It wasn’t until the arrival of my church’s second youth pastor that I discovered the reason our first had left. I suppose there’s wisdom in hiding potentially jarring realities from high school students, but when I heard my brother whisper, “Let’s hope this one’s not gay” under his breath, it struck me like a bus.
During college, I actually witnessed someone get hit by a bus. As the student coasted along on his bike, his face was blank and safe—by no means expecting the ensuing jolt and flight through the air. This false sense of security mirrored the way I felt about my youth pastor.
“Disillusionment” is probably the most appropriate expression for what I felt, but at the same time I distinctly remember feeling embarrassment. It felt as though the blood had drained out of my body and I was standing there naked; but what did I have to be embarrassed about?
When our second youth pastor ended up leaving his wife and five young daughters to “live his own life,” I was dumbfounded again, but this time too hardened to be cornered into the vulnerability of embarrassment.
I started to labor over whether or not there is an inherent difference between the everyday man and those who are “called” to lead God’s people. After two disastrous appointments, my church discovered that it doesn’t matter to what lengths the search committee goes to interview everyone in the candidate’s past for character references. No one is beyond the reach of temptation and sin.
As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:12, “Whoever thinks he stands must be careful not to fall!”
So the question isn’t if our spiritual heroes will sin, but rather, how the church should respond when they do. The most heartbreaking aspect of moral failure in the church is that the person is usually kicked out, or leaves of his or her own accord. Often the shaming and supercilious stares he or she receives from Christian brothers and sisters are what chase the injured believer away.
Don’t misunderstand. When leaders in the church fall, they should be held accountable for their actions. But as the church, we should still walk beside them through repentance and reconciliation.
The irony is that the very congregation that Jesus washes clean and redeems ends up rejecting one of its own. In a clear case of mistaken identity, beggars of grace pass judgment on a member of their own family.
In his collection of essays Letters to Malcolm, C.S. Lewis strikes the core of the issue when he says, “The true Christian’s nostril is to be continually attentive to the inner cesspool.”
I now understand the embarrassment I felt the day I learned the reason my first youth pastor left. I was ashamed to be affiliated with as grotesque a sin as homosexuality. But I was young. Some of my naiveté has diminished with age, and now I have a greater understanding of the insidious nature of sin, as well as the fallibility of every one of God’s children. There is no such thing as a professional Christian. No one reaches a point of spiritual perfection.
My personal cesspool reeks as much as any other. For this reason, I can’t join in the brutal censure of our brothers and sisters who fall from leadership positions. They stand on the same precarious footing I do. Instead, I ask God for compassion to be able to pray for and love them. Christ loved the hypocritical, rebellious group of sinners called the church, of which I am a member.