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Ministry Watch News Opinion

Why MinistryWatch Reports on Sex Crimes

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Hardly a week goes by that MinistryWatch doesn’t report on pastors arrested for, or credibly accused of, sex crimes. 

These stories present hard questions for us. How do we report them? Should we report them at all?  

These questions do not have “one size fits all” answers. That’s why I want to share some principles that help us make the decision.

But first, a quick thought exercise might help you understand why MinistryWatch does—most of the time—opt for reporting on these stories.

Imagine you have a headache. What would you do? My guess is you would take some aspirin, or Tylenol, or whatever, and make sure you were getting enough fluids. Not a big deal. Small problems don’t need costly solutions.

But what if this was the 10th day in a row you had a severe headache? What if you learned everyone in your office building, or in your neighborhood, was getting headaches, and some of those people were ending up in the hospital? Wouldn’t you want to know that?

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I would. I’m guessing you would, too. Not only that, if someone tried to keep that information from you, tried to keep it quiet, that would only add to your concern, and—potentially—add to the number of victims of whatever has gone wrong.

I’m hoping this anecdote helps explain why reporting distasteful stories, even though the details are tough to face, are necessary, even vital.  

To be explicit and direct, and with that anecdote as context, here are some key principles we follow:

  • First of all, we do have a bias for telling these stories rather than not telling them. If we don’t know how common such stories are, or what the conditions that create such behaviors are, then we won’t take the tough steps necessary to prevent these incidents from recurring.  
  • Secondly, we believe reporting such stories unflinchingly doesn’t undermine the credibility of the church. It enhances it. It tells the world that we, too, find this behavior reprehensible and we will not give perpetrators a pass. We will not sweep these stories under the rug. We will stand with and protect the victims.  
  • Speaking of victims: one of the worst things we do to victims of sexual crimes is downplay their stories, to tell them to “get over it.” Ignoring these stories forces victims to live in silence and pain, without the support they deserve to experience the healing they need. Telling these stories provides a measure of justice for the victims, and a warning to perpetrators.  
  • Fourthly, as the old saying goes, “sunlight is the best disinfectant.” The Bible has its own version of that saying, even older and wiser: “The truth will set you free.” Christians should have a bias for wanting to know the truth in all areas of life, no matter how painful that truth might be. In the long run, facing the truth about ourselves and the world is an essential step toward healing the brokenness in ourselves and the world.

How we tell these stories still matters, of course. We believe including enough details to help readers understand the gravity and depravity of the stories is important. However, when sexual acts are involved, it is easy to provide too much information. Getting these aspects of a story right requires judgment and discernment.  

Also, we do not generally use the names of victims in stories, unless the victims explicitly give permission. We would never use the names or photos of children in an abuse story. On the other hand, neither do we publish anonymous accusations, or sole-sourced stories. If we publish an accusation against a proven or alleged perpetrator, we require legal documents, multiple credible witnesses known to us, or both.

These kinds of stories are hard to write and hard to read, but they are vital to our mission of restoring transparency, accountability, and credibility to the Christian church and the Christian ministry world. If you ever have any feedback on how we report these stories, please email me directly at: [email protected].

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Warren Cole Smith

Warren previously served as Vice President of WORLD News Group, publisher of WORLD Magazine, and Vice President of The Colson Center for Christian Worldview. He has more than 30 years of experience as a writer, editor, marketing professional, and entrepreneur. Before launching a career in Christian journalism 25 years ago, Smith spent more than seven years as the Marketing Director at PricewaterhouseCoopers.