I can see from the comments on this thread that more needs to be said on the Vision Forum fiasco. In the nature of the case, I will have to address various subjects, and so it may look like I am meandering. Bear with me.
First, by way of background, let me refer you to this piece on “not being a victim” that my daughter Bekah wrote yesterday. In the aftermath of this kind of thing, one of the first thoughts that every parent should have is how to equip and prepare their own daughters to deal with this kind of man. The equipping has to occur beforehand.
Second, having now mentioned the word victim, I need to spend some time on why it is not appropriate to use that word in this circumstance. To speak of Doug Phillips and his “victim” is prejudging the case. We are not prejudging the case if we take what both parties in the dispute acknowledge, and reason from that. If she maintained that he started this when she was fifteen, and he denied it, then we would have to wait and see what the facts were. But if she says it started when she was a adult, and he says that too, then it is not prejudging the case to assume that they were both adults — and to expect them both to have acted accordingly.
Given that, either his sexual attentions were entirely unwelcome, or they were not. If they were not unwelcome, then the affair appears to have been one of complicated and unconsummated adultery, with two participants. She was an adult, and so if his attentions were not entirely unwelcome, she was a player in the vice, not a victim. The victim in this would have been Beall, with two people victimizing her.
But if his attentions were entirely unwelcome to her, and she was freaked out by the creepster, then we have to ask why she wasn’t down the road at the first opportunity — that night or the next morning — with Doug Phillips receiving notification of her opinion of what transpired via the sound of sirens. That’s not what happened, on anyone’s account, and so I don’t think we should identify her as a victim.
We can’t have it both ways. We cannot accuse Vision Forum of treating all women like little girls, and then turn around and treat all women as little girls who can’t be expected to say no to a cad at Vision Forum. Everyone who automatically assumes that Torres-Manteufel was necessarily the victim is ironically buying into a view of the world that assumes that grown women are not responsible for what they say or do.
At the same time, of course, we should make allowances for those situations where an abused girl was never given the opportunity to become a responsible adult. If a trusted spiritual leader starts abusing a girl when she is 14, it is not as though, after 7 years of abuse, a magic moment happens when she turns 21, making it easy for her to now walk away. In a situation like that, the word victim is appropriate. But we ought to reserve the word for situations like it, and not use it in circumstances like this one.
Another question concerns the matter of disputes between Christians in civil courts run by unbelievers. For the sake of brevity, I will simply summarize my views of what 1 Cor. 6 requires, and then apply those views to this situation. Perhaps (if necessary) I can argue in detail for those views another time. But here is the summary.
I believe Paul is commanding believers to settle civil disputes among themselves, and not to take their disputes before unbelievers. He is clearly referring to situations where you have the decision-making authority to decide whether to pursue it or not. I do not believe that the prohibition applies to criminal cases, but rather to civil disputes. In addition, I do not believe that Paul prohibits taking disputes into civil courts, but rather taking disputes before unbelieving civil courts. If our nation were a Christian nation, then civil court is precisely where a case like this should be settled.
On a related note, I agree we don’t always have a choice in such matters. But to the extent that we do have a choice, we should be seen as laboring to keep the dispute from going before unbelievers. If a Christian is sued by another Christian, it may be necessary, at the end of the day, to show up in court as the accused — but it should only be after serious good-faith attempts to settle out of court, to offer to arrange Christian mediation or arbitration, and to demonstrate a spirit of preferring to be defrauded than to argue for justice in front of unbelievers against a fellow Christian. Such good-faith efforts would not include threats of counter-suits.
And in a case like this one, where the avalanche was started by Doug Phillips deciding to break all his vows, I would argue “how much more” should these standards be honored and followed.
Those Christians who dismiss the Pauline requirement as “unrealistic” should not be allowed to get around it by simply alleging that the group in question is a cult or a tightly-knit group where justice is impossible. Nobody said that the case should be settled in the back rooms of Vision Forum. There are Christian groups that specialize in mediation and arbitration that should have the respect of all parties, and it would not be that difficult to move this dispute to a respected forum that would be able to snatch a good testimony out of the flames of this humiliation.
Scott Clark, in one of his forays into metaphor, once compared the work here in Moscow to Jonestown. When someone just fires off with something like that, we don’t want to just throw the Pauline standard out the window because Paul couldn’t have been referring to something like Jonestown (which he wasn’t). But we then wind up appealing to an unbelieving court system that has devoured millions more victims than Jonestown ever did. “Peacemakers would be inadequate for our purposes. I appeal to Molech!”
We live in a litigious society, and this is one of our central idols. The ease with which many Christians resort to unbelieving courts is revelatory of what sort of petite idols we have stored in our justice closet.
At the same time, if someone is slandering a fellow Christian, we don’t want to set aside the restriction Paul gives, provided he ramps up the slander. We don’t want the Pauline standard to be “worked” as a sweet method of extortion by frivolous accusers, who file suit for a hundred million dollars against every ministry that sincerely intends to obey what Paul said. Any groups targeted in that way should be able to defend themselves, but they should labor to defend themselves in a way that is obviously and self-evidently Christian, with repeated attempts to adjudicate it within the community of Christians. If despite their best efforts they wind up in civil court, the whole world should know how much they don’t want to be there, and how they worked to prevent it. As Paul put it in another context, as far as it is possible with you remain at peace with all men.