It has been quite awhile since the last post in this space. I have been working on various projects that took priority. I am now at a place where I can turn attention back this way, which I am excited about:). This post has been in my thoughts for quite awhile, and is of a more personal nature. As always, I am keen to know your response to what is posted in this space…
The senior pastor at my parent’s church was charged with Internet luring in 2006. He had been visiting online chat rooms posing as a minor, and engaging in conversations with young girls. He proposed a get together for sex with what he thought was a 12 year old girl. Upon arrival at the meeting location he was arrested by the police officer who had been posing as the 12 year girl in the chat room. The church was devastated. My parents struggled greatly, as did the community.
The pastor was immediately dismissed. The church community attempted to move on. I am unsure whether the denomination offered any help to him.
Ultimately, he did not proactively seek help to deal with the challenges he was having prior to being caught. He spoke of a contrite heart once his sin was exposed, but this carried little weight with the members of the church community he had been leading.
At the time I was spending part of my working hours as a counsellor at a Bible College and Seminary located roughly 30 minutes from the church by car. I was working mostly with male students, all of whom where struggling with addiction to pornography via the Internet. Most of them presented with a statement something like “I feel called to the ministry, and am pursuing that path of service for my life’s work. I know pornography is a problem for me, and I want to get it under control before I graduate.” They recognized the sin in their lives, that it was negatively affecting them and their relationships with others, and they sought help in dealing with it. They were proactive in their approach, understanding that if they remained alone in their struggle it would be much more difficult. As news spread about what had happened at my parent’s church, they gained a better understanding of the destructive force sexual sin can have. Leaders that come forward with a contrite heart, humbly admitting their deficits, and asking for assistance should be granted just that.
So what are we to do with leaders that do not come forward of their own volition? What about the ones who are caught with pornography on their church provided computers/iPads/mobile devices? Sexual sin is taboo in the church. If a leader’s involvement in sexual sin is exposed in a public manner, what should our response be? In Matthew 18:15-17 Jesus outlines how we should respond to those who have wronged us – first as individuals, then with 2-3 witnesses, and finally as a church body. If the exposure of sin is public knowledge among the church body, what then?
Jesus responds to a woman caught in adultery in John 8:1-11. In this passage I do not see Jesus disregarding the sin the woman was caught in – as they part he tells her to “…go, and from now on sin no more.” (John 8:11, ESV). He forgave her of the sin. What he disagreed with the mobs’ right to execute the woman for the sin she was caught in.
The woman caught in adultery was not a church leader, so she was not subject to the increased responsibility this brings (James 3:1). If we apply Jesus’ response to the woman caught in adultery to our church leaders caught in sexual sin – do we have the right to “execute” them (dismiss them from their leadership role)? Obviously the type of sexual sin they are caught in and any potential legal ramifications need to be considered and acted upon in necessary, as would potential community safety compromises. However, if they, upon discovery, demonstrate a contrite heart, are genuinely repentant, take guidance easily, take steps in their lives to address the behaviour, etc. do we have the right to dismiss them? Does this fall into line with Christ’s example?
Dietrich Bonhoffer wrote of community in his book Life Together. The fifth chapter of the book speaks of confession. His main point is that unless we are able to freely and openly admit the sin we are struggling with, confess it one another, and in response receive the support of the community as we work toward banishing the sin from our lives, our “community” is not the church Christ exemplified. After all, as James 3:2 states “…we all stumble in many ways.” (ESV).
If our church leaders struggling silently with pornography recognize the sin in their lives, admit with a contrite heart the struggle, and in response do all they can to address their addiction, they should be granted the opportunity to do so without loss of position. If a leader’s addiction to pornography is exposed before they make attempts to deal with the problem in a proactive manner, their position should be suspended until such a time as they seek out and receive the help they need in accordance with the church board. If they deny their guilt or do not follow through with the recommendations, their position should be terminated. All cases should be documented, including the response by the leader, the recommendations of the church board, the actions taken by the leader, and the end result.
While our church leaders are held to a higher standard than their parishioners, Christ’s grace is sufficient for all. This grace must always be part of the equation, as none of us are above needing it.
Juniper Tree Counselling and Psychotherapy Services (www.junipertree.ca) offers individual and group pornography recovery treatment options. Pornography recovery is not our only focus:). Individual (children, youth, adults), couple, and family therapy services are also available through Juniper Tree.
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