Joseph D’Souza on How Sex Scandals Show Why Evangelicals Need to Recover the Sacrament of Confession

The Most Rev. Joseph D’Souza is the founder of Dignity Freedom Network, an organization that advocates for and delivers humanitarian aid to the marginalized and outcasts of South Asia. He is archbishop of the Anglican Good Shepherd Church of India and serves as president of the All India Christian Council. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily represent those of BCNN1.

Recent news that popular Christian comedian John Crist has been accused of sexual harassment put the spotlight once again on sexual sin within the church.

This would not, of course, be the first time a prominent Christian figure has fallen from grace because of a moral failure. With the advent of the #MeToo movement, more stories of sexual abuse and harassment and even rape within the church have come to light. It should break our hearts that the body of Christ has failed to protect the most vulnerable among us and, at times, has even been complicit in covering up for abusers.

The good news is that these revelations, as painful as they are, have prompted churches and denominations to do more to protect people in their community who may fall prey to an abuser. Some churches are implementing measures such as background checks for volunteers and installing security cameras. Denominations also are setting up committees and encouraging member churches to treat any instance of sexual abuse as a crime and report it to the authorities instead of dealing with it internally.

Yet there remains the issue that these measures are largely reactionary, not preventative. Because how do you hedge against a sin that originates in the human heart? As the New Testament’s Letter of James reads,

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

Is there a better approach churches can take to dealing with sexual sin? James gives us the answer a few chapters later: “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other.”

Now, many of us who come from the Protestant tradition have a troubled history with the idea of confessing our sins to another person. After all, the Protestant Reformation was ignited because of the Roman Catholic Church’s abuse of sacraments such as the confessional to exert power over the masses.

The Reformers rejected the idea that followers of Jesus needed a human mediator to receive forgiveness or commune with God. They believed, as we do to this day, that Jesus’ sacrifice was all-sufficient and, as the Book of Hebrews teaches, he is our permanent intercessor before God. At the time, removing the requirement of regularly confessing one’s sin to a church official liberated the masses who for so long did not have direct access to God or Scripture.

However, by doing away with the confessional, Protestant and evangelical Christianity lost a deeply sacramental act of obedience. As noted above, the New Testament does enjoin Christians to confess their sins to one another — not so that we can receive forgiveness for our sins, but so we can enjoy spiritual accountability to God and one another.

As long as we are on this earth, followers of Jesus will have to contend with the reality of sin. As Paul writes in his Letter to the Romans:

For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do — this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

We know that even the best among us, though made righteous before God through faith, are still sinners on any given day and need to learn the discipline of daily confession before God. There is no substitute for the humility that comes when we regularly acknowledge we are sinners and in need of God’s generous mercy. It prevents us from having a self-righteous attitude, which has damaged the witness of many modern churches.

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Source: Religion News Service