Leaving Neverland and Finding Clayton Jennings: #ChurchToo and the Fear of Reporting Sexual Abuse
With the debut of the documentary Leaving Neverland on HBO tonight, the #MeToo movement reaches critical mass. The two-part, four-hour documentary tells the story of two victims of alleged sexual abuse by pop icon Michael Jackson. Such allegations about the late King of Pop are nothing new. He settled out of court for nearly $25,000,000 with the family of a young accuser in 1994 and was acquitted of criminal child molestation charges in 2005. After his acquittal, Jackson’s fans celebrated outside of the California courthouse where he was being tried with shouts, tears, and confetti. Fans around the world followed suit. Jackson had such a profound effect on the lives of his throngs of fans that they were personally tied up in the outcome of his trial. Therein lies the danger of accusing someone widely popular and beloved of misdeeds. Fans and followers can be aggressively opposed to anyone besmirching the reputation of their idol. This can be terrifying for accusers who want to come forward with their stories. The publicity that surrounds scandal can further terrify victims of abuse as their personal lives and personal failing become subject to scrutiny. Thus, many victims are tempted to bury their stories. Related organizations, even churches, are incentivized to cover up scandal as well. Such an environment, an environment of fear, can allow predators to thrive. The following is the case of the charismatic, and disgraced, evangelist Clayton Jennings.
In 2016, Pulpit & Pen published the first in a long series of accounts from various young women who claimed to have been seduced by Clayton Jennings. Many were scared of the publicity and repercussions. Only one published her name along with her story. Eventually, Jennings’ church revoked his license in the ministry. Jennings’ lost some speaking engagements but retained others. For the most part, he dropped off of our radar here at Pulpit & Pen. Until yesterday, he had not been written about at this publication since March of last year. It was yesterday that Jennings’ unleashed a series of profane and aggressive social media posts addressed not only at Pulpit & Pen and its publisher but former preaching associates and his former church, which he referred to as a “cult.” In the midst of his postings, Jennings’ released pictures and descriptions of some of his accusers. This technique of public embarrassment known as “doxing” can be used as a devastating tool by public figures with rabid fan bases. Since yesterday, scores of Jennings’ supporters have contacted Pulpit & Pen with everything from profane insults to threats of harm.
Predatory people know as well as anyone that people who live in glasses houses should not throw stones. This is perhaps why so many victims and churches are afraid to publicly expose the misdeeds of disqualified and abusive ministers. There can be repercussions for doing so, especially if ministers who are disqualified because of sexual sin reach a point where they have nothing to lose and decide to take down as many people with them as they can. I do not know if this is what Clayton Jennings is in the midst of doing, however, I do know that Christians who have spoken out against spiritual abuse in sexual form have no need to fear further public embarrassment in the church. The Apostle John wrote, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.” Those who have repented of their sins, including those women who fornicated with Clayton Jennings and later admitted to doing so, should be embraced by the church as redeemed sinners. Their punishment for sin has been borne on the cross by Jesus Christ.
The #ChurchToo movement has been an especially tragic one, in that it has shown that many churches, ministers, and even victims have fostered an environment of fear instead of an environment of forgiveness and love. Having been set free by truth, Christians have no need to fear the worldly tactics of shamers, nor should they be enticed to engage in them. I, for one, chose to pray for the redemption of the type of weak-willed women, weighed down by their sin, who have been taken captive by the wiles of supposed men of God like Clayton Jennings. As for the world, it will deal with men, living or dead, like Michael Jackson, Bill Cosby, Kevin Spacey, and Harvey Weinstein as it may. The church should remain pure and holy, realizing that its individual members will sin but the corporate body will always be there to hold those sinning members accountable and direct them, with grace and gentleness, to the loving and forgiving arms of Jesus Christ.
*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.
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