By: Mae Lewis
Recently, a dear friend confessed to me that her husband of 20 years had had an affair. This may not seem like particular news in itself – people have affairs all the time – except for two things: 1.This is the fifth affair he has had in the last ten years, and 2. He is a pastor.
Let me elaborate a bit. The women at the other end of the affairs are married women within the church — some of them are married to board members. Now in this particular case, these board members are UNAWARE that their wives are intimately involved with the pastor. The men who directly have oversight over the pastor have managed to keep all of these scandals under wraps, and the women have been ordered to stay silent and not reveal the affairs to their husbands. I’m not sure what is worse — the fact that these men are unaware, or the fact that it has been allowed to continue unchecked.
This past year has been rife with scandal in the church, men and women of God who have used their position of religious authority to abuse others and further their own interests. It is no wonder that people are leaving the church when they see men who do not speak truth trying to sell the truth.
Lest I sound judgmental, let me be clear: God’s grace is abundant. God’s grace covers EVERY sin, even those against his body, the church. Sexual sin is not a new thing. The human condition is such that all men (and women) commit sexual sin, whether it is in thought or deed, and God’s mercy trumps all. Even King David, who was involved in a murderous scandal, was still considered “a man after God’s own heart,” and King David’s restoration from his failures is often cited as a reason to allow pastors to remain in their positions in spite of moral failure. But there is a key point that needs to be made here: King David was not a priest.
Scripture makes it abundantly clear that men in the priesthood must require purity in their lives. I am reminded of the sons of the High Priest Eli, Hophni and Phineas, who are mentioned in I Samuel 2. As priests, they behaved wickedly and selfishly abused the sacrifices of the people, and committed adultery with the women who served at the entrance to the tent of meeting. The Bible says, “they had no regard for the Lord” (2:12). Verses 13-17 make it clear that the REAL offense was not the sexual sin, but the abuse of power that the sons evinced over the people. Eli knew of their behavior, and he did not stop them. The end result was that Eli and his sons and THIRTY THOUSAND men were killed, and the Ark of the Covenant (the sign of God’s presence with Israel) was stolen.
I submit to you, dear reader, that the church today has a massive problem with abuses of power, and the “sexual scandals” we are seeing are merely the surface evidence of that. However, the issue does not lie solely with the pastors themselves, but with the men and women who are in positions of oversight over these “men of God.” For every fallen pastor that you read about, there are ten Eli’s who did not stop them sooner, and allowed their abuses to remain unchecked and ungoverned.
We have created a church culture which supports and encourages this behavior. We want our pastors to be good looking, personable, wise, fashionable, “Instagrammable,” and have a good-looking wife, but when their inner character begins to show, we make excuses so that the façade stays in place. The number of “fallen” pastors in recent years is staggering, and it is evidence of a larger problem. We need to begin having hard conversations about what it means to FOLLOW GOD, and how to properly deal with moral failure, tempered with grace. Being disqualified from ministry does not disqualify one from God’s grace.
The church needs a greater emphasis on accountability, transparency, and character of its pastors and leaders. If you are a pastor who is involved in a sexual sin about which you cannot be transparent, I urge you to remove yourself from ministry, and do something else. If you are an Eli, do not turn a blind eye. Be willing to ask the hard questions, and create organizational systems that demand transparency and accountability and the leading of the Holy Spirit. Your own life could very well be in the balance.
By: Mae Lewis