Stop talking about “moral failure.”

Some years ago, I was sitting in my car waiting to pull out of an icy parking lot, when I witnessed a scene I never forgot.

A business man dressed in suit and tie and carrying a briefcase was importantly striding down the parking lot. At the wrong moment, his polished shoe thwacked on a patch of ice. The man danced on the ice, arms flailing, coattails flying and briefcase swinging as he desperately tried to keep his balance. (Confession: I laughed. But that doesn’t have anything to do with what I’m trying to tell you.) This dignified man apparently wasn’t paying enough attention to his icy surroundings which led to a performance that was truly amazing to behold.

This scene keeps returning to my mind as I hear the term “moral failure” applied to the sexual sins of people in the church.

Heavy on my heart is the present fiasco with Christian Aid Ministries and their missionary who molested multiple young boys in Haiti. At one point, the missionary was sent home from Haiti after committing sexual crimes. His home church was told that he had experienced “moral failure.” If I understand the story right, since the community didn’t know exactly what this “moral failure” was, this man was allowed to later return to Haiti where his sexual abuse of boys continued.

This is a case in point of why I dislike the term “moral failure.” So many times I have heard a leader or a church member’s vague confession to “moral failure” and every time the blushing church looks away awkwardly and wonders what exactly the confessor means. Being a trusting people, most of us assume that the person confessing savored some lustful thoughts, or perhaps enjoyed a porn magazine on the sly.

But what if the person is a rapist and pedophile?

“Moral failure” sounds like a slipping, like a well-intentioned man or woman inadvertently stepping on a patch of ice and nearly falling. It sounds so much more forgivable and manageable than specific sexual acts.

Two thoughts I have:

1.) Christians need to be forthright about naming their sins, including sexual sins. If you have a problem with looking at porn, say so. If you raped the neighbor child, say so. If you flirt with a woman not your wife, admit it. If a blanket term must exist, “sexual sin” sounds more accurate to me than “moral failure.”

2.) The church needs to provide an environment conducive to frank and immediate confession. James 5:4 says:

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.

James 5:4 (ESV)

What would be possible if the church community refused to awkwardly blush and turn away, but instead laid hands on the struggling member and prayed for his healing and for the infilling of the Holy Spirit? What if honesty was valued above saving face? What if the community had spiritual insight that enabled them to deal swift consequences in a spirit of both justice and mercy? What would happen if the ones sinned against would receive care and validation instead of being ignored or suppressed?

Yes, real-life scenarios can be complex, and may take much wisdom from God to discern. But the Gospel is simple. The Bible doesn’t talk about moral failures. It talks about specific sins and what to do about them. It talks about God’s judgment and the hope we can find in Jesus.

It talks about confessing, so that we can be healed.


38 thoughts on “Stop talking about “moral failure.”

  1. Victoria Miller

    I saw this over and over as a Victim Advocate at the Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence Center. The Mennonite and Amish community would sweep “moral failure” under the carpet, instead of addressing it as sin AND as a crime in the United States. Somehow they seemed to think they didn’t need to follow this particular law and could “take care of it themselves.” Evil is what it is. I not only witnessed victims victimized further and ostracized, while the perpetrators went free, but I experienced it myself in my own upbringing in this cult. It is a wicked wicked thing. God will not let it slide forever.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. And if ever there was a place for excommunication, this would be it. For the church to distance itself and publicly proclaim “this is not who we are, and we want no association with this sin, the irreversible wrongs done to these children, or this man until he publicly repents.” Thanks for your thoughtful post Rosina.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Anonymous

    Spreading stories… If you are not part of solution and not part of the problem, is it for you to talk about? Just because it’s “the truth “, is it right to slander?

    Ephesians 4:29-32 29 Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. note

    30 And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.

    31 Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice:

    32 And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.

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    1. Kalene Nisly

      Rosina is part of the solution by having this very conversation. She’s speaking truth to power, not with malice but with genuine care and concern. Slander is making false statements. You are making an accusation but are doing so from an anonymous post. That feels much more like slander to me.

      Liked by 5 people

    2. William

      Sorry Anonymous, but I find your post to be the judgemental one. Quite frankly if you are an Anabaptist, you are a part of the larger problem, which is what Rosina addresses in article here. This is a very good article which I find in no way unforgiving towards anyone. It is a very honest assessment of a very common problem among our Anabaptist/Christian circles – the problem of “what will people think of me if they know the truth?”. This is pride and it is time we realize that pride is evil. (from reading the account of Satan falling it would seem that pride was the first sin that he invented/committed – obviously a serious sin) It keeps us from God which makes us weak and susceptible to Satan’s attacks.

