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July 6, 2007

The Antidote for Darkness

darkness.jpgShe sat in the second row. Long brown hair. A high-school look to her, and yet, her eyes belied way too many journeys to fit into a 16-year-old time frame.

I was teaching a class about ministry and dark places. Not so much about ministry in dark places, but about the darkness we and/or our spouses bring with us into ministry. I started the hour by saying, "Unfortunately, I'm qualified to teach this class." (For more about that, see my Leadership Journal article.)

Her tears came slowly. They'd been held close under the lids, but 20 minutes into the hour, they could no longer contain what had collected there. I showed a clip from Seabiscuit?the part where an injured racehorse was about to be put down, and a stable hand yells, "Stop. I'll save you the bullet. I'll take him." Cut to the scene when a horse buyer (played by Jeff Bridges) asks the stable hand if the horse will ever race again. "No, not that one." The horse buyer is silent, unable to take in the meaning. Then he asks the obvious. "Why? Why are you bothering with him then?" The stable hand responds, "Because I can. Just because someone's banged up a bit doesn't mean he isn't worth anything."

Banged up leaders. Banged up Christian leaders. The tawdry details of leaders' indiscretion and moral failure have filled a lot of newspapers and talk shows of late. We scratch our heads and wonder how these things can happen. Some of us retreat into denial. It didn't really happen. The charges were trumped up. Others of us get sick to the stomach. One more example of hypocrisy. No wonder Christianity is a bad word in America. Some of us take the opportunity to reflect on our own leadership. We think about our own failings, our own destructive, secret habits. And we have no idea what we'd do if anyone ever found out. And if we're honest, more than a few of us reach for the shotgun.

I wondered about this young woman, and the pain she was carrying. Were her tears about herself ? her own dark places? Or was she married to someone with a secret, a leader with a double life? I didn't know. But I do know that her entire countenance changed at one point. It was toward the end of the hour, and the class had been discussing strategies for dealing with fallen leaders. They'd all been wrestling with specific situations in their various congregations, situations where no one confronted their leaders' destructive patterns until it was too late. Until much damage had been done. We had been affirming to each other how important truth-telling is, more important than saving a "career" or saving a congregation's squeaky-clean image. But, then I said truth must always come in the context of grace extended in tangible ways (read, an intentional healing process that usually requires much time and sacrifice). I explained that truth and mercy were the two inseparable antidotes to darkness. Then, the light of hope dawned on her face.

She came up after the class. Looking into my eyes, she asked through her tears, "What do you do when you find out your father is a predator? It happened six months ago, and my mom just told me." More tears. "He was my hero. It's like I don't know who I am now. He's a pillar in the community. I don't want to face the truth, but I have to. We weren't the family I thought we were. He wasn't the man I thought he was. What do I do now?"

Somehow bullets don't work so well on family members. And though truth must be the first thing that is told, outside the context of lived mercy, it is like a bullet. We may want to put a leader down. It may feel good. It might even make our day. But just because someone's banged up doesn't mean he or she isn't worth anything. The hope in this young woman's eyes came when she suddenly realized, "My dad may have done this, but God is not done with him. And, he's still my dad." She answered her own question about what she does now: Face the truth - all of it - and walk alongside him on the long and arduous journey toward emotional and spiritual wholeness.

Maybe we need to remember the two antidotes to darkness the next time we hear about a fallen leader. Or the next time we fall. Tell the truth. Offer real healing - to ourselves, to others. That means, like this young woman, we commit for the long haul. We don't pull out of the process like one well-known leader did in the face of his colleague's devastation. Now, that's hypocrisy.

The horse may have to get out of the race, but it's still good for something. No, it's good for incredible things. That's called redemption.


I liked this article. Its so true that we give up on ourselves and others so easily. We cling to this illusion of perfection for Christians. My friend likes to say that we "shoot our own wounded."

Praise God for his amazing ability to redeem what is seemingly impossible to redeem! I'm constantly amazed to see how his grace has managed to create something good out of the big messes I've made in my own life.

