Monday, October 31, 2022

Anonymous Asks (221)

“Why are so many Christian public figures caught in scandals?”

The apostle Paul wrote about stumbling blocks that threaten to trip us up, destroy our public testimony, and try our faith to the breaking point: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

If this is truly the case — and note that it’s God’s faithfulness upon which this promise stands — then why do so many Christian public figures succumb to temptation?

“Christian Public Figures”?

Now, we do need to keep in mind that it’s distinctly possible many of these folks never knew the Lord in the first place. It could well be that some of the biggest Christian media disasters were never God’s children at all, as this post about self-avowed atheist Frank Schaeffer well illustrates.

Even the phrase “Christian public figure” is a bit of a problem when you think about it. God never intended his servants to become niche market celebs or mini-media moguls. Those who seek out the limelight while calling it “ministry” have seriously misunderstood the nature of Christian service. They are in it for the wrong reasons entirely.

Some “Christian public figures” are not Christians at all. When they crash and burn in public, it is not because of a rare moral slip or error; it is the Lord revealing their true nature for all to see. They were wolves in sheep’s clothing all along.

An Unguarded Minute

However, lest I be accused of invoking a version of the “No True Scotsman fallacy”, there are also surely cases of genuine servants of God who stumbled; men and women who served faithfully for years and have been caught in an unguarded minute; Christians who would happily take a do-over if it were offered to them, but can’t. The Old Testament gives us numerous illustrations of men of faith who failed miserably and publicly and had to live with the results of their choices. If David could take back that moment with Bathsheba in order have Absalom, Amnon and Adonijah alive again, don’t you think he would do it in a heartbeat? Of course he would, but that’s not the way the universe works. The sword would never depart from his house, and it started in the very next generation. Human beings have genuine agency, and the proof of that is that our actions have consequences that reverberate through our lives and the lives of others ad infinitum.

So then, how do genuinely saved people become the subject of public scandal? Paul’s words above concerning the Lord’s protection of his own are frequently quoted, and rightly so. Less frequently noted is their connection to the sentence that precedes them: “Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” When Christian public figures get caught with their pants down, or their hands in the till, or in other kinds of compromising situations, it is not because God has failed to deliver on his promises to his children; it is because they have put themselves squarely in the path of temptations God never intended them to experience.

Pedestals and Manifestos

Overconfidence will do that, as Paul points out. So will accepting a position atop a pedestal. Adulation is a powerful drug. “Rock star” Christians have rock star-sized problems, and groupies are one of them. One of the many reasons Billy Graham got through his time on earth serving the Lord without any major scandals was something called the “Modesto Manifesto”. This was an informal compact between Graham and his revival team, which included provisions for distributing money raised by offerings, avoiding criticism of local churches, working only with churches that supported cooperative evangelism, and using official estimates of crowd sizes to avoid exaggeration.

Seth Dowland writes:

“The most famous provision of the manifesto called for each man on the Graham team never to be alone with a woman other than his wife. Graham, from that day forward, pledged not to eat, travel, or meet with a woman other than Ruth unless other people were present. This pledge guaranteed Graham’s sexual probity and enabled him to dodge accusations that have waylaid evangelists before and since.”

Smart man, that Billy Graham.

The Cost of Fleeing Temptation

This provision of the Modesto Manifesto was later re-christened “The Pence Rule”, a much-vilified but thoroughly sensible practice we discuss here. The media may have called Mike Pence a prude, but to date they have never called him an adulterer. Hey, sometimes the cost of trying to avoid a scandal is going to jail. Most times, though, it just makes you look a bit geeky.

Is the price worth it? You be the judge. I once turned down the offer of a ride home from a night school college course with a very attractive, very single blonde. She was a real sweetie, and I am confident she had nothing remotely shady in mind. But as a young married man, I had to consider the possibility that the two of us leaving together could raise questions with the other students in my class. Also, I really did like her. It was a long, cold, miserable walk home, and my explanation for declining a warm seat in her car was decidedly awkward. I felt like I was stuck back in the fifties or something. It was not a cool moment, and I quite understand why others take that first step into situations that metastatize into forms they did not anticipate. Fleeing temptation does not always come without some cost, however minor it may be.

In summary, God does not let his children be tested beyond their ability. He always makes a way of escape for us when we experience temptation; we can be confident about that.

What he won’t do is force us to take it. That part is up to us.

Photo courtesy Roland Gerrits/Anefo, CC0

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