      In a case like this, it does not do anyone any good to jump to conclusions about whether the offender is repented or not. Our responsibility is to pray for all involved, not to judge. But truth is truth and it is a good warning to us that if people just say “moral failure”, we need to dig deeper. Putting myself in the offender’s shoes, I would say that if I were willing to make the case known and face the consequences, it would be genuine repentance, if not…
      Sweeping these things under the carpet MUST NEVER HAPPEN. In doing so, those involved are as guilty as the person committing the crime.
      I don’t mean for this to be offensive, but I sure don’t apologize for truth.

      Liked by 2 people

    3. It seems like the church has it backwards. We publicly condemn those outside the church, while covering up the sins of those inside the church. Paul provides another model in 1 Cor 5. You would do well to read that “Anonymous.”

      Liked by 2 people

    4. Lovina

      1 Timothy 5:20 “Them that sin rebuke before all that others also may fear.” If the offender were a person of non religious background would we then say we should not talk about it?

      Liked by 2 people

    5. This sounds suspiciously like a Gothard quote who also used similar reasoning to cover his brother’s sexual deviance. As a result many more vulnerable people were victimized and God’s glory was shamed for the sake of family and personal reputation and money.
      Maybe we confuse what Love looks like. We wouldn’t call forcefully yanking someone from a precipice they were hurtling themselves over “meanness, or gossip .” We wouldn’t see it appropriate to House a diabetic in a candy shop if we cared for their well being, and AA wouldn’t advise a recovering addict to live next door to a tavern or host a wine-tasting bazaar and stay dry. Similarly, the law serves to protect both the perpetrator from his addictions when he’s out of control and to protect more victims from being victimized. As anabaptists, our simple, trusting, and sometimes willing ignorance gets us in deep waters. I hope this is a wake up call for all of us.

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    6. DFS

      If there were an outbreak of the Bubonic plague or small pox, no one should speak of it unless they were infected or a medical professional?
      If there should happen to be a kidnapper in your neighborhood but were neither witness or victim, you would be horrified if anyone else should be talking about it?
      1 Timothy 5:20
      Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear.

      Like

  4. Anonymous 2

    Do you realize that this particular story has now hit mainstream media? I saw it in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette (a newspaper with a circulation of 173,160). You are indicating that sharing something that is now public knowledge is a problem.

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  5. Do you realize that this particular story has now hit mainstream media? I saw it in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette (a newspaper with a circulation of 173,160). You are indicating that sharing something that is now public knowledge is a problem.

    Like

  6. Barbara

    Thank you for the courage to speak out of this subject. I was in a church years ago here in Canada where what Mr/Mrs. Anonymous wants swept under the rug was dealt with as it should be….. We had wise God fearing leadership that had the offender brought to justice and the victims given love acceptance and the support they so desperately needed to heal. Sadly I think that is the exception rather than the rule in the Body of Christ. God have mercy when we don’t turn a blind eye. We may be surprised some day wen we are asked why we stood by and did not interviewee on behalf of those who could not speak for themselves. Matthew 18:6 is pretty clear how God feels about it as well. But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.
    I could go on and on as I see the harm that comes from minimizing sexual sin as a moral failure! This has nothing to do with forgiveness….. that is a given for the sake of the offended but that doesn’t mean you put the offender back into a situation of temptation as was mentioned with the missionary going back to offend…. Pretty sure the same people wouldn’t put a thief repentant or not in charge of the churches money!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Handling sin justly and redemptively is one of the most powerful things the church can do.The world does not have an answer for sin (other than the law which is not always just), and sadly, many times the church does not either. God calls us to act justly, while also walking in mercy and humility.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Loren Miller

    Amen my dear niece. Hate might be too strong a word for the feeling of the cover up word of “moral failure” but it’s time for the church to wake up to their moral failure to try to be redemptive by beating around the bush. I sure do like your writings even though I don’t tell you often.

    Blessings galore, Uncle Loren, DPM

    >

    Liked by 1 person

  8. JM

    “What if honesty was valued above saving face?” YES. I think sometimes people responsible for rug-sweeping think it will make the church look bad if the sin is exposed. But what really makes the church look bad is when the truth comes out after years of covering up and enabling, and in some cases many more people have been harmed. It’s a terrible testimony to a watching world (not to mention all the other bad things that come of it). How much better it would be to deal with these sins as soon as they become known, so that all involved can begin to be restored!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Mountain Merle

      JM, my thoughts were running down the same lines. Sin is a terrible blight wherever it happens, especially in the church. But sin confessed voluntarily and in a timely manner can be somewhat understood, even by “the world” looking on. (although sins against children seem particularly heinous) When gross sin is “swept under the rug”, this is a blight ten times over. I am speaking in general terms here and will wait to pass judgement on the case in hand until all the facts come out. One more thing I would say is that as a rule I think we Anabaptist people err on the side of being too trusting. For sure, we want to hang onto being the “harmless as doves” part, but it’s time we do a way better job at being “as wise as serpents”.