King David was a man after God's own heart, but he screwed things up pretty badly. Can you imagine a Christian leader today committing adultery and murder and then being restored to ministry at some point?? We like to read the Bible about how God's grace is so amazing--isn't it nice how God was so merciful to King David or to the woman caught in adultery. Yet, we fail to make the translation into our own lives. How do we treat people in the church who have committed adultery?

I find that often people who have failed miserably and worked through that process end up becoming some of the most humble, transparent and compassionate people.

I liked the article.

Certainly, it's true that genuine Christian leaders who fall need God's love and mercy. However, to expect that they will not suffer consequences, nor to have deeply wounded and caused those whom they led or ministered to (or who were, in some way, associated with them), to suffer, seems unrealistic to me. As a Christian teacher I heard once said, "If a Christian leader who blesses people through his [or her] ministry falls, it's doubtful whether they will have more blessed or hurt those people." How true! The truth is that our sin has consequences--for the person who has sinned, surely; but, if one is a leader, it can surely have consequences also for those whom we lead, God's forgiveness notwithstanding. Witness the suffering caused by the fall of noted Christian leaders within the past 20 years; or the scandal of pedophile priests, about which we have heard so much in recent years. Ask those who were molested, or their families, or their parishes, whether these were victimless crimes.

One other thing: We need to make a clear distinction between forgiveness and mercy, on the one hand, and restoration to a position of leadership, on the other. 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, for instance, tell us that those who aspire to be elders (which today might translate to "pastor") must be "above reproach." A leader who falls may certainly receive God's forgiveness and mercy; however, in my opinion, according to Scripture, he forfeits the condition of blamelessness needed to again be an elder.

I agree wholeheartedly with the twin needs for both truth and mercy. I've seen them achieve great success in restoring Christian leaders who have fallen.

However, it is essential that the fallen one truly acknowledges their sin and wishes to be restored. When that is lacking or insincere, the attempts of others to walk alongside them can contribute to further harm, both to the original victim(s) and to those who are too naive about the restoration process.

Unfortunately, ministry leadership sometimes attracts narcissistic people who are quite skilled at manipulating even those who are attempting to hold them accountable. I've seen that happen too.

I would encourage anyone dealing with this situation who does not have significant personal experience in restoration to obtain counsel from someone who has a track record in it.

This relates to something that I've been noticing in my Bible reading for some time: Jesus calls us to radical love.

Sometimes the darkness means that the person involved must be removed from that ministry - for the protection of those who might get hurt otherwise. Love isn't always an easy thing. It isn't a matter of saying "Oh, that's all right, what you did doesn't matter." What we do DOES matter - the Bible makes that clear.

Radical love may call us to take hard steps, even to do things that seem harsh; but whatever needs to be done, must be done in love. And we must aim always to follow Jesus - Who died for us while we were sinners.

He didn't wait for us to be good first; He loved us first, and our response to His love works in us to bring us to the good.

Hate the sin. Love the sinner. It's a radical call. We can't do it by ourselves; but we don't have to. What we have to do is turn always to Jesus, Whose strength is made perfect in weakness - even in OUR weakness.

Thank you so much for this article. It was a life saver to me. Can this be reprinted in a church newsletter with appropriate recognition to the author and/or publisher?

Thank you for your honesty, even though we can see you pain. May our God help us all do better, forgive more, and walk and talk with Jesus.
Paul writes in Colossians 1:3-5 to the church at Colosse, telling them that he thanks God for them. He doesn’t just lay out a general, “I thank God for you” that might have left them wondering why. Paul is very specific about why he is thankful. But though he is specific and clear, I am struck by how simple he keeps things. He points out three characteristics of that church that caused thanksgiving in his heart on their behalf:

First, he notes their “faith in Christ Jesus”. That’s where it all begins. They were the “church” at Colosse because they had entered into the kingdom of God by faith in Jesus. Having believed God, that Jesus’ sacrifice at Calvary completely paid the debt we owed because of our sin, it was counted to them for righteousness. They were forgiven and cleansed.

