children, then look but at this point [that is, raising children] with all the seriousness you can muster and bring up your children properly. If you cannot do so, seek out other people who can and ask them to do it. Spare yourself neither money nor expense, neither trouble nor effort, for your children are the churches, the altar, the testament, the vigils and masses for the dead for which you make provision in your will.

Children are the churches. They form the altar. They are a testament. Moreover, they are the lifeblood of the worship to which we aspire in order to please God. Not only should our youth programming be a top priority in our budgets, planning and prayer life, but our children should never for once doubt that the church is anything but a safe refuge from the cutthroat world of social media, the stress of adolescence and the consumer thrall that threatens to engulf them.

Above all, as church leaders, we need to remember what an incredible privilege it is to serve the communion of saints in any ministerial capacity. From acolytes to presiding bishops, we’re all given a sacred charge to open our hearts and the hearts of those around us to the Spirit and love of the risen Christ. Children are the church’s most precious asset, for it is to such as these that the reign of God belongs. Let this be our prayer: that we keep on rising from the dead so our church becomes a haven of security and compassion.

Martin Zimmann
The Rev. Dr. Martin Otto Zimmann is an adjunct professor of church and society at United Lutheran Seminary, Gettysburg campus. He holds a Ph.D. in American culture studies.

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