The recent reports of the abominable act of a pastor allegedly having sexual relations or what amounts to be the rape of a child are horrifying and nauseating, to say the very least. I will however leave it to the justice system through the courts and the sovereign Lord to determine the truthfulness of the reports and for the appropriate condemnation or acquittal judgment to be applied. As a journalist, I am fully aware that media reports (and now social media also) can be taken to be the trial and sentence of an alleged crime, without the benefit of the systematic evidence–based interrogative process of the courts, and so I will reserve my opinion, my indignation or my compassion on the pastor’s guilt or innocence at this time. Nevertheless, the issue seems to have unearthed some spurious points of view on how guilty pastors or ministers of the gospel should be treated having sinned against the ‘flock’ (church). That is the matter I wish to address.
As a Christian, my first reference point is not my feelings, friendships, loyalties or even my sense of morality, but rather the Holy Scriptures. Jeremiah 23:1-2 is a good starting point. “Woe be unto the pastors that destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! saith the Lord. Therefore thus saith the Lord God of Israel against the pastors that feed my people; Ye have scattered my flock, and driven them away, and have not visited them: behold, I will visit upon you the evil of your doings, saith the Lord.
While this passage does not speak about sexual immorality, it does begin to show God’s heart on how pastors should treat the flock and also God’s judgment on pastors who fail to treat the church with love and care. The first word of the passage “woe” sums it up.
The truth is that if we had heard of a gunman or a businessman allegedly raping a teenager, we would call for swift and harsh punishment or some would even advocate for vigilante justice. So when the allegations are against a pastor, the disappointment and the rage are even greater since to whom much is given, very much more is expected. Nothing is expected from criminals…well except crime. But from the vanguards of morality; the leaders who help us and lead us from the kingdom of darkness to the Kingdom of Light, we rightly expect so much more. Hence God’s ‘woe’ when we see otherwise.
It is within this context that I want us to recall the Bible’s description of the character and behavior of those expected to lead in the Body of Christ.
“A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.” (1 Timothy 3: 2-7) That is the clear biblical expectation of a church leader; ultimately he or she must be above approach not caught in the midst of it.
All my fellow Christians and god-fearing persons who keep saying that ‘we are all sinners’ must therefore stop it. We are not all sinners. When you give your life to Jesus Christ and make him your Lord and Savior, you are moved (spiritually) from the kingdom of darkness to the Kingdom of Light. You have received the righteousness of Christ by faith. 1 Peter 2: 9 puts it this way: “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.” You are no longer sinners, you are children of God. “But as many as received him, to them gave the power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”1 John 1:12-13. Yes, you are born again. You are in fact expected to live a life of holiness.
All of this is why the allegations against the pastor are so damning. That is why it is so outrageous.
Having been a part of the church in various denominations for many years, I know firsthand that some pastors have and will fail. And I have witnessed some disgraceful attempts by church memberships who attempt to shield the pastor from the consequences (both legal and spiritual) of his actions in the name of love and forgiveness. Yes, of course there is forgiveness for the most horrible of sins – that is the promise of the merciful God we serve. 1 John 1:9 states that “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” And yes, the church has a responsibility to engender repentance and to restore a brother or sister who has fallen from the faith, but don’t allow that responsibility as important as it is, to soften the other responsibility to rebuke, by recognizing the enormity of the dastardliness of the sin at hand, the associated consequences and the urgent need to also restore the people who may have been hurt by the transgression.
Recall that it is because of the dark grievousness of sin, why Jesus had to die that horrible death to pay the price. There is no part of sin that is tolerable. Sin requires repentance and has consequences. Hiding or downplaying sin must not be tolerated; that amounts to idolatry, not love. Noted Christian author and speaker, Beth Moore recently pointed to the tension between truth and love, ultimately asserting that we can’t hide from God’s truth (his precepts and commands) in the name of ‘love’.
Love rebukes. “Those I love, I rebuke and discipline. Therefore be earnest and repent,” – Revelations 3:19. Furthermore, 1 Timothy 5: 19-20 tells us that, “Them (church elders) that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear.” Some church leaders should therefore consider James 3:1 with all sincerity. “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.”
Let me also hasten to say that in the midst of the pastors who have failed, there are a plethora more who are upright, generous and self-less; who consistently do God’s work with grace and integrity. So it is really heartbreaking to hear people lump the ‘bad egg’ pastors in a bunch with the rest of the respectable fraternity of pastors and then also call all Christians hypocrites. Really? No. Don’t make your well-placed anger and disappointment get the better of your sense of judgment.
Finally and importantly, these allegations are about the sexual abuse of a minor. Let us remind ourselves of what the scripture has to say about mistreating a beloved child. Jesus warned that “whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” (Mathew 18:6).
However, I can hear many a heartbroken wife misguidedly scoffing at how we define a ‘child’ given that many a young school girl has been known to levy apparently intense irresistible sexual youthful power at the ‘powerless’ husbands of these wives. But the overarching point here is that men of strong spiritual and moral mettle are supposed to be above this. Pastors and Christian men in particular are empowered and expected to demonstrate their faith in these situations, given the power given to them through the Holy Spirit to overcome temptation and avert sin, a truth that seems lost to those who insist that ‘we are all sinners.’
Here is some of what the Bible actually has to say about sexual immorality and the behavior of those who have accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; 1 Thessalonians 4: 3-5. The scripture further warns as follows: “For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.” Ephesians 5:5.
How can you not have an inheritance in the Kingdom of Christ and God and be under the judgement of God but you are still in charge of the flock, if you are found to be guilty of sexual immorality? No. You cant.
Plus, of course, in addition to the spiritual ramifications are the more immediate legal ones such as prison time, particularly as it relates to rape and carnal abuse.
I have a special love and admiration for Joseph in the Holy Scriptures, who when faced with the daily sexual enticements and invitations of a beautiful powerful woman, refused. “But he refused and said to his master’s wife, “Behold, with me here, my master does not concern himself with anything in the house, and he has put all that he owns in my charge. “There is no one greater in this house than I, and he has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do this great evil and sin against God?” Genesis 39: 8-10.
Can we please have some more men like Joseph; men who see adulterous sexual relations as a ‘great evil’ and certainly more men who see sexual relations with a child or minor as an abomination?
And can we please create 2 walls around our precious children – a fire wall of prayer and fasting and another made of brick, stone and the strong enforcement of legislation to keep all sorts of predators out?
A family and women’s advocate, Shelly-Ann Harris is the Editorial Director of Family and Faith Magazine. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or connect with her on Twitter @harrisshellyann