The task of defending the Christian faith is certainly made more difficult when another church leader is accused of wrongdoing. Bishop Eddie Long was the leader of one of the most influential and powerful African American churches in the US. He has now been accused repeatedly of grooming and having sex with young men in his church. Though he denies the allegations, he has now stood down temporarily while he tries to repair his marriage. Long, an ardent critic of gay rights and the gay lifestyle, has a considerable number of serious allegations to answer.
The ‘party line’ statement to make in regard to these types of unproven allegations is that they are a smear against an honourable man. It is true that one false allegation can besmirch a reputation, but like the presidential contender and part time preacher, Herman Cain, when repeated allegations start lining up a pattern seems to emerge. The simplistic explanation is that one bad apple does not spoil the whole barrel, thus excusing one rogue preacher as an aberration. However, to be honest, there are too many high profile fallen preachers, priests and bishops to defend them as an aberration.
No, the church has to face either one of two possibilities: either there is something seriously wrong about the way many Christians and Churches live and practice their faith; or there is something seriously wrong with the whole idea of faith.
My vote, not surprisingly, is for the former - that there are widespread issues that Christians are getting wrong which are making these things happen more regularly. Any reading of the history of Christianity and the Church will reveal that the Church has always struggled with three issues: money, power and sex. In our modern era churches continue to rail against the world’s sexual agenda when it is is very different from the Bible’s perspective, but repeatedly adopt an uncritical embrace of the world’s values of money and power.
Historically churches have been careful to make sure that pastors cannot profit financially from the success of their ministry. Tragically and repeatedly in many churches today this has been overturned. Church governance systems of elders and denominational authority existed to be a check on the power of one individual. But in an era where in the name of efficiency and success many churches have granted almost royal powers to their pastors and allowed them to enjoy the financial fruit of their multimedia empires, not surprisingly the genie of sex has also escaped out of the bottle.
Five hundred years ago the church needed a major reformation when money, power and sex were symbols of ecclesiastical influence and success. Fancy clothes, pompous titles, unquestioned ecclesiastical power, questionable methods of extracting money from the poor while the church and its leaders enjoyed a lavish lifestyle, and a dubious approach to sexual morality, coupled with a huge gap between preaching and action, were some of the key concerns that led to the reformation of the sixteenth century.
In an earlier era Jesus encouraged his followers to be harder on themselves than on the world. Jesus also railed against the religious leaders of his day, who likewise loved money and were in bed with power. We need to reform the church before we can reform the world.
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” Luke 6: 41-42