Faithful Gatekeepers

Last year was a bad year. First, there was the September 11 terrorist attack. Americans suddenly found their security policies woefully inadequate, their “intelligence” organizations asleep, confused, bickering, and inept. Those hired to protect against terrorism were unprepared and, even when given information about terrorist suspects, failed to act. Thus began the “war on terrorism” and thus ended an era when Americans felt safe at home.

Next came the Enron scandal. Some executives were dishonest and profited from their dishonesty, while other people lost their jobs and savings. The certified public accountants of Arthur Andersen, hired to oversee the integrity of financial reports, hid the truth, shredded documents, and sought to deceive investors. Then Worldcom declared bankruptcy, and we since have discovered more accountants playing games with numbers and with investors’ money. The stock market, which began to fall after September 11, has sunk even lower since these scandals. Thus ended the confidence of the ’90s, when it seemed that the booming American economy would grow forever.

But perhaps the worst was yet to come. The clerical sexual abuse scandals hit the Catholic Church like a tidal wave and in general have brought people’s confidence in religious institutions to a new low. More than 250 priests have resigned or have been removed; two-thirds of American Catholic diocesan bishops were involved in covering up the cases and allowing perpetrators to continue with their crimes. Those entrusted with the protection of the flock let the predators harm their charges. Even when victims and their parents spoke up, the information often was ignored and suppressed. Just like the CIA and FBI and Arthur Andersen, the bishops, the security guards of the church, were at best, asleep, at worst, criminally complicit.

But September 11, Enron, and the church scandals didn’t really change our world. They only disturbed some of our illusions. The world has always been and remains a dangerous place. There have always been people who murder, steal, cheat, and abuse others. We have always needed armed guards, security agents, policemen to catch thieves and robbers, and accountants to make sure the money is in the till. We have always needed gatekeepers to bar the way against predators.

It is not easy being a gatekeeper, for your job is to say “no” to those who would do harm, and to risk your life or livelihood if necessary. No one would hire policemen afraid to use their guns, intelligence agents worried about public relations, airport security guards who hate to turn people away, or public accountants who think bookkeeping is a just a matter of how cleverly you cook the books. We expect unbending honesty and courage from our gatekeepers.

The Church, too, needs tough gatekeepers, for outside lurk thieves and robbers. Both sin and heresy are destructive to the Body of Christ. As every city needs courageous policemen, the Church needs pastors, teachers, and bishops who will say no, exclude anyone who refuses to conform, and do not think that serving Jesus means making people feel good about him and themselves.

The Church is the Bride of Christ, who must concern herself with being spotless and ready for her Lord at his coming. She finds her purity in being washed by the Blood of the Lamb, in embracing her Lord on Golgotha, in worshiping the Risen Lord in glory. She is the Body of Christ, proclaiming his Cross and Resurrection to all. Her salvation is secured by the courage and sacrifice of Christ, who gave his life for her, to rescue her from sin and death, the ultimate terror.

The church’s gatekeepers are called to follow Christ’s example. Faithful gatekeepers—pastors and bishops—are needed who will defend the flock against all heresy and cast out predators, at the cost of their reputations, their livelihood, or even their lives.

But in many cases, church members don’t want true gatekeepers; they want nice pastors who tell them what they want to hear, as some people even today don’t want to face the threat from terrorists or the dangers to the economy. Many of us want gatekeepers, but only if they will not bar the gate to us, no matter what we do.

It is easy to point the finger at another church’s particular failings. The truth is, many Christian leaders have failed to confront sin and heresy and unfaithfulness in their own churches. Shepherds who shrink from this God-given task are behaving as mere hirelings who risk leading their flocks into perdition. Shepherds who will not protect the Bride of Christ sin not only against men but also against the Lord of the Church.

James M. Kushiner, for the editors

James M. Kushiner is the Executive Editor of Touchstone.

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