More on Spotlight

My comments on the movie Spotlight last week spawned a thoughtful and articulate response from a reader. I did not want all her effort and insight to get lost buried in a comment and so she consented to allowing the comment in it’s entirety to be posted here. Thanks, Suzanne, for your contribution to this conversation!

I appreciate your willingness to address ‘the elephant in the room’. This is huge!

You make an excellent point, that abuse is not a Catholic issue, but rather a problem in Protestant churches as well. Whether is it physical abuse, sexual abuse, or verbal abuse, our churches, and our country, is filled with it. I think it has become a problem within the church for several reasons, it is rarely addressed, predators have unsupervised access to children, parents are blind to the facts, (or they ignore them) and when predators do confess, members are not informed of the potential threat. I also believe that we tend to turn off our ‘intuitions’ and so the signs go undetected. If we did happen to suspect something suspicious, we would probably ignore it in the belief that God will protect our children, or that we shouldn’t think bad thoughts about our fellow brothers/sisters. Sadly, the abuse goes on and it takes years before the victims come forward, usually after much anguish and turmoil of feeling like perhaps it was their fault. Even more pathetic is the fact that when they finally come forward, they are met by leaders who want to cover it up. Leaders inflict additional damage by reinforcing the fact that it must have been something they had done to cause the person to ‘lust’ after them. In the countless cases I have known, when the abuse was exposed, the emphasis was to ‘love’ and ‘forgive’ the abuser. Oddly, those who preach unconditional love and forgiveness for all, withdrew from the victim, leaving them helpless and hurting. I personally have NEVER seen where the ‘victim’ was wrapped in love and supported. Actually, I have NEVER seen where the victim was shown the ‘grace’ that the abuser was shown, but rather the opposite. This results in a victim wondering why God abandoned them and why the church abandoned them. The scars are carried throughout their life.

The thing about being abused, is that you know the signs and you can sense a predator almost upon first observance. Perhaps the awareness helps by saving a victim or two. I think predators know when someone can see through them. Perhaps we should all tune into our intuitions and be more vigilant. I don’t think Christ would stand silently by while predators attacked the children he loved so much, nor do I think he would have been silent at the men/women who abuse either verbally or physically.

Thank you for reminding us that we must not get complacent and that we must address these issues. I am grateful for Marci Preheim and Sarah Taras, and for movies like “Spotlight’ that bring about awareness. I am very grateful that you are willing to bring to light the ‘hidden’ things. I appreciate your transparency for it says to every victim that there is someone who cares, and someone who will be their advocate. This is a tremendous aid in their healing process.

Some alarming stats below.

“Every year more than 3 million reports of child abuse are made in the United States involving more than 6 million children. The United States has one of the worst records among industrialized nations – losing on average between four and seven children every day to child abuse and neglect.” -National Child Abuse Hotline



In their engaging, sad, and highly personal reflection on sexual abuse in the evangelical church, Marci Preheim and Sarah Taras comment:

If abuse requires silence, deception, and wordsmithing to flourish, then the way to kill it is to bring it into the light.

I can’t tell from reading their post whether that was an intentional or accidental reference to the recent Best Picture Oscar winner Spotlight, but it certainly made me think of it.

Spotlight2For some time my friend and fellow pastor Mike had urged me to see Spotlight. I resisted mainly because I was certain that my movie-going partner, my wife, would not want to see it. I think, though, as well, that a part of me just does not want to be made to feel uncomfortable. And that, for sure, is a problem that is shared by too many.

I was surprised to discover that my wife, in fact, WANTED to see the movie, and we were both glad we did. Spotlight is far and away one of the best movies I’ve seen in quite some time.

In the first place, it is simply a well told story. It follows the journalistic efforts that uncovered the scope of the sex-abuse scandal in Boston telling that story with energy and passion. The film is well paced, sustaining interest from the beginning until the end. Unlike many movies, I did not stop to consider the time. I was engaged the full length of the film.

The movie was written and directed by Tom McCarthy who has been a favorite of mine for a long time. (If you’ve not seen The Visitor, put that one on your list, as well.) This movie is his best.

I was particularly impressed with the acting of Mark Ruffalo. His “it could have been me” speech about 3/4 of the way through was one of the best sustained monologues that I can recall having seen.Spotlight1

The topic is handled deftly and without making it solely a problem of the Catholic Church. That’s important because the abuse of children and the protection of the abusers is NOT a Catholic issue. It may have found a home there, and the sheer size of the church magnifies the scale of the problem, but this is shamefully a problem in Protestant churches as well as the article referenced at the beginning makes clear. The value of a spotlight is that the hidden things must be brought to light, and the light must never be shut off, no matter how uncomfortable we are with what it exposes.

The film is honest enough to say that it was not simply the church that allowed this to go on for so long. There is a human complacency that settles upon us all. We don’t like boats that are rocking, and we don’t want to be the ones doing the rocking. Blame is spread far enough to make us all look deeply at the issues of which we are even now aware, but don’t want to engage. Abuse? Abortion? Poverty? Sexual slavery and trafficking?