Second, Paul says he had heard of their “love for all the saints”. The one mark that Jesus gave that the world would know that we are His children was that we would love each other (John 13:35). He could have placed a tattoo on our forehead. He could have caused us to glow. Those are marks which would have caused others to notice and to say, “They must be Christians!” But instead, He placed a very simple indicator on us: love. As we grow in Christ, we will grow in love for our brothers and sisters in the Lord. It’s that simple, and it’s a great gauge we can use to see how we’re progressing!

Lastly, Paul takes note that their faith and love were motivated “because of the hope that is laid up for you in heaven”. The men and women in the Colossian church were looking forward to eternity. They had their eyes on the prize, longing to see their Savior in glory. They were anticipating a day when they would hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant; enter into the joy of the Lord”.

Those Colossian believers, living their lives in this world with their eyes on the next, trusting in Jesus Christ for salvation, and loving the other believers around them, brought great joy and thanksgiving to the hearts of Paul and his companions. Lord, may our lives, lived in this same sort of simplicity, bring joy and thanksgiving to the hearts of those around us.
God Bless you,

I liked this article. I have always wondered about something. When a pastor files for divorce they also lose their career. I understand that they have to set a good example and live an exemplary life but what if their are real problems in their marriage like spousal abuse - physical, emotional or sexual? There are so many things that can go wrong in a marriage. Why can we not show them mercy? I've lived in an abuse marriage for 35 years. I've had three pastors tell me to leave because the extreme abuse broke the convenant of marriage. I think we need to show the same compassion and mercy to our pastors as God has shown to all of us. If there are serious problems in a pastor's marriage I believe they need to be able to walk away with their careers protected.

Quote "We don’t pull out of the process like one well-known leader did in the face of his colleague’s devastation. Now, that’s hypocrisy."

HUH? I'm not in the loop but since we're all on the same page (up till this quote) can you tell me who or what you are talking about so I can understand this in the context is was meant to be understood? thanks

I agree, we Christians sin and God forgives. But, it is not that simple. We must confess to God, to man and to the Church. We must humbly repent, turn away and walk a different path. When possible we must make restitution. After all of this, I believe God forgives and our fellow man can forgive us also and we can be restored into the full fellowship with God and man.
Let me explain: Confess. First we must confess our sin to God and seek His forgiveness. Second, if possible, we need to confess to those we have offended and or sinned against, sinned with and or caused to sin. We must seek their forgiveness. Third, there are times when we need to confess to the entire church and seek their forgiveness. For you see, we have sinned against the body of Christ Himself, His Bride, His Church.
Second, we must Repent humbly. Repentance means turning away from and by God's grace never to commit this same sin again. Rest assured, God knows when one has repented. We must show humility to God and submission to God. This Humility and Submission must be seen as genuine by our fellow man, or he considers us a hypocrite.
Third, we must make Restitution for the wrongs or injury caused. This may involve money, returning property, lands, etc. This is not always possible due to death, someone moving, etc. But the good faith jesture is necessary to God and to our fellow man. The O. T. has many examples of restitution.
After these three basic steps are completed then God forgives completely and we can welcome them back into the full fellowship of the Body of Christ, His Church.
Now, I do believe the Bible states that God forgives us of all our sins, past, present, and future at the moment of our conversion. But, when Christians sin, and we do, and will, God expects us to CONFESS, HUMBLY REPENT, AND MAKE RESTITUTION. Then FORGIVENESS flows from God and Man. In This process God is Glorified! Matt. 18 has a great example of how we handle sin.
In His Love,
Rev. Clyde E. Pullen

I agree, in part, with Rev. Pullen's post: Confess, Repent and Restore with Restitution. However, it is wrong to say that God forgives us AFTER we do these things. He forgives us before we do these things. These steps are necessary to fulfill our obligation to one another.

