Monday, October 11, 2010

Moral Problems and High Profile Christian Leaders

In the Atlanta area Bishop Eddie Long has recently been charged with sexual misconduct. Pastor of the burgeoning New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, reports of sexual misconduct and even wife abuse have surfaced. This is just the latest in a series of high profile Christian pastoral leaders succumbing to moral problems. Added to the Protestant problems have been a continuing issue of Roman Catholic priests committing and confessing to moral and sexual misconduct. This blog is not about Eddie Long or any particular pastor or priest. It IS about what happens in high profile Christian leadership and megachurches.

First, we should not be surprised or jaded by such revelations. It is assumed that pastors and priests are a notch "higher" on the moral ladder than others. Not true. Everyone is permeated by a sinful nature and gravitates toward sinful, God-defying or God-denying behavior. Everyone has a tendency and proneness to moral character flaws and transgressions--including church officials. Ordaining men and women doesn't grant them a moral "pass" from their nascent sinful nature and cast. Redemption by Jesus Christ doesn't free anyone totally from sinful tendencies and moral lapses. We still make choices, and many of those choices are not godly, not right and not pleasing to Jesus.

Second, we should not excuse moral failings of high profile pastors and priests. Just because we have a sinful nature does not give license to give in to that nature and commit sinful actions. Eddie Long's statement about his "not being perfect" does not cut any ice or give him a free pass. Choosing to sin, deciding to transgress is inexcusable and denies the grace of God in Christ in us as Christians.

Third, the old adage is unfortunately true--"absolute power corrupts absolutely." Some megachurch leaders do feel that somehow they are granted "extra latitude" from God because of their success and position. This is the result and price of power--in any field, any vocation, any job and any position. Adulation is a most difficult form of temptation, and many succumb to its tendencies to corrupt.

Fourth, EVERY public church official in EVERY position, no matter the amount of people he or she leads, can fail and stumble and fall into moral lapses and worse. I have worked in smaller to midsized churches all my life and have been on boards and committees investigating pastoral transgressions and moral problems. All churches of all sizes have similar problems to high profile megachurches. They simply do not get noticed as much or reported by the press.

Fifth, most congregations and especially megachurch congregations, have little to no idea of the personal and moral life of their leaders and pastors. No report is given on a regular basis to them. No accountability system is in place for many of them. And, sad to say, many "sheep" really act like sheep -- dumb, blind, and fiercely loyal no matter what. It is no surprise that Eddie Long's congregation stands behind him. Not all, of course, but many. Followers follow, without much critical examination or ongoing questions about their leaders. Otherwise they would not be there. They would have left long ago. The early church Bereans in the book of Acts were of "noble character" because "they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true." (Acts 17:11) Where does that happen in church work today?? Not much and not often.

Sixth, EVERY pastoral leader of whatever church size and stature will one day stand before the Perfect Judge, Jesus Christ, and give an accounting of his or her actions and life vocation. Wrongs will be eternally righted. Judgments will be rightly given. Let all of us in those positions therefore serve with "fear and trembling" knowing that the Judge of all the earth will do right!!