From this and other scandals, the Catholic Church - and Christianity in general – has a tarnished reputation for basic integrity. Not simply as a result of priests or ministers acting in very unchristian ways, but from the response given to the misconduct.
One of the more disturbing films of late is Deliver Us from Evil, a 2006 documentary on pedophile priest Oliver O’Grady who was moved from parish to parish in Northern California during the 1970’s. Church hierarchy, with knowledge of his attraction to children and evidence of actual misconduct, harbored him for thirty years, allowing him to abuse countless numbers of children. Even more gripping than the interviews of some of the abused children, now adults, is the extended interview with O’Grady himself as he chillingly recounts his predatory past.
Or more to the point, the lack of response.
I watched this film with a graduate level class on cultural apologetics. Specifically, I wanted them to see what we must grapple with in terms of the church’s tarnished reputation, and the impressions many have regarding church leadership and scandal.
Most, if not all, of my students had no idea how best to react to such evil, much less the world’s keen awareness of it.
All the more reason to take note of the most recent scandal involving Joe Barron, a minister of adults at Prestonwood Baptist Church, a megachurch in the Dallas suburb of Plano, Texas. Barron was arrested in a police sting operation as he attempted to solicit sex from an officer posing online as a 13-year-old girl.
Within two days of learning of the arrest, Jack Graham – senior pastor of Prestonwood – addressed the scandal from the pulpit.
As an editorial in the Dallas Morning News noted, he did not defend the disgraced minister; he did not speak of all the good things Rev. Barron had done in his ministry; he did not call for forgiveness; he did not say that the pastor was going off for counseling and would be back in ministry soon as a “wounded healer”’; he did not blame pop culture for Barron’s fall; he did not lash out at the news media.
In his address, he simply said that the facts had been weighed, and the accused pastor had been asked to resign and had done so. He acknowledged the hurt and pain but thanked God for purifying the church. He challenged his listeners to uphold Christian standards of morality. He even thanked reporters for their coverage.
As the editorial marveled, “No excuses. No cheap grace. No breast-beating. Just clear, firm, sober action.”
And what else?
"Because of this, it’s probably safe to say that the Prestonwood congregation has a lot more faith in its clergy today than it might have otherwise.”
As the editorial concluded, “In the end, the real scandal in cases like this comes not from the sins and crimes of sexual offenders. No church will ever be free of that. The truly damaging scandals arise when church leaders mishandle these crises by failing to treat them with the gravity they deserve. Many in church authority have failed their calling and their congregations under similar conditions, through defensiveness, dissimulation and deferring hard decisions.”
Not this time.
And the world watched.
And instead of ridicule, gained respect.
James Emery White
For more on the film Deliver Us from Evil see the Internet Movie Data Base (IMDB) article at http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0814075/
It can be purchased as a DVD through Amazon at
For news reports, including video footage, of the Joe Barron arrest, see http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/religion/stories/051708dnmetministerarrest
For an article, and video, of Jack Graham, senior pastor of Prestonwood, addressing the issue with his church, see http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/latestnews/stories/051808dnmetministersting.3464076.html
Editorial: Prestonwood Church does the right thing,” Dallas Morning News, Sunday, May 25, 2008. Read online at http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/opinion/editorials/stories/DN-baptist_25edi.ART.State.Edition1.45f6053.html
For Prestonwood Baptist Church, see http://www.prestonwood.org/