      Liked by 2 people

  9. Cathy Horst

    Would any of us feel it is judgmental to talk about a murder case even if we were not involved? I think not. And yet, is it not just as dangerous for a young child to be around a sexual abuse perpetrator when no one knows what has happened than it is for you and I to be around a murderer? I suspect that statistically it is far more dangerous for a child to be associated with a sexual pervert.

    I love your thought provoking posts, Rosina. Keep it up!

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Shirley

    As a former Mennonite (not that I ever wanted to be) there is an underlying issue that no one is talking about. Yes there is acknowledgement that “abuse is widespread” and that “many have been abused” but I was it not mentioned is that this goes back further than just 2000. Decades ago I know of at least one group of men who regularly sexually abused small children-nothing was said -nothing reported. the men of that generation are now quite old and probably not very aware of what is going on around them. BUT those men deliberately taught the NEXT generation who learned they wouldnt get caught and how to manipulate and control those around them(including inflicting ostracism etc on those who threatened to report)THAT generation is now the older generation who are in positions of authority and responsibility and have no desire to have what they did exposed. So far the emphasis has been on INDIVIDUAL isolated men who performed indecent acts. nothing so far is said that there were GROUPS that regularly met and had the confidence that they could get away with it. and I believe thats why the intense coverup . Jeriah is the sacrifical scapegoat that everyone can blame and say ” see we are being good Mennonites “

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    1. The sex rings are chillingly awful, and the cover-up of them even worse. The question that always comes to my mind: what about our culture enabled and encouraged that?

      I value many parts of our culture, but cannot subscribe to something that produces rotten fruit.

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      1. Shirley

        this is my personal opinion but I think what started it was way back in the early 1900’s when there were several well known preachers who went around trying to get Mennonite men to “man up” for want of a better term. they were called weak and ineffective. In fact as I understand it wearing the plain suit was supposed to be an alternate to the army uniform. It was to give them a sense of unity and power. However at the same time there were all sorts of restrictions laid on them that they couldnt do -mainly that layman couldnt do any sort of evangelism or Bible study without the say so of an ordained minister. they were also limited in taking any kind of initiative that would in effect “show they were proud”. and that bore fruit. Plus the “you must be born again ” and “Let the Holy Spirit move in your life” was replaced by “if you dress a certain way then that will show you are a Christian” and length of hemlines and color of shoes became more important than if you were showing the grace of God in your life. ISo you had thousands joining the church who were NOT Christians and did NOT have God’s Spirit in their life. Ok thats lengthy enough!

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        1. Shirley, I often think about the fact that the Gospel is simple. When we get distracted from the basics–being born again, receiving the Holy Spirit, and living a changed life–it is easy to go wrong.

          Like

  11. Sandra Miller

    I love your kindness, Rosina. You were compassionate, not vengeful like the person who exposed this for all the world to see.

    I do have one concern and that is how CAM is being tarred and feathered in the court of public opinion. If a person has a gripe against any one the truth will be shewed to reflect their bias rather then the unvarnished truth. And….like it or not but I do find it troubling how the person who publicized it is living in disobedience to the WORD herself. This tarnishes her credibility to me. Why is no one mentioning it? Are people being partial? Will God look the other way for her? but then judge CAM and Mr Mast?

    Some things do not make sense. God bless you, Rosina.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Many, many people who are working for CAM are completely innocent in this case, and are working tirelessly and selflessly from a pure heart. This article was not even about CAM per se, but to explain why the terminology we use matters, especially in the church. We will never be able to take swift and just action if we gloss over sin.

      I’ve read enough of Metzger’s work to respect her, but I don’t know her personally. I’m sure we all have room for growth. 😉

      Liked by 2 people

    2. I have worked with CAM, lived in Haiti and know that Satan loves to wreck the work of God. This is no excuse for Jeriah’s actions. I do wish though, that for every minute of outrage against him and CAM there will be twice that much time spent in prayer that repentance, redemption and restitution will take place in the lives of every single person that has had a role in this travesty. My other wish is that the victims are granted love and somehow find a way to forgive and figure out that God and missionaries are not one and the same. Man is fallible, God is not.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. You are absolutely right, plainlady. Talking about the situation needs to happen, but there’s so much more that God wants from us! My heart breaks for the victims…how much more does God yearn after them with tenderness and mercy!

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    3. As to Trudy Metzger, I will say this: Trudy does not wear a cape dress. She does not wear a headcovering. Some people will say that this is disobedience to Christ.