In recent years, the church has attempted to move away from the noxious "law" driven doctrines that have suppressed His Spirit. The converse result is "sloppy Agape". We must understand that it is God's grace that removes a fallen brother from leadership. It removes them from the temptation and stress that led to their downfall. Additionally, it restores the trust of followers by placing trustworthy leaders over them. God is more interested in our heart and faith than He is in our "service" to Him. He really doesn't need us; He just allows us to participate with Him.

From one who has been there...

I attended a church in the 1990s, a mainline denomonation in which the associate pastor was found to have had affairs with two women in the congregation.
I am sad to say, this church was a case study in how not to handle such a situation. It turns out that a simialr situation occured in the pastor's previous church and it was hushed up and he was passed along to our congregation. The church hierarchy had no "official" knowledge of his actions because there were no complaints made through official channels. But they knew it unofficially.
When the pattern repeated itself at our church, their knowledge became "official." He was removed as a pastor and as far as I know he has never held the office again.
He was forced to resign and the women were treated like victims and their sin was neither acknowledged nor was it dealt with. They remained anonymous to the larger membership. The former pastor had no shot at restoration and we do not know whether he was repentant because he was never again welcome in the church.
It is an irony that the church had the word "Grace" in it's name.
Perhaps the man should not be in church ministry again, but perhaps as a prison chaplain to men would have allowed for grace and restoration in love to be extended toward him. The women? One family moved away and was not heard from again. The second one is divorced.
There were so many missed opportunities here.

Recently a colleague wrote concerning the betrayal of a friend: "The apology that never comes [as a result of a betrayal) really hurts." To add to the thinking here, my antidote to that kind of dark circumstance is to respond in a personal way: by forgiving and by showing understanding and mercy.

To take that action is perhaps easier said than done when the hurt seems so spiritually and emotionally devestating. Thus another and related inner hurt is the hurt that comes from having to give up hope that things in a betrayed relationship can ever be substantially the same as they were before the perpetration of the betrayal. Giving up that hope of having back some of what had been good in the relationship is sometimes very hard to do. Occasionally immense personal suffering and mental anguish ensue. Thus more suffering: "Sic transit gloria mundi."

When we do, in fact, give up the hope of anything purposeful in the betrayed relationship, then there still can be more suffering, this from having now to grieve the loss of the hope. When the betrayal comes home to the betrayed, the harder edges of reality will sometimes take hold. Emotions are taut, understandably. Forgiveness of the betrayer just seems so damnably impossible at that point, just another kind of terrible internal suffering that will only produce more agony.

In these very disquieting circumstances just described, it is then that I try to take a smidgen of inspiration from-—among other social ethicists—-Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971).

Niebuhr said about forgiveness: "No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our own standpoint; therefore we must be saved by the final form of love, forgiveness."

To go a little deeper into the quote's fuller context. Niebuhr said: "Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must saved by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we must be saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our own standpoint; therefore we must be saved by the final form of love, forgiveness."

Blessings, Jim Boushay

Yes, I agree, God has already forgiven us of all of our sins, as I stated, at the point of our Conversion or salvation. At the very moment when we change [in God's sight] from being a Sinner and hell bound to becoming a Saint [a child of God] and Heaven bound! Life is a journey with many cross roads, many decisions. These decisions at the crossroads of life [whether to commit a sin --thus yielding to Temptation and Satan or to resist and flee --thus obeying Christ] affect our relationship to God and to our fellow man.

Sadly, in my 40+ years of ministry I have never seen the process I have described carried out. [Confess to God, man, & church Humbly Repent, make restitution and be restored into the "Full fellowship" of the church again.]

Sadly, we sinners only confess when we are "caught." Sadly, this is followed by very little Humble Repentance, if at all. Maybe shame, embarrassment, humiliation -- but seldom Repentance. Never have I seen restitution to the "Victims" nor have I seen a church body totally forgive or accept them again or trust them again. All of this is to the shame and weaking of the Body of Christ.

