Recently I shared on my blog about The Houston Chronicle’s Report on Southern Baptist Sexual Abuse, and the Lessons for All Evangelical Churches. I want to respond to a couple of the comments I received about it.
One person wrote, “If I wanted to find dirt in any organization, I could; the press thrives on slandering the church.” Another commenter said, “So you have ask, how come all of a sudden now all these accusations. It seems like part of the Mueller investigation, anything to make Christians/conservatives look bad.”
Yes, there are certainly times when the world slanders the church and Christians by sharing reports that are not true or unjust. But the fact is, the sexual sin of SOME pastors in SOME churches is a reality (and sadly, it’s more than just a few pastors who are involved). This is at epidemic proportions, and epidemics are not solved by our saying, “This is just another attempt to make the church look bad.” (In the case of the Houston Chronicle report, the reporters reviewed thousands of pages of court, prison and police records, and built a database of leaders who have been convicted of sex crimes.)
We shouldn’t be quick to become the victim and not look at reality. Our goal shouldn’t be to convince the world (or ourselves) there’s no sin in the church. The world already knows there is, and so should we. And only if we do know will we do something to deal with and prevent it in Christ-honoring way. I’ve been encouraged to see some of the responses to the Houston Chronicle report so far, and hope and pray that all of this results in real changes and better protection for vulnerable people in our churches.
I’ve had other people tell me that it’s unbiblical to write about pastors and the dangers of sexual sin. But the Bible is full of warnings alerting people, including leaders, to dangers. God told Ezekiel to be a watchman on the wall and warn the people of sin and rebellion and its consequences. He warned Ezekiel if he didn’t speak up he would be accountable. Warning pastors and churches about sexual sin is like warning families to build strong marriages to resist the tide of adultery.
So the question is, shall we say nothing about what’s happening and just hope no one notices? And just hope churches and leaders figure out on their own that they need to cultivate a watchful accountable environment for their pastors and when pastors sin inform the next church? My question is, how has that been working for us?
Obviously it hasn’t been working at all! If people don’t speak up no one is warned and no one is helped and there is no hope of preventing sin, but only letting it grow in secret, multiplying itself in the darkness. God’s people are not to deny that sin is happening, but recognize it and seek to deal with it biblically and prevent it wherever possible.
Related to the subject of leaders and sexual sin, today’s blog includes an edited version of a list of anticipated consequences of immorality. My friend and fellow pastor Alan Hlavka and I wrote the original version over 35 years ago, when we were both pastors at Good Shepherd Community Church. Our individual lists were devastating, and to us they spoke more powerfully than any sermon or article on the subject.
Periodically, especially when travelling or when in a time of temptation or weakness, we each read through our own list. In a personal and tangible way, it brought home God’s inviolate law of choice and consequence. It cut through the fog of rationalization and filled our hearts with the healthy, motivating fear of God.
While God can forgive and bring beauty out of ashes, that’s a message to those who have already sinned...not to those who are contemplating sin! On the “front side” of sin we must not give assurances of forgiveness and restoration. We must put the focus where Scripture does—on the love of God and the fear of God, both of which should act in concert to motivate us to holy obedience.
I recommend that you use the following as the basis for your own list, and include consequences that would be uniquely yours. The idea, of course, is not to focus on sin, but on the consequences of sin, thereby encourage yourself to refocus on the Lord and take steps of wisdom and purity that can keep you from falling. (Of course, this list is not just for pastors and those in church leadership, but can be adapted by anyone.)
15 Consequences of Committing Sexual Immorality
- I would grieve my Lord, and displease the One whose opinion most matters.
- Christ’s sacred reputation would be dragged in the mud.
- I would have to one day look Jesus in the face at the judgment seat and give an account of why I did it. I would suffer loss of reward and commendation from God.
- I would force God to discipline me in various ways.
- I would follow in the footsteps of men I know whose immorality forfeited their ministry.
- I would cause the suffering of innocent people around me who would be affected by my decisions.
- I would cause untold hurt to my wife, and lose her respect and trust—and likely my entire relationship to her.
- I would cause hurt to my children and grandchildren, and lose credibility with them.
- I would bring shame to my family.
- I would bring shame to my church family, and to my fellow pastors and elders.
- I would bring shame and hurt to my friends, and to those I’ve led to Christ and discipled.
- I would experience great guilt, and be haunted by my sin when it is brought up wherever I go and whatever I do.
- I would disqualify myself from ministry, and forfeit certain opportunities to serve God—maybe permanently.
- I would enable the laughter, rejoicing and blasphemous smugness of those who disrespect God and the church.
- I would bring great pleasure to Satan, the Enemy of God.
You can read the longer version of this list here.