It is so often easier, to our shame, to simply close our eyes.

The movie forces us to open our eyes, but is never heavy handed in doing so. One leaves the theater strangely hopeful and blessed for having spent the time.

Spotlight is not likely to be in theaters much longer. If you have not seen it, and cannot see it in theaters, it is available on Blu-ray and DVD.

God, Gays, Heaven, and the End of the World

Some say that there is no such thing as bad publicity. If that is so, then, it has been a good few weeks for the Bible.

But maybe not.

First, except for those living off the grid in a cabin deep in the Montana wilderness, we all know that certainly (probably? maybe?) the beginning of the end comes this Saturday, at 6:00 PM, New Zealand time. Harold Camping has often been wrong and never in doubt. But he always hedges his bets. His earlier prediction was detailed in a book 1994? with its carefully placed and distinctly ambiguous mark of punctuation. Now he ratchets up his precision (though some in his ‘camp’ say his math could be wrong – there always seems to be an ‘out’). The Bible, his followers say, is always right, and so we wait.

Then, recently, the Presbyterian Church (USA) reached a milestone as the tally of those presbyteries supporting a change in the church’s constitution which would allow actively gay clergy reached the total necessary for approval. This was not unexpected and generated much media conversation about what the Bible does and does not say about homosexuality. The religion editor for the Orlando Sentinel quoted a scholar who, while having the integrity not to try to deny the Bible’s opposition to homosexual sex, nevertheless dismisses such opposition as hopelessly colored by the primitive times in which those prohibitions were written.

Finally, Stephen Hawking has declared that heaven is no more than a fairy tale for those who are afraid of death. In the wake of that claim, which should come as no news to anyone, media has been all over actor Kirk Cameron’s Facebook response and relatively silent on the response of Bishop N. T. Wright (a fairly smart man in his own right) which was respectful and reasoned.

The media loves a tussle, because we love a tussle. But if we are not careful in all of this, there will be serious collateral intellectual damage. The great temptation for any of us once we get hold of a book which possesses authority is that we will want that book to say what we want it to say. If WE believe that communism is right, or capitalism, or whatever, we will want the Book to side with us and we will begin to read it that way.

And for others, hearing people argue passionately opposite sides while claiming the same authority will cause many to determine the book itself has no value. If the book can be made to say whatever its handlers want it to say, then it says nothing at all. If you can prove anything from the bible, then you can prove nothing, and the book is worthless.

As a pastor all of this makes me very cautious in my approach to scripture. We all need to come to the text with deep humility, aware of our own biases and weaknesses and of the ease with which we could slip into error. My prayer, and the prayer that I hope others pray for me and for other pastors, is that when I speak with the Bible as my authority, that I will do so with care, speaking clearly that upon which the Bible itself is clear, and with restraint upon every other thing.

Golden Voice

While complaining on Facebook about losing my voice this week, a friend sent me a link to this story. I had not seen this and was amazed not only by this guy’s voice, but the glimpse it gives into a side of homelessness we can too easily overlook – people with abilities who really do want to work.

Let’s hope that this story ends well and that Mr. Williams and the Cavs have a long and mutually beneficial relationship!

The Economy of Kids

As I catch up on my reading, I have run across two blog posts linking kids and economics, both spawned by the same WSJ article on the subject.

Now, I’m on top of this. I note that the average cost of raising a child from 0 to 18 is something like $180,000. We’ve gotten five that far with one more to go, so I’m not surprised that I’m broke. But I also would say that I’m a very, very rich guy. (And hope to enjoy that wealth for a long time if the stress of having two very attractive and very available unwed daughters does not kill me first.)

Both blogs question whether the economics of satisfaction should control or be a factor in our child bearing decisions. Megan McCardle puts it bluntly:

And here’s where I wonder if we ought to re-examine our commitment to happiness. It seems to me that there’s possibly some merit — if we persevere and have the sense to learn from it — in the other-orientation that is (good) parenting. It’s fine to go through life happy, in other words, but I suspect we also want to go through life without becoming big fat self-absorbed jackasses. Children really help in that regard.

Mike Sacasas reacts in a similar vein:

…it seems misguided to capture the meaning of a child’s life and the experience of parenting with its tears and joys in a simple statistical survey or a budget line item. Perhaps it is the reduction of social life to economic life, that accounts for the changing patterns of childbearing; perhaps it is an almost narcissistic view of personal fulfillment.

I am not one advocating the ‘have as many children as you can’ mentality of some. (A wonderful review of this point of view here.) And I confess that there have been times when I’ve wanted to turn in my resignation as a parent, but have been unable to find the office where it was to be submitted.

That said, in the wonderfully providential way in which God has lead us, He has given to us a myriad of blessings, sometimes through pain, which could never be measured with economic instruments.