Therefore, there remains "open wounds" that never heal and are the source of Gossip and scandal within the church. To many Christians and to many churches still have the "open wounds", these "scares" that never seem to heal [nor can they]. The healing balm of peace, love, acceptance, forgiveness, trust, nor reconciliation are never applied. To many Christians, to many churches limp on through the tears, through the shame, through the cry of 'hypocrite.'

Individual Christians, nor the Church can be what God truly intented for us to be -- a glorious reflection of Jesus Christ Himself -- until we are healed. This come by God's grace and by man's CONFESSION, REPENTANCE, RESTITUTION, AND RECONCILIATION. Rest assured, God will do his part -- now, it is up to us to do our part.
In His Love,
Rev. Clyde E. Pullen

To Bob, who posted on June 11:

Here's a link that will answer your question. Thanks for asking.

A friend of mine was molested by her father between ages of eight and eleven years. When as an adult living in another state she returned to her hometown to press charges, his church stood by him, writing a letter to the judge asking for clemency.

That was the church my friend had belonged to, too! She felt betrayed by it. The last I heard from her, she didn't want any emotional involvement with any man.

On a relatively minor scale, I often feel rejected/unsupported/unappreciated by church and parachurch organisations. Maybe I'm too idealistic or serious or insensitive or something else. Maybe it's because of my upbringing (Third Culture Kid with a tinge of Aspergers!) -- in groups that take the time to get to know me, like the homegroup I belong in, I'm generally accepted but on other committees I'm elected to I have the feeling the chairperson finds me a nuisance!


I'm posting in response to this comment that you posted above:

"Thank you so much for this article. It was a life saver to me. Can this be reprinted in a church newsletter with appropriate recognition to the author and/or publisher?"

I'm so glad this article was helpful to you. Please write to with the details about how many copies you would like to make, and how it will be distributed, and hopefully we can give you permission to use the excerpt.

Thank you for broaching a subject that should be of continuing interest to us all in the body of Christ. Some years ago, as president of a Christian organisation, the wife of a leadership colleague reported that he was living in adultery. I confronted him personally after seeking direction from the Holy Spirit, and counselled that he step down temporarily to sort out his life. He agreed. I then announced to the rest of the leadership that I had suspended so and so by mutual agreement because of some things he needed to sort out. I refused to say exactly what it was. They wanted to know but I was not sure they could handle it. Three months later, he was back with us. Six months after that, his wife came to say he had not quite stopped. I confronted him again and suspended him this time for much longer. The rest of the leadership insisted I must tell them what he was struggling with. Again I hesitated. Finally, I told them and then all hell broke loose. The news spread round the whole city and the fellowships around. That made it impossible for us to continue to work with the brother because he literally disappeared into more sin and gloom.

We need the Holy Spirit to guide us in these circumstances. There are no hard and fast rules as to how to go about this. The principles of love and forgiveness are clear in the Bible, but how to apply them in order to help rather than hinder is what we must obtain from our Guide, the Holy Spirit. To approach such situations with preconceived methods may lead to more harm than good.

This is not about victims and perpetrators only. It's also about the will of God as anything we have ever contemplated - jobs, family, career etc. We must not act as if we are in-charge and know what will help and what will hinder. This is the work of our Guide the Holy Spirit, and such challenges must compel us to wait on Him for the way forwards. By telling the others against my deepest convictions, we lost a great opportunity to help the people involved and may have done more harm to the rest of the body. No one should be too sure of the way forwards until they have cleared their thoughts with our Guide. It is only God that knows the future today, and our Guide searches the deep thoughts of God (1 Cor. 2:10)

okey onjzo
Thankyou for your comments, which I think are very wise. As an elder in my own fellowship, we were approached by an elderly christian man, who wished to attend a residential church weekend. He confided in us that he had a criminal conviction for an offence involving a young teenage girl. This had happened sometime before he joined our fellowship.After prayer, We felt he had truly repented and no purpose would be served by informing the whole of the fellowship. We discussed the situation with him and with his agreement,, took steps to ensure he did not have any opportunity to be alone with any young person, not only for the weekend, but for all other church functions. He appreciated the practical help he was given and remained an enthusiastic member until his death.

