Not long ago a retired Presbyterian minister traveled to Kanab, Utah to attend a wedding reception in honor of a friend’s daughter. When he arrived, he found a small campground where he pitched his tent and went off to the celebration. Upon his return he discovered a couple from an Eastern state had camped next to him. A conversation ensued.
At first, friendly greetings were exchanged. Then the couple raised some political points. Differences of opinion between them and the minister emerged, but the conversation remained positive.
Since the minister mentioned his knowledge of religious issues, the woman was prompted to raise the issue of abuse, as reported in the media, in the Catholic Church. She declared that Catholics have a major problem. The minister responded that in his more than forty years of ministry experience he had dealt with seven cases of abuse committed by Protestant clergy. He also knew of a number of offenses which occurred in religious circles other than Catholic. The woman seemed displeased.
She next asked if issues around human sexuality had something to do with controversy in the Presbyterian community and other mainline Protestant churches. The retired clergyman briefly outlined how major disagreements in those bodies developed and were handled. He pointed out that patient, thorough due process was discarded in favor of political pressure and manipulation of church courts and assemblies. This resulted in congregations and individuals feeling disenfranchised and leaving to join or form different denominations. Major changes in church practice, such as blessing same-sex relationships and marriage, became a divisive wedge pushing people apart. The lady became even more displeased.
Well, at least, she said, same-sex persons are much less likely to commit sexual abuse than other people. Somewhat taken aback by her assertion, the preacher explained that all his experience, research and doctoral studies made it clear that all types of individuals, no matter how they are identified, can be involved in sexual abuse. He listed several examples. Eighty percent of offenses in Catholic circles were reported to be of a homosexual nature against young men. There are high rates of abuse against students in public schools. In one small town where he served, the chief of police informed him of fourteen cases of older teens, girls and boys, offending against younger children.
Before he could explain further how pervasive sexual abuse is in our society, the lady stated flatly, “I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree!” Then she rose from her chair, turned her back, and stomped off to her tent. Instantly, the Presbyterian retiree was filled with anger. Not sure why, he got in his car and drove into the dark desert night, praying for understanding as the nearby mountains presented their vague silhouettes against the starry sky.
The answer to his prayer came in the form of an “aha” moment. He realized that over the years, on the countless occasions when someone said to him, usually with a condescending smile, “We’ll have to agree to disagree” the statement meant anything but agreement. Everyone who made that proclamation meant that they were going to ignore any facts presented and go on doing whatever they wished, regardless of the destructive impact their ideas or actions may have on the community.
What is absolutely essential is to agree to follow the facts down to the roots of our brokenness and agree to travel the enormously difficult road together to the God-given principles of life, asking for divine assistance every step of the way.
He pulled over and looked up into the star bright heavens. “Dear God, please give me the patience, perseverance, and wisdom I need to break through the shield of ignorance and denial we have erected around our foolishness.”