My initial plan was to ostrich the latest church scandal in which a mega pastor has been accused of multiple, serious allegations. Similar to my Junior prom, my first thought was to just ignore it like it wasn’t happening until it went away. But then at the last minute I’d invite my friend’s sister for perhaps the most awkward prom ever and dance to Shai’s “If I ever fall in love again, I will be sure that the lady is a friend.” That’s where the analogy/metaphor fell apart though.
The truth is, Stuff Christians Like really isn’t a topical, timely blog. I’m not a news guy and talking about that kind of thing is not really what this site does. And some people might not have even heard about it. Plus, just thinking about the scandal didn’t make me feel fly like a G6.
But the more I saw the scandal on the major news outlets and heard people talking about it on an international level, the more I realized that to ignore it would to be to ignore a chance for an honest conversation. I once said that when we instantly label all criticism as judgment, we imprison Christianity to never grow or improve. And I think that we need to be open about situations like this.
So instead of talking about the pastor in this particular case, or the specifics of what at this point are allegations not convictions, I want to talk about something different. I want to talk about ways we Christians can react to scandals.
I think there are five things we should do when a church scandal erupts:
1. Remember it’s better to seed conversations for ideas than it is to chum the waters for sharks.
Your words, whether drinking coffee with a friend or written in a blog/email/twitter, can drastically change the way conversations go. Take things negative, and the sharks will come to join in the bloodfest. Be honest and compassionate, and that’s the kind of conversation that will bloom. So if you’re going to talk about this scandal, be like a meteorologist who seeds the clouds to create rain. Try to create ideas with your words, don’t chum the waters.
2. Attack the issue, not the individual.
I think it’s completely OK to aggressively, openly be opposed to the issues that float to the surface during a scandal. I don’t think it’s OK to attack the individual accused of it. When you fight an issue, you create a space for real change to happen. You build an environment where issues can be dissected and pulled apart. When you attack an individual, you end up adding wound upon wound to someone who is already beaten down by the consequences of their own actions.
3. Don’t gossip.
When we get caught in lies (me, you, leaders, everyone) we come up with some ridiculous stories to explain our actions. The lies we tell when we’re caught make it seem reasonable for Aaron to tell Moses that he threw gold in a fire and out came a golden calf by magic. And when we hear the things people initially tell in a scandal, it’s extremely tempting to gossip about them. Don’t. Gossip is like the ball bearings terrorist put into bombs. The scandal is the initial deadly blast, and then gossip telescopes out causing an even wider radius of hurt. Don’t gossip.
4. Live your life on purpose.
Do you know what every single church or pastor scandal has in common? People involved never woke up on a Thursday morning and said, “I think I’ll wreck my life today!” Sin is a death of a thousand cuts, a slow walk of a million little steps. Let’s save the energy we usually end up using to judge those who have fallen and instead invest it in moments like this to work on our own lives and walks of faith.
Yesterday I tweeted, “I think one of the best ways to react to a pastor caught in a scandal is to pray for your own pastor.” But a tweet is too short to hold everything you want to say. We need to pray for our pastors and our leaders. We need to pray for the victims. It’s crazy that sometimes in society we demonize victims. If the allegations are true, they’ve been horribly abused. If the allegations are false, their life is so miserable they’d attempt something like a fake scandal. And we need to pray for the leader involved in the scandal. If it’s true, he or she is paying painful consequences for their actions. If it’s false, they are being persecuted for something they didn’t do.
Of this entire list, I would say number 3 is the one I have the hardest time with. I like to make people laugh and sometimes in my desire to do that, jokes mutate into gossip.
I hope that this will be the last church scandal we have, but I have my doubts. Anytime you have humans and power involved, you’ve got the potential to really mess things up. But if we do find ourselves here again, I hope we’ll keep the most important thing on this list in mind, prayer.