today has been a day full of assorted and disparate emotions. this morning, like many of you, i learned of yesterday’s arrest of shane montgomery, the now-resigned church planter/pastor of the river church. while most people know the story at this point, in essence, shane has been accused of (and, according to some sources citing the arrest report, admitted to) sexual contact with a 15-year old male who he met online this past summer.
before i go any further, i think it’s important to state a couple things. first, i have never met shane. we actually had plans to meet about a month ago, but those plans fell through at the last minute. second, it should be noted that we have a few eikon people who used to be a part of the river church prior to coming to eikon. i say that simply to say that my knowledge about him as a person, pastor and leader is minimal and based on the sparse comments from these mutual friends, my own basic (from a distance) observations and general personal discernment. i feel this is a fair matter of disclosure.
as stated, today has been defined by a barrage of emotions. upon knowledge of the news early this morning, i could have literally just sat and cried in deep sadness. sadness for shane’s wife and children, for the molested boy and his family and for the people at the river church. from sadness, i moved to disbelief to anger to confusion to heartbreak and then settled back to general sadness. the devastation of these types of situations is deep-seated and widespread. so many people are deeply effected and for many (like the boy), the real effects may not be experienced for years.
one of the most heartbreaking aspects of this scenario is that it’s become less and less of a shock to hear of a pastor doing this. we lived through the catholic priest sex scandals, but it’s clear that the catholic church wasn’t the only one with problems. in seminary, we talked in length throughout various ethics classes about sexual abuses by “authority” positions within the church. what makes these crimes particularly heinous is that pastors and church leaders have a very societally unique position in which people share their deepest weaknesses, pains, fears and shortcomings in hope (for better or for worse) that the spiritual leader can offer some words of hope and insight. because of this, pastors are in a unique position to prey on the weakest people, using their particular vulnerabilities against them. these cases are truly the deepest betrayal.
please understand, though, that i have absolutely no desire to lump on judgment or shame on shane. many people are, sadly, already doing that in various online outlets and will continue to do that as more details emerge and this continues to play out in the media. while i am deeply saddened and angered by his awful actions, this is a time to practice what i (and many of you) preach: grace, non-judgment, forgiveness, love, compassion and waiting for all the facts before jumping to conclusions. i blogged
about my feelings toward curtis vance—anne pressley’s killer—a while back and dealt with the fact that in spite of the fact that he did a horrendous, unimaginable crime, he is still a human being who deserves love and compassion. shane montgomery is no different.
so, with that said, i thought i would address various groups of people involved with this tragedy.
to those who have already chosen to and will continue to crucify shane in water cooler conversations and online outlets: please see that people who do these atrocious things are usually hurting and broken people who are acting out with tangible gestures of that hurt and brokenness. as stated, i don’t know shane, but i’m sure he’s no different than other people who do these acts. most of them are not monsters, but rather, people who are trapped in a prison of their own internal conflict, intense temptation and the fear of telling anyone about it. this absolutely does not excuse his morally, ethically, spiritually and legally wrong actions, but it helps us to attach some context to the situation.
to shane’s wife and children: just like shane, i don’t know you, but i can say that my heart deeply hurts and breaks for you. i truly have no idea what you’re experiencing, so i cannot imagine the hurt, embarrassment and sorrow this has caused. my family and my church family will certainly be keeping you in prayer.
to the river church community: for every emotion i have experienced as an “outsider,” i can only imagine that you must feel them ten times over. this was the person you confided in, prayed with, learned from and trusted as a spiritual leader in your lives. you have experienced a sting of betrayal that will certainly not leave you any time soon. as a pastor, i encourage you to see that a church should not be defined by one man, but as a community of faith that comes together under the umbrella of christ. let this be something that ignites your community toward revival rather than tears it apart.
to the molested boy: you have been violated in a way that you will probably not understand for several years, at least. the actions of this man are not a accurate representation of jesus, christianity or pastors. it was a betrayal of authority and you didn’t deserve this abuse. my prayer is that you find counseling that leads to wholeness and wellness.
to the jaded people who gave christianity one final chance thanks to the river church and/or shane’s ministry: please don’t give up on your journey in discovering what it means to follow jesus. i can certainly understand if this is the straw that breaks the camel’s back. there’s something bigger, though, than one man’s abuse of the church. if nothing else, the church is a collection of broken people who are redeemed by jesus. we screw up. we do atrocious things. jesus does not. my prayer is that you also find a place of wellness and connection.
to atheists and/or those with agendas against the church who will use this as fodder for their attacks and justification for their feelings: i understand. i would probably do the same thing if i were you. i, myself, can regularly become sad about the state of the church. you have the right to feel like you do. but please pause and think about the bigger picture. the church, for all its flaws, has been and is the source of many beautiful, redeeming and right things in the world. we can screw things up with the best of them, but at the root of jesus’ teachings are things that create a deep sense of good in our world that needs a lot more good.
to men and women planting churches and pastoring: please pause and take a significant amount of time to realize the deep, deep impact you have on the lives of people. whether its right or wrong, people look to you as a model of faith and one who can be trusted to offer spiritual insight into their lives. you see people in their greatest times of weakness and you are trusted in times of intimate sharing and confession. be jesus to people. in other words, be authentic and honest and open and transparent. find multiple accountability partners, including your spouse (if applicable) and trusted friends inside and outside the church. when you experience intense temptations, share it with these people. don’t let pride get in the way of honesty. don’t let the fear of job or financial loss get in the way of authenticity and honesty. if you cannot do these things, stop pastoring. it’s not worth the intense and lifelong harm you create as is the case with this incident.
i hope you’ve found my thoughts to be sincere and in a spirit of reconciliation. i was extremely hesitant to write a blog post that was reactionary, so i hope my thoughts seemed thought out and in proper context.
continue to pray for everyone mentioned in this post, including shane. god is a god of redemption, who puts broken things back together and makes them beautiful. i think that could be the case here if we allow it.