By now, many of you have read the headlines or viewed the evening news stories regarding the arrest of a Lafayette area pastor on some bizarre charges. Given that these events are basically happening in our own backyard, I felt like responding in some manner.
First, my heart breaks for the church, the innocent victims, the family of the pastor, and for the pastor himself.
Second, it appears that we live in a “guilty until proven innocent” culture, rather than one where a person is “innocent until proven guilty”. While it appears that the evidence is pointing in the direction of the pastor, we do not know for sure that he is indeed guilty. Yet, the media is already on top of the story…plastering patchy details and images all over the place. And, so, I struggle with this too…I’ve already cast my judgment. But, at the same time, my heart wants to give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe a disgruntled employee is setting him up? Who knows? In this world, anything is possible.
Third, the damage has been done. Regardless of the verdict, lives have been forever changed. Trust has been compromised. Integrity has been questioned. Allegations have been made…and, even if this pastor is proven to be innocent, the damage has been done…to the church, to his family, to the victims, to his ministry. There will be fallout…people will leave that particular church….people might walk away from the Church (big “C”…as in the universal church)…people might walk away from their faith. This may be the final strike for some.
Fourth, I struggle with how to respond. Part of me cries out, “That sick _______ (fill-in the blank with some offensive term).” Part of me wants to know how to respond in love, grace, mercy, and humility. Part of me is filled with anger because of the damage that this causes to the Church…this is not a case where “any press is good press.” This doesn’t help the Movement! Yet, part of me wants to respond in compassion because I know this can happen anywhere.
Fifth, I reminded of the importance of taking steps to protect myself…my family…my ministry…my church…my denomination. Scripture calls leaders to live “above reproach”…leading “blameless” lives. While that is essentially impossible…that is the call…that is what we strive towards (as Wesley would encourage all to “strive after perfection in love.”). Therefore, we need to take steps that protect our ministry from allegations that could destroy the very things we love. Sure, we take risks to share the love, hope, joy, grace, and peace of Jesus with all. But, we do so in ways that, at the end of the day, won’t produce ministry-ending repercussions. I mean, it is one thing for a pastor to get arrested for protesting a violation of civil rights…it’s another thing to get arrested for the pending charges in this case.
Sixth, I believe it is important to get help before it’s too late. If the allegations in this story are true, then there must have been some indications that something was messed up. Pastoral pride, you know…the “I’m the pastor, so I’m supposed to have it all figured out” thing…sometimes gets in the way of pastors seeking the help they need. Too often, pastors (and others) repress their struggles. They operate in “super-pastor” mode and fail to honestly deal with their humanness. Therefore, instead of dealing with their issues in a healthy manner, they act out in destructive ways.
Seventh, I’ve seen this way too many times. I’ve experienced it from a distance. I’ve experienced it a lot closer to home. Whether it’s a megachurch pastor getting “happy endings” from a known male prostitute, a pastor having an affair with a member of his congregation, a pastor crossing ethical lines with one of her staff members, or a pastor who hides his addiction (to whatever)…we’ve seen it too often.
Eighth, at the end of the day, we simply need honesty. Because, let’s face it…aren’t we all messed up? Maybe you’re not messed up in a way that will land you on the 11 o’clock news or the front page of the paper. But, if you’re going to be honest with yourself (and others), you know you have some issues. I mean, my language, my overly-cynical attitude, my eating and drinking habits, my tendency to be quick to judge, my lack of compassion, my failure to truly love the least in meaningful ways, my desire to convince others that “everything is okay” even when it’s not…these are issues that if not dealt with in a healthy manner could eventually cause some major problems.
So, we need to ask ourselves how we are going to handle our issues. Will we deal with our stuff in a healthy manner? Will we get professional help, if necessary? Will we find some trusted friends who will help hold us accountable? Or will we attempt to take the focus off of our “stuff” by pointing out others shortcomings? Will we strive to hide our stuff or will we strive towards honesty and love?
So the church’s supervisor must be without fault. They should be faithful to their spouse, sober, modest, and honest. They should show hospitality and be skilled at teaching. 1 Timothy 3:2, CEB