Posted by: Dan | November 19, 2006

When "there, but for the grace of God, go I" is an Inappropriate Response

I think I’ve finally pinned down what has bothered me so much about the “there, but for the grace of God, go I” response to the Ted Haggard scandal.

You see, my time journeying alongside of women, children, and men who have experienced sexual violence, has disciplined me to think about the Christian community from their perspective (as best I can).

What bothers me so much is that the continual reiteration of this phrase by male Christians and male leaders is that such a response makes the Church a very unsafe place for survivors of sexual violence. It transforms Christian men and male leaders into sexually threatening figures. After all, who knows, maybe the miracle of God’s grace will stop working one day and my pastor will assault me. Maybe my pastor already fantasizes about such things, and it is only the grace of God that prevents him from enacting those fantasies — either way, it makes him unsafe.

I mean, have you ever heard pastors saying “there, but for the grace of God, go I” when they hear about priests raping boys, or soldiers torturing civilians, or parents shaking their babies when they cry at night? Of course not. So, why in the world do we think that it is okay to say such things when it comes down to paying people for sex?

As I am learning to journey more and more closely with prostitutes (at work, in my neighbourhood, and in my home), I would love to invite them to participate in Christian community, but I would never invite any of them to a church where the pastor has said, “there, but for the grace of God, go I.” Hell, the constant reiteration of this phrase makes me wonder what church I could bring them to.

However, it gives me hope that I have not heard a single woman respond to Haggard, or other pastoral sex scandals, with this phrase. This, I think, is rather telling, and it shows that women tend to “get” what’s going on here more than men do. I suppose I could see myself inviting my friends to a church with female leadership.

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Responses

  1. Hey Dan, I followed the link to this post from your most recent one…

    I have long shared your aversion to this vacuous phrase. As you say so well, it seems to portray, in this case male church leaders, as teetering on the brink of sexual misconduct, as if we were all a bunch of deviants-in-waiting, being held back only by the leash of God’s grace.

    It also seems like a pretty short step to saying, “There, by the grace of God, goes Ted Haggard (or any other figure we’re desperately trying to display empathy or similarity with). If it’s God’s grace preventing it on the one side, why isn’t it God’s grace (or lack thereof) that’s the causal factor on the other. Just one more variation on the problem of evil, I suppose, but I think it’s worth pushing people (especially “church people”) on the language we use…

    Thanks again for your provocative writing.


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