You’re there on Sunday morning. You get there around 8:15 every week for coffee and donuts. Your kids go to Sunday school with friends they’ve known their whole lives. You eat your donut and then walk with your wife, Bibles in hand, to your Sunday school class. Everyone is dressed so nicely. Everyone is friendly.
You sit down in your class and the husband and wife in front of you turn around to greet you. They ask about that problem you were having at work. You look around the room and see people you’ve known for ten years, people who you’re comfortable with in the way you’re comfortable with family. You go to the morning service after and during the greeting time you casually walk around the room, shaking hands and making small talk with the same people who sit in the same pews every week.
You’re there for two more hours on Sunday evening. Your kids go to kids programs while you hear more preaching that is authoritative, confident. The preacher is so certain of things that he just has to be right. After church you talk to a friend for a few minutes while your kids play in the Family Center and your wife catches up with another friend.
Then you’re there for three hours Wednesday evening. You’re part of the choir. Your wife helps out with the Wednesday night kids program. Your kids memorize Bible verses and play games. They come home tired and with skinned up knees from sliding on the carpeted floor in the room where they have game time. There’s a new hole in your son’s jeans, but it’s hard for you to be too upset about it. He’s having such fun and he’s learning the Bible.
You have a small group one night a week. You go into someone’s home, maybe share a meal, and you learn more about the Bible, more about how you’re supposed to live. Everything is so clear.
You teach a Bible study during the week with the youth ministry, so you spend time in your commentaries and asking other men in the church about a hard text. Your wife helps with a meal delivery ministry and spends hours on the phone every week with women from the church, arranging meals for people in the church who need them and hearing how everyone is doing.
On Saturdays in the fall, you watch Husker games with church friends. You order pizza and bring small finger foods and dessert to share. As Nebraska scores another touchdown and you high five a friend, you can hear your children playing in the backyard, laughing.
When you’re sick, someone from church brings a meal over. Your kids play with their kids. There are Sundays where you basically don’t even see your kids after about 9am until it’s time to go home after evening church because they’re just running around with their friends, going to church events, and then going home with a friend for lunch and an afternoon of playing in their backyard, bouncing on their trampoline, building forts in the woods by the creek, before coming back for evening services. And during that whole time they’re gone, you don’t ever really worry about them.
And all of this runs almost seamlessly because everyone believes the same stuff about… almost everything.
Now imagine how incredibly thick that sense of community must be.
So why do we keep running into such horrifying stories of abuse from these kind of churches? Imagine you’re the person I’m describing above. Now imagine you’re hearing about Eileen Gray. The cost of even entertaining the idea that maybe Eileen Gray isn’t in sin, maybe the church is behaving wrongly here… even considering that thought feels like it could cost you everything. And it can. How can this church that is your whole world and that you think is so safe and wholesome have done something like that?
And so it goes.
You rationalize it. You find excuses. You ignore it. You do anything you have to in order to maintain the picture in your head of what the church is. Because if you actually were to deal with the fact that the picture isn’t real, your entire life collapses.
That world is collapsing now. And it needs to collapse. Probably Jesus himself is the one tearing it down. He hates abuse. But if you want to know how things got so bad and how so many depraved things happened for so long, how people could let these things happen over and over and over… well, this is how.
Jake Meador is the editor-in-chief of Mere Orthodoxy. He is a 2010 graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where he studied English and History. He lives in Lincoln, NE with his wife Joie, their daughter Davy Joy, and sons Wendell, Austin, and Ambrose. Jake's writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Commonweal, Christianity Today, Fare Forward, the University Bookman, Books & Culture, First Things, National Review, Front Porch Republic, and The Run of Play and he has written or contributed to several books, including "In Search of the Common Good," "What Are Christians For?" (both with InterVarsity Press), "A Protestant Christendom?" (with Davenant Press), and "Telling the Stories Right" (with the Front Porch Republic Press).