From the beginning one of the communications issues we’ve continually harped on is that some of the very worst marketing for churches is Christians themselves. So often we’re a poor advertisement for the faith we want to spread.
You don’t have to look far to find examples of ethical failures. Like most years, 2009 is chock full of examples:
- South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford made headlines for “hiking on the Appalachian Trail,” the excuse he gave when he was really using tax payer funds to rendezvous with his mistress in Argentina.
- Golfer Tiger Woods joined the infidelity club around Thanksgiving with his mysterious car crash. He eventually apologized for “transgressions.” After at least a dozen women admitted to having affairs with Woods, he apologized again and admitted to “infidelity.” He’s currently taking an indefinite hiatus from professional golf and watching his many sponsors drop him like a rock.
Of course those are just two high profile examples of mainstream figures getting caught up in their own lies. Sadly, the famous person cheating on their spouse is hardly remarkable.
Unfortunately, the church isn’t immune from our own stories this year:
- Cape Girardeau pastor gets six months in fraud case.
- Gaston County pastor faces 11 charges of sexual battery and 1 charge of sexual assault.
- Plaquemines Parish pastor faces fraud and drug charges.
- Surrey pastor jailed for enticing rape of teen church member.
- Miami pastor found guilty of looting county grant funds.
- Fond du Lac pastor makes off with thousands of dollars of holiday offerings.
- New York pastor used church funds to pay for plastic surgery (his lawyer said he was “very sorry”).
- Miami-Dade pastor and his wife convicted of $7 million money-laundering and mortgage fraud.
- A little closer to home, well known blogger and pastor of Revolution Church in Canton, Ga., Gary Lamb stepped down earlier this year. (Your standard pastor cheats on his wife scenario, if such a thing can be standard.)
- Then there’s the bizarre case of a NewSpring Church staff member and several volunteers harassing a blogger who criticized NewSpring pastor Perry Noble. [Sidebar: The wackiness of this story goes much deeper with the blog posts of James Duncan, who outs himself as the harassed critic and publishes volumes of detail on this debate, much of which questions the veracity of that vague NewSpring blog post and, if true, raises some serious questions. Of course nothing has been independently verified, it's just blog vs. blog, so we'll delve no deeper.]
Whew. Depressed yet? I think I may have inadvertently ruined Christmas.
There are two solutions to this.
The first is for Christians to be more consistent. If Christians lived what we believed then we couldn’t be our own bad advertising. If we could manage to mess up less frequently we’d be in better shape. We’d actually be doing what we preached and then maybe, just maybe, hypocrisy wouldn’t be one of our calling cards.
However, we are a broken people. So “just be good” isn’t much of a solution.
We’re bound to mess up. That’s just part of the deal. You can’t expect perfection. That’s no excuse to wallow in sin, but instead of pursing perfection, we should be pursing grace and forgiveness. Learning to address the mess with grace is the second solution and perhaps the better road.
Which is why one of this year’s other big controversies is such a great example. Mike Foster and Judd Wilhite, the Deadly Viper guys, started taking heat for perceived racial stereotypes in their Deadly Viper book and the accompanying marketing. In the end Mike and Judd shut down Deadly Viper completely and their publisher pulled the book from shelves. In its place they kicked off a new ministry that had already been in the works and seems so much more timely now: People of the Second Chance.
How perfect is that? We all make mistakes, whether intentional or not, but true character and integrity (which was the heart of Deadly Viper) means we do what’s right. And we give each other second chances. It’s heartening to see Soong-Chan Rah, who originally raised this issue, fully supporting People of the Second Chance (it’s worth noting that Rah did not call for the closure of Deadly Viper). This is hardly a perfect example–it’s full of messiness and anger and mistakes. But it’s such a good example in the way that forgiveness and grace were allowed to shine through in the end.
As Christians we are our own best–or worst–marketing. While practicing what we preach and seeing fewer headlines about broken pastors would be a good start, how we deal with that brokenness says so much more.
May we all be people of second chances.