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September 13, 2006

Sex, lies and the pulpit

This is a guest essay by "Pastor X", a pastor, writer, longtime friend and emerging brilliant thinker in Dallas. Recently, the trial of Bishop Terry Hornbuckle of Arlington, TX wrapped up with Hornbuckle receiving 15 years in prison for sex crimes committed against female members of his church. This is a decidely Biblical perspective emanating from that event. Moral of this whole sordid story: Wrong is just plain wrong no matter who did it.

For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? 1 Peter 4:17 KJV

It’s said if you don’t like Texas weather, wait five minutes. Sadly, it seems Texas church sex scandals are on the same schedule. Just recently, after the conclusion of one, another one reared its ugly head. The first, involving a prominent suburban pastor, was a tasty, toxic mix of the usual ingredients: sex, drugs, lies, womanizing. Not to mention the steamy side dishes of the faithful, longsuffering wife, the secretary doubling as mistress, the nanny doubling as mistress, the alleged “big-dog” cover-ups and the dwindling-but-supportive congregation. This hot dish was served daily in the news media with a generous topping of ego and power abuse.

The first Texas scandal concluded with multiple court convictions and a deposed pastor on his way to prison. The second, still unfolding, involves a senior-citizen pastor who counseled a woman grieving a miscarriage that she had a "sex demon", which he allegedly proceeded to exorcise by commanding her to lie down on the floor and then raping her. (That brings a whole new meaning to “exorcising your demons.” But that’s another story.)

This essay is not to debate the guilt or innocence of these two men. It’s not even about the unwise, perhaps foolish actions of the peripheral people involved. No, this is about us. This is about today’s Church leadership atmosphere that continues to support, enable and protect leaders who persist in wrongdoing. This fertile, breeding ground for errant behavior is a hot, ugly mess.

This is not a new phenomenon. Scandals have been around since there was a Church. And there have always been those who presented the happy-family image for the photo ops and later trolled the pews for partners once the cameras stopped running. Position, power and a halfway-good-looking, charismatic leader without a Spirit-led sense of restraint AND checks-and balances firmly in place can be a deadly combination. The familiar African-American minister’s phrase, “Doc (pastor), how many folk you running?” could just as easily be applied to his lovers as the size of his congregation. (And don’t be fooled: Rev. Beloved’s partners could be men and/or women!)

“Stop snitching” isn’t just in the rap world. Our followers, who once may have rushed to install us on pedestals on which only Christ belongs, are then treated like turncoats and renegades when they speak out against our sexual/moral/financial corruption. Perhaps in the interest of protecting our own secrets, we play the back-scratching game of “Yeah, Pastor Player has (wink, wink) ‘issues.’ But don’t we all? Just put him in the hands of the Lord.” Even worse, we fire the preemptive warning shot to the congregation by misapplying Psalms 105:15: “Don’t touch my anointed.” I’ve seen faithful believers leave the Church disillusioned, broken-hearted and distrustful, because of sorry actions and sorrier cover-ups.

Let’s make one thing clear: being called does not mean being perfect. Every one of us has issues seen and unseen. Not a single one of God’s men and women were called because they were sin-free. Everyone has something we leave at the foot of the cross on a daily basis. However – there’s a difference between struggling with sin and wallowing in it.

There was a time when being a minister meant a sense of honor, of being in awe of being chosen, and of being hyper-conscious not to defame the Name of Our Lord and our vocation. It meant a path to purpose and an opportunity to lead, teach, shepherd and preach. Not a path to getting paid and getting laid; a path to $1000 suits and $600 shoes.

If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified.
But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men's matters. 1 Peter 4: 14-15 KJV

All I’m saying is bring the honor back in ministry. We are not responsible for policing our colleagues like some extreme “Church Lady.” But we are responsible for what we know. As the aforementioned Scripture tells us, if we must suffer, let us suffer for the cause of Christ, not our own unchecked foolishness.

Pay now or pay later.
Pay now by honestly confessing and ruthlessly confronting sin first in our own lives, then urging our colleagues to do the same. Pay now by creating a safe circle of accountability and restoration now, way before you may need it. Pay now by, according to Romans 6:17-18, marking (expose and do not fellowship with) those who habitually bring shame to the Name of Jesus Christ. And pay now by praying for everyone in the ministry and their followers, especially those already affected by sin and scandal. The enemy would like nothing better than a wasted testimony and a scattered flock.

God is watching. Let us be found faithful, not fearful. If we refuse to “handle up” ourselves, don’t be surprised when He allows the State of One-of the Fifty, The People vs. Rev. Out-of-Control, to do our job.

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