The conviction of Richard Huckle last week (see here) brought an end to an unremittingly grim court case. As details emerged, there was a growing sense of horror at the scale of child abuse committed by this man.
Now that the trial is over, questions remain for the authorities to answer both in this country and in Malaysia, where the victims cannot turn back the clock.
It hardly needs to be said that one abused child, anywhere, is one too many. Weighty matters of protection, prevention, victim support, justice and the nature of evil all need to be addressed in reviewing what has happened.
The responsibility of the adult world to care for children is huge and has to be discharged as wisely and well as possible. Sadly, it would be naive to imagine either that Huckle’s abuse is unique or that the authorities have the capacity to eliminate such crimes in the future.
Few would have been surprised that a church connection was reported in this case. Recent history has created a bitter word association between ‘church’ and ‘abuse’, as more and more long-hidden crimes have been exposed, often accompanied by evidence of official cover-ups. There has been widespread outrage when justice and the needs of victims have been sacrificed either out of concern for the perpetrator or to protect organisational reputation.
So far at least, it seems that Huckle’s case does not fit that pattern. Instead, reports have focused almost entirely on the individual. Online BBC News initially described Huckle as ‘a practising Christian’. This was painful reading for any Christian, but it was interesting that later reports amended this, now saying that he ‘presented himself as a practising Christian’.
The difference is significant. Just because someone calls themselves a Christian doesn’t make it true!
That statement goes against the grain these days, when ‘self-identification’ has become so important. And yet there’s really no arguing with the fact that the person who ultimately defines whether you are a follower of Jesus Christ is Jesus Christ himself.
Here is what Jesus said: ‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?” 23 Then I will tell them plainly, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!”‘ (Matthew 7:21-23 NIVUK)
Shocking, isn’t it? Religious people, who say they are following Jesus, will be turned away by Jesus because they have not been living in obedience to what God has said. Not just a few, but ‘many’.
That’s something to bear in mind if you are tempted to condemn Christianity on the basis of the actions of so-called Christians. Christians don’t claim to be perfect, and there is still much about Christian faith that is difficult for people to accept today. But if you want to consider Christianity fairly, you can’t use people like Richard Huckle as evidence.
In his behaviour towards children, Richard Huckle’s life was diametrically opposed to the teaching of Jesus. He had no right to claim to be a Christian.