      Be that as it may, I have followed Trudy’s writings for years. I have had the privilege of meeting her in person and hearing her speak. And one thing that has struck me is her incredible kindness and love. While others are busy trashing whoever has done wrong (such as CAM, in this case), Trudy is slow to judge, quick to listen, and slow to accuse. She speaks the truth plainly, yet with love and with the desire to see justice done. She does not gossip or slander; indeed, she refuses to spread rumors that she has not been able to substantiate.

      Other than what I mentioned at the beginning, I am not aware of anything that could be classified as “disobedience” that Trudy is “living in”. At the end of the day, what matters to me is the truth. So far, what I have heard and seen indicates that Trudy is telling the truth.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Sandra Miller

        Joel, I never mentioned the cape dress as being something the scripture speaks of that females should wear, but it does about the head covering – something we do to acknowledge the headship of God over man and woman and because of the angels. We get in trouble when we modify God’s directives, even those that make little sense – like Eve did. It took only one act of disobedience to get banned from the Garden. I have to think about this whenever I am tempted to do things that make little sense..

        Liked by 1 person

    4. Perhaps no one is mentioning it because it is completely irrelevant to the case. Truth is truth, and it is better faced up to, wherever it comes from and whether or not it makes us comfortable. I have read Trudy’s blog, and there is nothing hateful or mean-spirited there. She has challenged the culture of secrecy among the Anabaptist churches regarding this type of issue. And for that you feel persecuted? For that you gripe about the headship veil?

      To be quite blunt, your veil did nothing to prevent the abuse of children. The veils of the mothers in Holmes County, whose children he abused, did nothing. The veil of his own wife did nothing!

      The problem here is not Trudy’s lack of a veil. The problem is that he was allowed on the mission field by men (who bear headship) who knew of his sexual failures and proclivities. And he went on to abuse with impunity. There is a huge “moral failure” here, and it isn’t just that of Jeriah Mast. The culture of secrecy must stop. There will be no sweeping of things under the rug this time. There never should have been at any time.

      As a survivor of male childhood sexual abuse myself, I understand all too well what the abused are going through right now. I know enough to understand that they have literally decades of overcoming to do. They deserve for you to know this. They deserve, not just your prayers, but your openness and constant support. And they need this especially long after the media-hype that you so desperately fear dies down.

      They, the victims, should be your focus. Not the veil. Not CAM’s reputation, not your reputation, and certainly not Jeriah’s.

      Liked by 2 people

  12. Pingback: Why the Blow-up Over CAM's Failure to Report Sex Crimes Needed to Happen - Properties of Light

  13. Rosina I’ve been thinking about this ever since the news broke out. Sadly this whole thing has caused CAM to look bad because of poor choices made by Jeriah Mast and the men who knew about the abuse.
    Now it’s time to pray for the boys who most are now adults. Pray for their healing both spiritually and emotionally. Pray that they don’t turn around and abuse others.
    Pray for CAM. Pray that they dont lose heart over everything that is happening. They most likely will lose supporters.
    Lastly pray for Jeriah Mast. I don’t know what else to say in regards to him. I guess pray as the Lord leads.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dear sister, I hesitate to write this, because I see your heart in this matter. I thank you so much for encouraging people to pray, especially for the abused. But calling Jeriah’s crimes “poor choices” is doing the very thing that Rosina’s article is trying to get us to stop doing.

      These weren’t poor choices. These were gross sins upon the most innocent among us. They were calculated and repeated. And they are crimes punishable by law.

      Using euphemisms to refer to sin helps no one. If the plain churches did not have the habit of referring to “moral failure”, perhaps Jeriah would never have been sent back to the mission field once his previous “moral failure” has been made known.

      Sin hides in darkness.

      CAM does bear responsibility here. You rightly point out that some of the leadership at CAM knew about Jeriah’s “moral failures”. What they knew remains to be revealed. But you cannot have leadership glossing over things like this. This wasn’t just a poor choice on their part. It was a catastrophic failure of discernment and leadership. CAM looks bad, and it should. No man is an island unto himself. When someone sins, it affects others. When an organization has failed, the ripples from the failure are going to be far-reaching and long-lasting.

      Trust has been broken. People are naturally going to wonder how many other things have been hidden over the years? No, this isn’t fair to the good and faithful missionaries out there. But the consequences of sin are never fair.

      The best thing to do is to just start calling things for what they are.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. “This wasn’t just a poor choice on their part. It was a catastrophic failure of discernment and leadership.”

        YES. And when have we heard leadership take full responsibility in abuse cases? I’m not sure that I’ve ever witnessed even one instance.

        Like

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