Though, it is clear, we are still broke.

The Sojourner

I’m preparing a sermon on Psalm 94 for this Sunday and noticed that God’s concern for the weak and oppressed and under-served finds expression in verse 6 as the psalmist expresses anger that the wicked “kill the widow and the sojourner, and murder the fatherless.”

The lexiconsays that the word translated here as sojourner “…is a man who (alone or with his family) leaves village and tribe because of war, famine, epidemic, blood guilt etc. and seeks shelter and residence at another place, where his right of landed property, marriage and taking part in jurisdiction, cult and war has been curtailed.”

It is clear that God has a heart for the widow, the orphan, and the sojourner, and it is clear that he reserves judgment for those who misuse their power over such.

To apply Scripture to life requires considering how biblical categories translate into modern situations. In our case, the widow may be the literal widow, or the single mom. The orphan may be the child bounced around in foster care, or the unborn child in the womb.

Who in our day would correspond to the sojourner?


I know that the topic of immigration, legal or otherwise, is a highly charged and emotional issue. I know that people feel very strongly about the matter for many deeply seated personal reasons. I understand that, and do not want anyone to take personally anything I might say about the matter. My concern in this case is not the immigration issue itself. That is a complex issue that politicians tend to avoid because it has no simple answers. My concern is that when those who possess power wield that power in ways that isolate the powerless, the potential for injustice is so great that we should take notice and ponder carefully the implications.

Megan McCardle, a libertarian commentator for the Atlantic Monthly makes the point I want to make very well here. A sample:

If, however, this law could not possibly be passed if it affected the majority, because it’s far too intrusive and would result in a lot of people passing unhappy hours in jail or waiting by the side of the road while the police checked their ID with immigration . . . well, then, it’s probably not something we should be doing to other people, either.

But I encourage the reading of the whole. It’s short.

Chaos and Evil

In the aftermath of the shootings at Ft. Hood, there is, in this post by James Fallows, resignation. But there is wisdom in his thoughts, too.

Unless our world view recognizes the reality of chaos and evil, we will not ever come to grips with such things. These are awful events, made personally worse for me because I know someone who works at Ft. Hood, and I’ve not been able to get in touch with him.

There is a lot about the presence of chaos and evil in the world that I can ‘explain’ theologically, but which I nevertheless cannot really understand. But I see in the concrete reality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ an event and a truth that contains a promise of a world in which chaos and evil will be but a dim memory.

To that end we labor and pray and hope.

The Fog of War

I was fourteen in 1970, when four students were killed at Kent State University in a protest over the Vietnam War, and I lived in a community and context where questions about the war were not an issue. So, I never questioned it.

In 1974 when I turned 18, with a #11 draft lottery number, I applied for conscientious objector status, not that I opposed in any way the then winding down war, but because I had a misunderstanding of the biblical teaching on conflict and war.

The Vietnam War was never more for me than scattered images on a television screen interrupting my carefree high school and early college years. For many others, of course, this war was much more.

So, at the time, the name of Robert McNamara was nothing more than an occasional name heard on the TV news. I did not know him as a major architect of the American presence in that war (as the American Secretary of Defense from 1961-1968). Much that was later by some seen as offensive and immoral in this war has been laid at his feet.

McNamara’s recent death has brought his name back to the forefront of public conversation, and has renewed interest in a movie I think I’d like to see.

Errol Morris is a documentary film maker. Several years ago, I watched his movie Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr. (not yet available on DVD) about a man who was an expert on execution techniques, served as a consultant to the various state prisons where executions were performed, and was, late in life, recruited to the cause of those who deny that the holocaust ever occurred. Though it sounds like heavy fair, it was a fascinating film.

Morris as well produced a film based upon a series of interviews with Robert McNamara. The film, The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara, received strong critical praise, winning a number of awards, including the Oscar for best documentary feature. Admittedly, the film elite will be favorable to anything remotely critical of an unpopular war. But having seen Morris’s work before, I’m persuaded that this is not a Michael Moore fantasy. Morris lets people speak for themselves.

I think that given the current debate over the ambiguous nature of war, and the recent death of McNamara, now would be a good time to watch the film. I have it on order, and intend to sit down and watch it sometime in the next two weeks.

I don’t want to do this alone. If you would like to sit with others to watch and discuss (civilly!) this movie, let me know! If there is interest, I’ll arrange a time when we can do this together.

And if you have seen the movie already, post your comments below. I’m interested.

Abortion and Slavery

I’m way behind in my reading and writing.

I just read this post which was written in response to the murder of abortionist George Tiller.

The author is, I believe, libertarian. Her friends, she says, are all pro-choice. Her struggle with the topic is real.

This is a reflective piece which takes seriously the parallels between the controversy over slavery and that over abortion in this country.

We cannot justify unilateral acts of violence. We can, however, understand the dynamics which lead to them.