I have seen people come before the church and confess and ask for forgiveness but only because they were caught by someone.

We as people are severely ashamed at our faults and how we know the WORD BUT continue to have problems.

It stems from wanting to be perfect. But, when we fall short we condemn ourselves and fall farther away from GOD.

It has been my experience, that most churches handle situations like these in the far worst way ever, and it causes much more pain.

I , personally have a problem with knowing my weaknesses and can't forgive myself for having them. It hinders my walk.

I don't want to have weaknessess or ever to be tempted because I feel like I will fail.

So, if I feel that way , can you imagine the way others feel ?

They have been condemned by the very ones who used to be their "Prayer friends" ect.

I do see why people leave the church today.

There is more pain, confusion and weak leadership in what needs to be a hospital, a refuge, a healing place that offers Mercy and Grace.

We fall short of these grossly.

For years I was night club musician. I stuggled with this. I became a Christian & started to go to church. I still supported my family of five by playing in night clubs.I have confessed my sins & still do daily. I found for years that going to church was inviting problems.People would not forgive me. They shunned me, so I quit attending. I finaly found a church where forgiveness is practiced.I always thought it curious that there was more warmth in the bar.People really cared & would help. Why are churches so cold & non-forgiving? What a sad commentary on Christs saints.

I just read some of these and realize that I am disillusioned with the church even though I love the Lord...I am a worship leader whose church split about 8 years ago and cannot find a place to fit in...I am 58 years old, came from the rock scene in the 60s and love good high energy praise....but there does not seem to be a way to join an already existing worship piano is dusty because I am DEPRESSED! Thanks for letting me vent...God bless us everyone and help us to find that place where we can worship in spirit and truth!!

Emotions run so very high when you find out that an institution, which is supposed to be doing God's work on earth, actually covers up for predators. I think using restorative justice practices (Google "Real Justice" for an example of a group that has developed principles, trainings, all-day long applications of restorative justice practices for school, etc.) could be a way to stand with the offender and yet call that person to accountability for the behavior that is causing harm. But when I mention this practice as one long-term solution for working with pedophiles, some people "go ballistic" (as the saying goes). I think pedophilia is a very deep-seated evil that is not easily dealt with, but how else are we going to prevent future harm, except to work intensively with the person, as this article says, telling the truth in love? Certainly, it has to be tough love! St. Augustine thought that evil was not a substance, but a corruption of a good thing. I'm not an expert on St. Augustine, but from what I have read, he appears not to have believed that there is an evil being (the Devil) wandering the earth looking for people to tempt, but rather something good that has been torn, broken, deformed, and/or corrupted. Lucifer was a rebellious archangel, something good that went bad through disobedience against God. How much more so it is that our religious leaders (being human beings like all the rest of us) would have to battle sinful temptations and, being "pillars" of church and society, could even be corrupted by the way we respect them as closer to God than we lay people imagine we can be--when they may not be at all!

It is true that this all is painful and questionable, but it is what it is. We are all separated from him anyway, if it wasnt for Jesus.. so maybe im not too shocked anymore.
But in the mean time, we can still draw close to him, for a true personal and intimate relationship with God himself .
I heard that one day there will be no more suffering or tears,,, so that's what we are looking forward to right? Im just glad that he has redeemed me and I think I will take it from there.

Thanks Ms Morgenthaler. You have shared a timely word for us all. Like Jesus said,If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.".

I did not like this article... How long did the mother know that her husband was a predator? Apparently some time before she told her daughter. should not she have come forward sooner ? Think of the little ones she could have spared if she would have. Yes, God wants us to be forgiving and to love and restore yet in my opinion our soceity is already to leniate on these predators. Jesus himself said in the New Testament that it would be better for an individual to tie a mill-stone around his neck than to harm one of these little ones. Thank God for his unfailing love, without it we would all be lost but let us not forget that their are consequenses for sin. God help anyone that would harm a child in anyway, shape or form.

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