Kevin’s Conversations: How They Get Away With It…
Ravi Zacharias. James MacDonald. Carl Lentz. Bob Coy. Mark Driscoll. Bill Hybels. Tullian Tchividjian. Bill Gothard. The list goes on and on, and these are names from only the past few years. These are all Christian leaders who abused power for purposes of their own gains and desires, leaving a wake of countless broken and victimized souls in their self-indulgent trails. These are only the ones who finally experienced some manner of fall from grace after the exposure of their sinful deeds became too staggeringly extensive such that they could no longer vanquish them all. Who knows how many more cases are still successfully under wraps?
We all know the saying that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Certainly this adage comes into play here as Christians, even esteemed Christian leaders, are just as susceptible to temptation and sin as anybody else. The more power, fame, and influence one has, the greater the temptations can be, and the more devastating the effects will be if the temptations are acted upon.
Here is the difficulty when it comes to our current evangelical Christian culture – we do much to contribute to, to encourage, and to advance such an environment wherein these leaders wield great power and influence without attendant accountability. We love our celebrities. We love our heroes. We love our strongmen. And we will defend them through thick and thin, many times even when the evidence is inordinately stacked against them. This is a big reason why so many Christians have fallen in love with Donald Trump, despite him being continually and excessively un-Christ-like in so many ways throughout his whole public life, including during the entirety of his presidency. This is a big reason why so many Ravi Zacharias’s and James MacDonald’s and Bill Hybel’s are able to conduct their nefarious deeds for so long without repercussion or account, sometimes even doing them in plain sight.
We allow these leaders and organizations to become little fiefdoms of unaccountability. How do we do this? We give our devotion and support to leaders and organizations who keep their boards and rules of operation secretive. We give our devotion and support to leaders and organizations who stack their boards with friends and family members. We give our devotion and support, sometimes even financial support, to leaders and organizations who disclose little to no financial information. We give our devotion and support to to leaders and organizations who lack transparency in many ways, especially when they are facing significant questions or allegations. We give our devotion and support to those leaders and organizations who can powerfully and charismatically speak to and give attention to issues and circumstances that are of interest or concern us, even if they sometimes employ un-Christ-like methods and attitudes in doing so.
We give our devotion and support to leaders and organizations such that if anyone ever says anything “bad” about them, we will defend them and simultaneously cut down their accusers, branding them as bitter and jealous and arrogant and gossipers, and hurting the cause of Christianity. Even when the evidence is greatly stacked against those whom we revere, we will find a way to justify or rationalize their actions, or more conveniently, just ignore the actions as if they never took place. We will spiritualize the issue by speaking to the need to show grace and forgiveness and remind everyone that we’re all sinners and so just worry about your own problems and don’t be “judgmental” by talking about someone else and trying to hurt such a great and anointed servant of God. Meanwhile, biblical commands for justice and righteousness and accountability are ignored and this same “grace” is nowhere to be found for the victims who were hurt and taken advantage of by our beloved leaders.
So when the red flags first appear, they are easily swept away. The leaders tell their (sometimes secretive) boards that there are no problems and that there’s just misunderstandings or differences of opinion or that any accusations are just bald-faced lies. The boards acquiesce to their words and continue on with business as usual and concurrently accuse any accusers of being liars and troublemakers. The Christian culture is satisfied with such responses and blissfully continues on with their devotion and support. As the red flags grow in number and intensity, the same tactics are employed, just with increased justifications and rationalizations, and/or with greater resolve to obstinately ignore. When the dam finally breaks, we simply focus our attention onto other luminaries who are still intact. Incredibly, sometimes we will even continue to support the ideas and efforts that our broken celebrity should continue on in leadership, speaking of the need for grace and forgiveness, even when there is a substantial lack of repentance and change.
Christian leaders and organizations will continue to fail and fall, no matter how many safeguards are put in place and no matter how diligent the Christian culture is in placing loyalty to God over loyalty to power and fame and celebrity. It is the nature of the beast. However, the frequency of occurrences and severity of effects and number of victims can most certainly be reduced, if the Christian community and culture at large has the will for it to be so.
The question is, does our culture have this will? The answers we have gotten back in recent times have not been very encouraging. Nonetheless, for those who recognize the predicament we are in and desire to do something about it, I am reminded of God’s Words in Galatians 6:9:
“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”