Recently, articles have been flying around decrying the failure of church leadership in the United States. This has been brought to light in recent years in evangelical circles by controversies such as Ravi Zacharias, Mark Driscoll and Bill Hybels. Now, to be fair to any church movement in the Christian faith, churches are run by humans who are going to make mistakes. There will also be a percentage of leaders in any arena who do inappropriate and sometime horrible things. These should not come as a shock to anyone. The fact that humans, even those who are spiritual leaders can make mistakes should be common knowledge. The reasons for these mistakes given by some recent Christian articles however are stunning.
Accountability and Integrity
But not only the reasoning, but where in those reasons lay the accountability of so-called church leadership and its failures. Here I hope to provide another view of accountability when it comes to the reasons why given in evangelical circles. I start with giving my personal definitions of accountability and integrity:
Accountability- Owning, or being accountable for mistakes you make, blaming no one but yourself, and working to heal the damage made by things you are accountable for
Integrity- Doing the right thing, when nobody is looking, a great personal risk to yourself or your reputation.
In October, the Christian Post had an article on failed evangelical leadership. In this article, five “reasons” were given as to why leadership was failing in these churches. Here they are:
“The rise of the “megachurch” and the consequent vitiation of formal denominational influence and the structures and oversight it provided is certainly one factor.”
“Another factor is the hyper sexualization of American society… Pastors and other evangelical leaders are impacted by this virulent phenomenon. It should also be noted that American pastors of this generation have a dramatically increased and unprecedented number of women in their churches who are not married and not living with their parents or other relatives.”
“The rising tide of pornography that has increasingly saturated society is another powerful potential snare that evangelical leaders contend with on a daily basis. In reality, pornography is the Madison Avenue ad campaign for sexual immorality.”
“The so-called “cult” of celebrity and the rising corporate model of leadership are other troubling factors surfaced in this series.”
“Another factor that is also surfaced and that commands attention is that an increasing number of evangelicals and their leaders are adult converts to evangelical Christianity, and thus do not have a family background and “grounding in the faith.” As our series suggests, there needs to be more attention given to personal spiritual formation and grounding in the faith in seminary for those evangelical leaders who did not have the advantage of being reared in such spiritual circumstances.”
In essence, what those five excuses for poor leadership are break down into 1.) the rise of the independent church, free of denominational constraint. 2) Unmarried, independent women. 3) Pornography. 4) Pastoral Celebrity/Corporate Business Model. 5) Unchurched Childhoods
And that friends, is the most arrogant and entitled list of excuses I’ve ever seen made for leadership of any kind. Let’s break these down a little more.
1.) Independent Churches
The first excuse given for the moral failure of pastors in evangelical churches is lack of denominational control. In essence, the diminishing power of religious institutions is the cause of moral failure of the pastors. I assume the idea is without the oversight, the pastors are just left to their own devices. Here is my issue with this first statement. These issues exist within these structures as well, and its possibly worse.
2021 has seen the Southern Baptist Convention rocked with scandal and the moral failure of its leadership. So, to say the reason for pastors abusing congregants or having power trips is because they don’t have oversight simply isn’t true. And based on a simple google search, fundamentalist denomination affiliated churches seem to come up way more than independent movements. The only issue I have with this assertion is that its simply not statistically viable.
2.) Unmarried, Independent Women
This is probably the absolute pinnacle of victim blaming and allowing the blame to fall on anyone but the perpetrator. I have just read a Christian news outlet blame the unmarried, independent women of congregations for the moral failure of leadership. All these young unmarried women are just chasing these pastors down and forcing them to assault them. Victim blaming of the highest order. So, we are basically saying that these women are to blame for the assault they endure? Absolutely disgusting. I am so sick of Christianity blaming women.
Maybe the reason your pastors are failing is because they are perverted, and your church doesn’t have proper safeguards for this behavior. Maybe the church failed to vet the pastor, or maybe since they are such a good preacher, we overlook the eyes the pastor gives the young girls. Unmarried women are not the problem, Unvetted Pastors with unbridled control is the problem. This is the churches’ fault, not women.
Again, we are blaming the tool instead of the Carpenter. I am not arguing that porn is good, I’m stating it does not make a pastor fail. Most churches have the understanding, written or otherwise that pastors are not to engage with pornographic material. If they violate the standard they should be removed. I have known many people who have engaged pornographic material and never assaulted, raped or molested. Again, we are trying to blame anyone but the pastor who actually failed.
4.) Pastoral Celebrity/Corporate Business Model
Apparently, the fame that comes with being a pastor is a cause for their abusive and violent behavior. The problem is that in many cases I have dealt with, the pastor isn’t famous. We only hear about the famous ones. So, celebrity as causation for behavior isn’t true. I can admit that celebrity can definitely enable behavior. But I am convinced the desire to commit the behavior was already there.
I also find it very interesting that the “corporate” model is to blame. The first excuse given was lack of oversight, which is corporate wording. Also, denominational structure is more corporate than the independent model- so which is it? Once AGAIN, we as Christians are going out of our way to find an outside force to blame instead of the failing pastor.
5.) Unchurched Childhoods
The last one given is the second most ridiculous offering (next to blaming women). We are now going to blame pedigree. It’s because all these pastors are coming out of tough childhoods where they weren’t exposed to Christianity early. Now, as a therapist I will concede that upbringing has a lot to do with how people form in this world. I would even concede that this may be true in some cases, where abuse was a factor.
The problem is that there is abuse in Christian and non-Christian homes. On top of the fact that most of the moral failures we hear about, especially in cases of abuse, these Pastors had “good Christian homes”. Look no further than the Duggar’s. They had childhoods full of Jesus and look where some of them ended up. And further the failure is not because of the childhood. In this case the failure rests on the leadership that approved the pastor. If a person is an immature Christian in the faith, with little experience in the church, leadership should not have put them in that position.
For all the excuses given, I think the answer is quite simple. The Pastors, and the churches that enable them to have no integrity or accountability. That is not unmarried women’s problem or bad parenting. That is a church problem. Churches fail to vet their leaders; leaders don’t want to be vetted and believe they are untouchable. No accountability. Leaders see they won’t be held accountable and begin to abuse their power. No integrity.
Accountability breeds integrity. And for me the simple answer for the moral failure of church leadership, evangelical or otherwise is this. The church has no accountability, and the pastors have no integrity. This moral failure falls solely on the leadership of churches that fail to hold leaders accountable, and leaders who have no integrity. Stop trying to blame the victims for the problems in the church. The church needs to stop enabling terrible leaders to do terrible things.
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