This has been quite the week. I’ve seen, and at times, been in the middle of what seemed to be a christian social media “superstorm.” It all revolved around the mounting allegations against this already disgraced former pastor. It seems that new stories continue to pour out on an almost daily basis from a variety of sources across the internet. A number of minor bloggers and podcasters are helping to tell the stories of people manipulated and hurt, by what seems to be, this unrepentant man. It’s unfortunate that as many of this stories come forth, we have to admit that they paint a picture that’s hard to argue against their legitimacies.
I know this man, but only a little. I also believed in the messages he preached. I still think they are good, and up until now, I hosted those old messages on this website. By the time anyone reads this I will be in the process of, or have already removed them. At this time, I think it’s what’s best for the church, for those he hurt, and for this unrepentant pastor. My hope is that he truly backs away from his public persona, and if he is a repentant believer, then do as some scripture suggest, and live a quiet and peaceful life, while continuing to reconcile and grow in the truth of the gospel. I don’t want to keep his messages up for fear it could be used as a springboard to rebrand and (re)grow in popularity with the uninitiated and uninformed.
I’m sure by now people are tired of hearing about this. I know I am. I hope the people hurt are able to move forward in healing and restoration. My intent is not to spend anymore time on this, but needed to include it as a back backdrop to what I want to discuss here.
Despite my pulling his sermons, the call of his former church to submit to leadership, and all the accusations that continue to mount, I don’t know if this man will ever go away. At least, not completely. I don’t think the reason is because the church body, as a whole, doesn’t believe he should be disciplined, or submit to authority. I actually think that’s the reason he may not go away. The lifeblood of Christianity is in the notion of the forgiveness and grace found for us in Christ Jesus. That very forgiveness and grace that is poured out for all, includes the ugliest of sinners.
Because of the dynamic of undeserved grace towards the guilty, which implies all, since all are guilty, Christianity will always in some way, lean towards the wolf as well as the sheep. It will lean towards the predator and the prey. In the parable of the prodigal, both sons were encouraged towards repentance. Though we are left wondering if the “faithful” son ever did repent, what we are not left wondering is if the father dismissed the obedient son because of his attitude and actions. The father called to him in the final words of the parable, as much as he called to the wayward son by looking off into the distance for any sign of his returning. Again, The father suffered shame for the son who abandoned him, even as he never stopped looking for his return, and the father suffered shame for that son who abandoned his brother at his restoration, even as his father called him to come join in the celebration. Christianity is definitely complicated.
Christianity at the heart of it, as much as possible by God’s will, wants to emulate that. At least, it should. Many of us have prodigal sons and daughters, if given the opportunity, would gratefully welcome home. I’m not talking spiritually, I’m just talking welcoming them back into the family. We, as parents, leave the lines of communication open as much as possible. We even help till it hurts, hoping it finally clicks for that child and they return to the fold, scarred some by life, but restored.
It is a Christianity at its core that welcomes the badly scarred in. I have seen in the past, as well as recently what that may mean. It means sometimes welcoming people into your life that have yet to earn your trust. Sometimes you don’t know if their repentance is true or false, or if he or she is still working through things. We are called to love our enemies, and serve those who sometimes hurt us. We do it because it WAS us at some point. We do it because someone once did it on our behalf, and it served to proclaim the message of the gospel to at least one more person. We who heard that message are not ungrateful or oblivious to it. I was “playing” at Christian for years before I grasped it fully and found freedom in that one-way message. And so were some of you.
This is why, despite the church admonitions, the blog articles, and various podcasters, people like this disgraced pastor, will probably always find a home in Christianity, whether they are still a wolf, or now a sheep. Christians will always take a risk. They will always move towards restoration and reconciliation. Christianity at its center, wants to see it, it begs to see the worst people know that, “Christ is for you too.” Maybe it’s naïve and suffers from ignorance in being too quick to hold out the good hand of fellowship to the disgraceful and manipulative. But it’s this same attitude that holds it out to the hurt and manipulated.
We, who have been the manipulators, the fornicators, the disgraceful lead actors in our melodrama of control over others, are thankful for this. We know we don’t deserve it, and didn’t ever earn it. We know even now, that the grace given us, still has to cover our past nature that travels to the surface at times as we unwillingly, (and sometimes willingly) use old tactics to curry attitudes that favor drawing people toward our personal desires or idols, even if it’s in the most innocuous of things.
I am thankful for the men and women who offered a hand to this former pastor, and I am disappointed that it appears he used it for his own wants and gains. I applaud every Christian that tried to help him, and my heart breaks for every one of you, whether pastor, elder, friend or layperson, in his life that had to finally step away and cut ties for their own health, the heath of their spouses and families, and the health of their churches. I am thankful not because of him, but because you have shown me Christ in your desire to take what you thought were his wounds on to yourself. You have shown me the father in your desire to look out for him on the horizon to see him return in his brokenness and repentance. Even for the time he remained, you continued to counsel him towards something greater. That is the Christ we want people to see.
Christ is always for the hurt, the manipulated, the disenfranchised. That will never change. I believe Christ’s followers show this often in the world in a variety of ways. It’s not always easy to call the others. In a way, they are more despicable, more reprehensible, because they are filthy with pig slop and act like they’re clean and fresh.
I hate that this man hurt and manipulated so many people, including pastors, friends, congregants, and others who were drawn to him because of the message of hope he preached. Sadly, it now appears to have been him just speaking words. I’m thankful for the Spirit of God in taking words from this extremely flawed vessel and using them to still set people free from legalism.
I’m sure people will read this blog and take my words, as well as my desire not to be overly harsh, and use it as an opportunity to make an example of me, whether on the internet, or at least in their own minds, as they assume a countless number of things. I leave you to it. I know what I actually mean, and what my words mean. The people who know me, know my heart, and what I’m trying to say through my own numerous flaws.
The finished reality for me is this; I hope he stays away. I hope he repents and makes amends where able. I hope he goes about the rest of his life quietly and in humility. For the church, I hope it continues on as it has. First, with an open hand towards all coming to know who Christ is. In the second case though, I hope we’re a bit more discerning, but never to the point where we don’t extend that hand, but are more careful to care for the hurting, and what they’ve been through, even as we also help and guide those who are now learning not to hurt anyone else.