Despite what some may say, myself included, being held accountable to one another is not a bad thing. I guess it depends on the focus of the accounting. If we are there to make sure this person never sins again, and set some program in place to help him “overcome?” Then they may have lost already. Law tends to drive people to despair, especially when we can sense in us, a hint of, “This is not gonna work”. It just ends up heaping on more guilt and condemnation. One of the things you might hear from those accountability partners is, “admitting sin, and being accountable, robs sin of its power over us.” These absolutes are not only untrue in many cases, but it actually gives us an out to put that sin right back in our pocket. Imagine every two weeks, telling a dear friend and confidant, who desperately wants you to overcome that, “yeah, its um.. still there.” People want to assume after some time, prayer and study, that your sin is under some kind of control, and they can now move on to the next sinner project, because Christianity is all about behavior modification, right? The recent, and not so recent, sins of some prominent Christians being aired out recently brought to light thoughts on my own struggles. Specifically, how hard it is to be open about your sin, and why it’s so easy to keep it to yourself.
Mine was an unusual case I suppose. In an age where most sin is exposed by scandal with people being caught red-handed by their own destructive actions and the trail of tears that follow it wherever they go, I admitted to mine before the cat jumped out of the bag. I can imagine any number of movies with that watershed moment. The main character pacing back and forth, wringing their hands over and again. Multiple camera angles woven together and just the right music playing to present how this person is thinking and wrestling with personal demons before that fateful moment of honest exasperation. Even the few short seconds of silence after the fact, is supposed to imply the worry over whether it was the right thing to do. With forgiveness for the overstated nature of that description, this is how it felt for me.
For all the wonderful books, sermons and talks about revealing your sin and the victory that accompanies it, it is an entirely different matter to form the words in your mouth and force them through your lips. The idea always seems to be good as they travel down from your brain, but once it gets to the throat area, it starts to feel a little too real. You begin to wrestle with it and if it’s the right thing to do. You wonder, how will this affect you, your family, your church, your life. You try to tell yourself that you are loved and your church family will be there for you and your spouse will forgive you and everything will be great again. But still somewhere in your mind is the inevitable, “what ifs.” and you stop dead in your tracks, and wrestle some more.
I’ve had days where I wish I could put the genie back in the bottle. The reality is, after I sent out these letters, I considered for long periods of silence a way to snatch them all back. (Some old episodes of I Love Lucy and The Honeymooners came to mind.) I sincerely believe when I “let it fly.” I felt like I was no longer a person, but a project. With much respect to some people who would occasionally ask me the general question, “How’s it going?”, probably hoping I wouldn’t really tell them, and in fact I would respond with an equally general, “everything’s cool! Thanks”, it was almost like I either never revealed a sin or people didn’t care.
I revealed my sin to a bunch of guys who I considered important in my life, none of which are in my life anymore. I’m pretty sure they all committed to pray for me as I stepped down from various duties and ministries in church, but other than that, it was pretty silent and I was clearly begging not just for a book study on overcoming, but for a friend I could talk to and not feel judged. When I say that, I don’t mean someone to validate my actions. I was already revealing sin, judgement was extremely present. I needed the other aspect that followed it, not steps to overcome, but a Gospel that said,” you are loved”. To be honest, unless someone is caught in sin and the church HAD to deal with it, which they would and I think in many ways they did so well, it was as if the congregation as a whole wasn’t struggling. In light of the alarming statistics about divorce and pornography within the body, and even among pastors, as well as my own observations working in the court system in a smaller New York City borough, I know how foolish a thought like that can be.
I say all this not to go on a diatribe on bad church experiences, but to be honest about why it’s not always easy to let… the words… out. We have fear, because we know stories and we have experiences and know people who have been burned, hurt and devastated, sometimes more by the reaction of others, then by the sin revealed. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep trying or cut out church or not make new friends with the hope that it can grow into a trusting connection. It’s just to say, it’s hard. Opening your mouth, and saying, I have looked at porn, cheated, fornicated, lied, stole, murdered, etc.. is an automatic, almost guarantee, even with right people in your immediate life, of being condemned, ridiculed, vilified, and shamed. Fear is an incredible motivator, whether fear of being caught or being thought of as bad or even the consequences of your sin.
Most of us have heard of the witness tool, “If I could record your thoughts for even a few hours and show them on a screen, how comfortable would you be?” To this day, I don’t know anyone that can give that scenario a thumbs up. Even pastors can’t honestly say, “I’m good! Let ‘er fly!” This tells me no one lets the whole cat out of the bag. We’ve all got secrets that are known to no one but yourself and God. It’s why I can’t get overly frustrated and angry when a repented sinner screws up again, or more information comes to light. I may want to shake him or her, slap them and say, “What were you thinking.” But in reality, I still want to hug them, pray for them and weep for or with them. The reason I want to is because that could be me, but for the grace of God. It is me, as I still wrestle with sin to this day.
Whether it’s someone in the public eye or in your local congregation, I encourage you, before you point a finger, remember your own struggles and the grace that God has applied to your life through the work of His Son. Then maybe, clasp your hands together and bend a knee, and pray for them, their family, the entire situation. If sin’s revealed, judgment is most likely already present. Pray God uses it for the purpose of applying the healing balm of the Gospel. Pray that grace be present and restoration be known.