I wonder, should the sins of the parents be visited upon the children up to the third or fourth generation? Let’s see, Ex. 20:5-6: “You shall not bow down to them or worship them (an idol); for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of the parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love (mercy) to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.” Or Numbers 14:18 “The Lord is slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the parents upon the children to the third and the fourth generation.” Or Deuteronomy 5:9-10: “You shall not bow down to them or worship them (an idol); for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love (mercy) to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.” Well, those verses are pretty clear it would seem.
A couple of things. One, the above is called “isogesis” – essentially isolating one or two verses out of context to prove a point – not very scholarly nor faithful to the scripture. Two, those verses come from our Hebrew texts, and while part of our foundational history, the same words are not found in the gospels, which we understand to be the living Word of God, i.e., Jesus, sent to earth. So there’s that.
But seriously, isn’t it sometimes simply the case? We continue to be challenged by racial tensions, yet the Civil War was fought and ended in 1865 and everyone is free. Yet is it possible that not owning slaves anymore doesn’t mean that racial justice has been reached?
We continue to be challenged by gender inequality, yet women struggled and earned the right to vote in August 1920 with the ratification of the 19th amendment. Is it possible that having the right to vote doesn’t mean that gender equality has been reached? On average, women now make 84 cents for every dollar men make for the same job. Should we be happy because the gap is narrower than it’s ever been historically?
We continue to be challenged by the colonization of Native peoples and the stealing of lands and the limiting of historic and traditional ways of life. We’ve made reparations, we’ve given lands called reservations, we no longer claim rights to properties that are not first ours, weeeeelllll maybe not quite that far. Is it possible that we haven’t done enough? Is it possible that non-native people are part of the reason alcoholism and violence is in percentage higher among native peoples than other populations?
For those of you still reading . . . we continue to struggle with how we are in relationship with one another and many of our difficulties have sordid histories that go far back in time, and we simply want to erase that depth and say that because we didn’t actively participate in historical injustice, everything should simply be forgotten and everyone should move on. Mostly those statements are made by those of us not suffering from those wrongs.
You will begin hearing, as some of you already have, of historic hurt in the Boy Scouts of America organization. Let me simply name it, historic cases of abuse dating back 80 years. The BSA is not the first organization to be facing this, and I will hope and pray as I do with every church case in every denomination, it will be the last. As the BSA bankruptcy case is working through the legal system, the judge has, of course, strictly ordered confidentiality. What I can tell you is there are 84,000 claims dating back many generations, and it affects the BSA and their chartering organizations of which United Methodists are the largest part. While we value transparency as a denomination, we completely respect the rights of everyone involved, most particularly those who have been carrying hurt for many, many years to privacy.
Frankly I have been struggling as my colleagues, our DS’s and our Bishops are struggling, to find ways to help support the injured first and foremost without knowing who or where they are. And we are struggling to find ways to support our chartered troops who are doing good healthy work with as many protections in place as possible for no child ever to be hurt.
Here’s what I know. God knows every name of every child, every teen, every adult, even those who have passed from this life to the next, who have been abused and carried hurt from it from that moment for every year thereafter. God doesn’t intervene to erase that hurt or injury, but I pray God has led those lives into healing places where help has been given generously and with great respect, and from those moments, goodness has surrounded each and every one. And for those for whom that help hasn’t and never happened, I’m sorry and I pray deeply for the hurt that was and is still being carried.
Here’s what I know. God’s mercy and forgiveness is wide and high and long and deep, and consequences for abuse that hurt children, youth, and vulnerable adults are ours to carry out with clarity and justice whenever possible. And when consequences were or are not possible, I offer my apology to each and every one for whom their abuser remained and/or remains without punishment. It may not help coming from me, but we need you to somehow know we’re sorry and that it was not right, or fair, or what God would ever have wanted for your life.
So chartering organizations and the Boy Scouts of America are dealing with abusive sins reaching back, for the most part, to the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th generation. When it is not confronted and faced at the time, then it will be confronted and faced as best as possible in whatever generation thereafter it reaches. Hear me clearly, that is exactly as it should be. Justice delayed should NEVER be justice denied.
God continues to call us to work for justice and healing wherever and whenever it has yet to occur. It may feel so overwhelming we want to turn away, but finally God’s vision and will for our lives and the lives of those who have gone before us and the lives of those who come after us, will be done. And God’s will, make no mistake, is for every life, absolutely EVERY LIFE, to thrive in health, and opportunity, and safety to reach toward the vision of peace and deep joy that God has for each one. May it ever be so.