After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. "Follow me," Jesus said to him, and Levi got up, left everything and followed him.In theory, easy to agree with. In practice, harder. In the news around Indianapolis lately, a good-sized church is being surrounded in controversy because they're trying to live out this very passage. There has been a tragedy among them, and an elder in the church, while babysitting a young girl, molested her. The girl's family also attended the church. The man has confessed and repented, and a trial is scheduled. What's a church to do? This church, one I have very much respect for and have good friends who attend, decided that they are "a hospital for sinners." and have chosen to support both the child's family and that of the molester. This made the child's family angry, and they left the church. The father said in the article, "It's a disgrace that the church would embrace a criminal". Others have left the church over this issue. One former member said [this] situation was "the last straw,", adding church leaders had "lost their ability to discern right from wrong. ... The (child's) family has been treated like they're overreacting," The church is putting in place obvious precautions, informing the children's ministry of the situation and not allowing the accused in the building without an escort.
Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and 'sinners'?"
Jesus answered them, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." - Luke 5:27-32
An 'expert' in the field, Phillip Goff, director of IUPUI's Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture, believes that the support for the accused is only happening because he was an elder in the church, and, otherwise, the church's response would be harsher: "There are times when you can see religious leaders put aside what they might otherwise talk about with justice, and (instead) talk about mercy because religiously they're on the same side as the person"
The counseling director at the church is proud of their response: "I've been in churches where things like this would happen and no attempt would be made to minister (to the accused), which is a shame," he said. "They're pushed out the door and made to go away, and I, for one, am very proud to be part of a church family that isn't afraid to go into the trenches."
What's the right answer? Should this man have been turned out of the church, expelled or asked to go elsewhere for the sake of the victim's family? Or are churches "hospitals" for sick sinners who want to get well? How do these "hospitals" deal with hurting victims as well as hurting sinners, who may worship under one roof?
It's hard to say that the victim's family is wrong for resenting the church and not 'loving their enemy', because none of us can imagine the deep hurt that they are feeling. At the same time, we see scripture, which tells us Jesus came for and hung out with sinners. His harsh words were always for those who perceived themselves without sin, and his kind words were for those who knew they were sinners. We're told to love and pray for our enemies. We're told to expel church members who have been shown their sin and refuse to repent, but that is not the case here. This is a situation that, if I were in church leadership, would be unimaginably hard to deal with, but I think it has been dealt with as well as possible. It makes me sad that there has been such a backlash, especially from people claiming to also be Christ-followers. This is just yet another case of the upside-down kingdom of Jesus not making sense in our culture.
* As a side note, to clarify, the article mentions the former pastor of the church. Everyone who has spoken of him to me, including Josh, highly respects him, and he was forced to step down from his position because of serious health problems. The article, by saying "He resigned in December... because he didn't believe he could fulfill his pastoral duties." implies that his stepping down had something to do with the case. It didn't.