Why Do We (Christians) Put People on Pedestals?
It seems that every month or two another Christian leader is “exposed” as a sinner. Why is this such a surprise? That is my question.
It seems to me there is a “background problem” here. By “here” I mean the shock, the outrage, the disappointment, the disillusionment when a Christian leader, whether a television evangelist or bishop, is discovered to be a sinner.
Now don’t start to get me wrong! (If you do and respond I won’t bother to post your response here. So read me carefully!)
I’m not talking about the proper and appropriate outrage over a crime or serious moral failing—especially on the part of someone who has claimed to be “above all that.” I’m talking about the expectations we Christians tend to have about “our Christian celebrities.” We tend to put them on pedestals and think they are somehow immune to the temptations and vices of normal fallen humanity.
*Sidebar: The opinions expressed here are my own (or those of the guest writer); I do not speak for any other person, group or organization; nor do I imply that the opinions expressed here reflect those of any other person, group or organization unless I say so specifically. Before commenting read the entire post and the “Note to commenters” at its end.*
There are exceptions to this norm. I remember some years ago an evangelical leader confessed to having had an extra-marital affair. I don’t know the details. I do remember articles about the situation in Christian magazines. He went through a process of restoration and eventually made a further contribution to evangelical Christianity in America.
But most of the time, so it seems, we create a special category in our minds for “our Christian leaders” and expect them never to fall off that pedestal (to mix metaphors). Then, when they do, we are angry, confused, outrages, unforgiving and possibly, sometimes, so disillusioned we throw Christ out with the feet-of-clay leader.
Is this part of a bigger cultural syndrome—the American obsession with celebrities? I think so.
Perhaps we need to get back to remembering that all people are sinners. “There is no one who does good; no not one.” No, I’m not offering “carte blanche” permission to sin; I’m suggesting that we should not be so shaken when a Christian leader does sin. It’s normal.
So what should we do? If the person is repentant and willing to go through a process of restoration under the guidance of an accountability group, we should forgive. In the meantime we should feel no special outrage or disillusionment. We should say “O, that’s not surprising.”
A major theme of the Bible seems to be that God can use deeply flawed people. David is a good example. He was a murderer and adulterer. But through repentance and loss he returned to being an instrument in God’s hands.
Very few Christian leaders or celebrities claim to be perfect. But we, American Christians, tend to expect them to be perfect. More than a few articles have been written about this. I remember certain secular celebrities who became “saved” and were suddenly surrounded by evangelical admirers. We wanted the world see that even secular celebrities could become “us.” And in the process we expected them suddenly to be perfect. The pressure often drove them away. I won’t name any names here, but some of you readers around my age can surely remember who I am talking about—talented secular celebrities who accepted Christ and then backed away partly in response to the pressure they were put under by fellow Christians.I remember well the outrage among American evangelicals over the bumper sticker that said “I’m not perfect, just forgiven.” And yet…there is some truth to that. I don’t especially like clichés, but that one’s not bad—so long as it’s not used as an excuse or license to sin.
But our tendency now is to say to “our Christian celebrities” who are “exposed” as sinners: “We now have no further use for you”—even after they have gone through a process of repentance and restoration. The stain, the stigma always remains on them. We have no interest in what they might have to contribute. The sad secret is that many, many of “our celebrities” and “our leaders” have secret sins that are never exposed. Somehow we know that, but we don’t want to know that.
Once, years ago, I was at a convention in a large city. I was walking around for fresh air and strayed quite a ways from the convention center. I happened to observe a very well-known Christian writer and speaker furtively slipping into an “adult store.” He didn’t see me seeing him. Did I run to tell everyone? Absolutely not. I didn’t know him personally and I never had opportunity to speak to him about it. I’ve never told anyone about it. I only mention it here because nobody could possibly even guess to whom I’m referring.
But was I surprised to see that? No, not really. That’s because I believe we are all sinners. I have learned not to put anyone on a pedestal and expect sinless perfection from him or her. Even after I saw that I continued to read the man’s books with real benefit. I watched him speak on Youtube and read articles he wrote in Christianity Today. I learned much from him and didn’t think less of him. I left what I saw between him and God. (Now, if I belonged to the same church, I would have obeyed Matthew 18, but I never crossed paths with him.)
My plea is to fellow Christians to be realistic about the fallen humanity of “our leaders and celebrities.” Don’t put any on pedestals; don’t expect perfection or even exalted humanity from any. Let them all be cracked and broken vessels useful to God and let their sin be between them and God and their own Christian community. After they are restored through repentance and accountability, let them once again be used by God with whatever gifts and talents he has given them.
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