Deep and cleansing breaths

Saturday, August 25, 2018

By Jeff Long

As a real estate agent, I'm privileged to see a lot of homes -- and there are some amazing properties in this region. As president of Cape Area Habitat for Humanity, we deal in new construction, so the problem I'm about to mention generally does not exist for our Habitat homeowners.

In my full-time work in real estate, however, I occasionally enter a home that shows evidence of mold. Mold can -- if inhaled -- allow damaging spores to enter the body. This interferes with breathing. Mold can be a bad thing. Mold should be recognized and removed. Any home inspector will point it out as a real area of concern for a home buyer.

It seems there is evidence of mold in an institution to which my life was dedicated for 25 years. It should be recognized and removed. And every person in the pew should be worried about it.

Bill Hybels, founder of Willow Creek, a megachurch in the Chicago suburbs, moved up his planned retirement by several months. We now know why. He's been accused by several women of inappropriate behavior of a sexualized nature. Further elaboration of Hybels' alleged conduct is unnecessary. Hybels denies publicly any wrongdoing and initially his church leadership stood behind him. That leadership later recognized its error and resigned en masse. Those leaders said they were sorry for not believing the courageous women who came forward with claims about the celebrated former pastor. But all of those folks, leadership and pew-sitters alike, have already inhaled the "mold." Like a person with persistent bronchitis, struggling to breathe normally, the folks in that 25,000-strong congregation have struggled to come to terms with a world-recognized religious leader who stumbled badly and who refuses to own up to his behavior. The body of Christ has been damaged. Try to take a deep and cleansing breath knowing this.

In my home state, the largest church tradition in the world has been hit broadside by a grand jury report. According to the Pennsylvania Attorney General, more than 1,000 children have been abused by 300 pastors in six dioceses over the past 70 years. All of the bishops and most of the pastors named in the report escaped punishment, according to CNN's reporting on the scandal. Try to take a deep and cleansing breath knowing this. As this column was submitted for publication, Pope Francis condemned clergy sexual abuse as a "crime," adding that "no effort must be spared" to repair the church. Strong and appropriate words that we pray will be met with followup action.

No religious tradition can claim the high moral ground on this issue. In my own, the Missouri Conference of the United Methodist Church, a large settlement, in excess of $1 million, was paid in 2005 to a church staff member who claimed unwanted sexual advances by a pastor. More to the point, the staffer alleged that the pastor, now long deceased, was not properly supervised. A much larger settlement was reduced on appeal -- but every United Methodist church in Missouri had to pay up, because the conference did not carry insurance for this sort of misdeed. Try to take a deep and cleansing breath knowing this.

Mold can be a very bad thing. It should be recognized and removed. Every person in the pew should be concerned because -- aside from it being morally reprehensible -- church mold interferes with spiritual breathing. We deserve, as church people, to be able to take deep and cleansing breaths as believers in Christ. Yes, every person is a sinner in need of grace, of God's unmerited favor. And God is endlessly forgiving. But in the meantime, here on earth, we've got to get rid of the mold too.

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