Shayne Stevens looks at why Christianity has long been marked by the poor choices of its leaders
number of years ago at Cornerstone Christian Music Festival, held just outside of Chicago, Illinois, Christian recording artist and Jesus People USA (JPUSA) member, Glen Kaiser took the stage and confessed to the thousands in attendance that he had a problem with “masturbation”.
According to a friend who was there when the word rolled off Kaiser’s tongue, an awkward silence descended upon the crowd, the numerous pairs of darting eyes confirming that no ones’ ears had betrayed them. In an instant, a spiritual superhero ‘became human, the line between rock star and fan erased by the honesty of a fellow pilgrim and the telling of a secret.
Understanding his influence, Kaiser could have talked about anything that night: the evils of secular music, the call to take care of orphans and widows, the benefits of communal living. He could have focused on walking the “unsaved” through the “sinners’ prayer”. Instead, he chose to be vulnerable, took ownership of what he considered to be a major struggle, and ultimately established a seemingly uncomfortable yet solid common ground on which he and his audience could stand. An important talk about sex, lust, love and forgiveness followed.
Before going on to discuss the suicide of his father and his daughter’s nearly fatal battle with anorexia, Presbyterian minister and author, Frederick Buechner, says this in his frighteningly potent memoir, Telling Secrets: “I have come to believe that by and large the human family all has the same secrets, which are both telling and very important to tell. …They tell what is perhaps the central paradox of our condition – that what we hunger for perhaps more than anything else is to be known in our full humanness, and yet that is often what we fear more than anything else.”
In November 2006, Ted Haggard, then the pastor of New Life Church, a mega-church located in Colorado Springs, Colorado and the leader of the National Association of Evangelicals was removed from both positions having been accused and eventually confessing to both purchasing drugs from and having sexual relations with a male prostitute.
A vocal opponent of homosexuality and same sex marriage, Haggard’s fall from the pulpit to the motel room became fodder for liberals and gay rights activists, his hypocrisy yet another stain on the already discoloured history of Christianity. “…There is a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I’ve been warring against it my entire life,” he wrote in an apology letter to his congregation.
Was there any way this fiasco could have been avoided?
What if, like Kaiser, Haggard had have been able to admit his struggle, if not to the congregation, to the board, his wife, or even just a trusted friend? Would such a confession have led to personal healing (I do not mean from his homosexual tendencies, but rather from the internal torment and guilt of not being fully known and therefore living a double life)? With such knowledge, would his confidante(s) have been able to help him remain accountable? Most importantly, would such an admission have fostered an atmosphere of love, accountability and healing for those with similar struggles?
Christianity has long been marked and marred by the poor choices of its leaders. In fact, I suspect many of the biblical characters (both the leads and extras) would blush were they to see their stories nicely laid out in print for the world to read. But on which and from what do our priests and pastors reflect and draw their Sunday morning sermons? Quite often it’s the colossal screw-ups.
As one that messes up constantly, I find great hope in the fact that shysters like David and Jacob somehow found favour with God. I also take comfort in the fact that God can take my mistakes, my secrets, and use them for good. Why then is admitting them to both others and myself so hard? And why, like Adam, do I continually try to hide things from the only One who truly knows everything.
This is the tension in which we live: wanting to be known and accepted in our completeness, but afraid of the rejection that might accompany such a complete understanding.
And so, in an attempt to avoid the potential rejection, like Haggard, we live secret lives, hiding behind various masks fabricated to win the approval of others, or at least give the impression that everything is ok. In doing so, however, we run a very serious personal risk: “It is important to tell at least from time to time the secret of who we truly and fully are,” Buechner offers later on, “even if we tell it only to ourselves – because other wise we run the risk of losing track of who we truly and fully are and little by little come to accept instead the highly-edited version which we put forth in the hope that the world will find it more acceptable than the real thing.”
Despite what they say in Las Vegas, from what I’ve seen, Johnny Cash is correct when he growls on a recent release, “As sure as God made black and white, what’s done in the dark will be brought to the light.” Like it or not, God uses secrets. A host of 80s televangelists can attest. What I’m now coming to understand is that the sin may lie as much in the concealing as in the doing. And if that is the case, I suspect it would be a lot easier to volunteer my darkness than have it dragged out of me.
Could God’s greatest elixir lie in our telling of the truth of our lives? Is the un-edited version of us the only version that God can truly use? If so, who are we to keep secrets when withholding them, it seems, only does more damage than good?
Writer: Shayne Stephens is a writer and editor, now based out of Toronto. You can contact him by sending a message through our contact page.