Recently, I read the Guidepost Solutions report about sexual abuse within Southern Baptist Convention churches. The events, coverups, and victim-blaming made me sick. Once I recovered from my bout of nausea, I began to reflect.
Biblically, how can we allow perpetrators to follow up their abuse by further preying on their vulnerable victims? Financial liability that may imperil the spread of the gospel is no viable excuse for the coverups, intimidation, slander, and further traumatization of these abuse victims by lead members of the SBC’s Executive Committee. Really, should the fear of liability and loss be our number one priority?
Liability is a word that sends many of us running for cover. When I Googled the Guidepost report, I found listings from attorneys seeking clients for potential lawsuits right at the top of the search listings! I speak from personal experience when I say we live in a litigious culture.
Years ago, when I was a police officer, I was sued because a police K-9 bit a drunken burglary suspect who took a swing at my face. I saw the punch coming and simply leaned back to avoid the blow. The K-9, to the surprise of everyone, responded by chomping down on the suspect’s arm as he finished his swing. I was not a K-9 officer and had no control over the dog. Nevertheless, in an attempt to get rich, the suspect sued me. According to the lawsuit, I was negligent because “I failed to warn the suspect that a K-9 could be dangerous.” Thankfully, after investigation and depositions, the case was dropped.
More recently, a few months ago, one of the small groups I oversee was planning an event for children and wanted to rent a “bouncy house” for the day. Knowing that children can get hurt in bouncy houses—and that lawsuits can be filed—I checked with our insurance company concerning the liability associated with a bouncy house. Because so many people have been injured in them, our agent did not recommend that we have one. We canceled the inflatable. While fun for children, a bouncy house was not worth the potential liability.
Since reading the Guidepost report in the last few weeks, I’ve been pondering the bouncy house and liability issue. Is it possible I made the right decision for the wrong reason? Should the fear of a potential liability problem guide a Christian’s decision-making process? Understand that I am not minimizing the fundamental issue of liability. Clearly, as in the case of the K-9, many in our culture are consumed with finding an excuse for a big payday. Liability is real. But, is there a better way—a loving way—we could improve our thinking about liability?
What might be different if I look at the issue of a bouncy house through the eyes of love? Scripture says that love does not harm its neighbor. Love always protects. It’s generous and kind. It is not self-seeking and always seeks the highest good for others. There is no fear in love.
When I view the bouncy house through the eyes of love, my decision-making framework shifts. Instead of trying to avoid making a decision that could lead to lawsuits, my focus turns to the question, “What does Jesus’ love say about the issue?” Love protects, is unafraid, and seeks the highest welfare of others. It shifts the entire conversation. My primary concern becomes, “What’s the best way to love the children?” Love replaces fear as motivation.
With this focus, the decision is clear and straightforward. The insurance company says children are hurt in bouncy houses too often. We need to take that risk to fun-loving children seriously. Because we love them and want to protect them from the possibility of unnecessary injury, we cancel the bouncy house. Love—not fear—is the deciding factor.
I wonder what would happen if Christians and Christian organizations began to see liability issues through the eyes of love—and not the fear of lawsuits? What if God’s Presence and expressing His love become our decision-making framework? Our motivation shifts from being reactive and afraid to becoming proactive with the Life of God.
Instead of avoiding, we engage lovingly. Instead of being fearful of injured people, we embrace and seek healing and restoration with them. We could trade darkness and fear for light and life. Our mission becomes truthful, costly love that redeems. Please understand that I’m not dismissing the importance of wisdom concerning unnecessary liability risks. I simply suggest that we need a new framework for our conversations around liability. And love is worth it.