When a high-profile evangelical Christain leader has a high-profile failure, we all respond differently.
I’ve been reading about Jay Bakker, son of the Jim and Tammy Faye, who’s the pastor of a church called Revolution. It’s a small church that holds a casual service in a Brooklyn bar. He started filming a reality show called One Punk Under God airing on the Sundance Channel. His show and his views are another post… but as I read a little about his father’s problems back in the 80s, I was reminded of other famous scandels in the evangelical community. Jimmy Swaggart, Oral Roberts… and more recently Ted Haggard and Paul Barnes, these are leaders of large organizations and churches who in one way or another, were exposed for fraud, cheating, etc. And don’t even get me started on Falwell or Robertson.
The list goes on… leaders in the evangelical community fall. So do I. So do you.
But this post isn’t about those leaders. It’s not really even about me. Here’s the question I’ve been bothered by today: Why does the world hold Christians up to a perfect moral standard? (I know both the self-righteous and biblical answer most would say, but I want to go a little deeper.)
Why aren’t we allowed to screw up in the face of society?
For years the so-called “leaders” that represent us have threatened hell-fire and brimstone to those that do not obey. The actions of presidents, actors, authors, radio hosts and the like are judged, condemned by these mouth-pieces. So in turn we are being condemned by a society that remembers that condemnation. And they happily throw our failure back in our faces. Then we throw it right back.
It’s not working.
Whatever happened to grace? Whatever happened to dropping our rock?
There’ve been precious few times in my life when I came to a friend with a confession or an apology, and as I’ve cowered in the corner, arms up over my heard, eyes slammed shut, preparing myself for the collision, all I felt was the dull thud of the rocks dropping from their hands.
I felt grace.
God extends grace to all of us. We simply must reach out and take it. But grasping that grace in no way makes me superior to those who haven’t reached out to take it yet, because God extends this grace to all. The violent death Christ faced wasn’t just for a couple of smart, good people who live in the Bible Belt. It was for every sad-sack full of sin. And that’s all of us.
It has to start somewhere. It should start with us. We will continue to fall in big and small ways. And when someone else does, I don’t even want a rock to be in sight, much less in my hand. It starts with us. If we extends grace to the world perhaps we’ll get it back.
Do you have the nerve to say, “Let me wash your face for you,” when your own face is distorted by contempt? It’s this whole traveling road-show mentality all over again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face, and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor. -Matthew 7: 4-5, The Message Remix
What I’m listening to: Happy Christmas Vol. 2
All Christians, including Christian leaders, are made out of meat. To imagine otherwise is a big mistake.
Preach it, brother.
The Jimmy Swaggart reference reminded me of a time during the mid 70’s that I started audio taping Jimmy’s sermons for analysis. I wanted to compare his style with that of his cousin, Jerry Lee. A powerful, but flawed pair.
In the late 80’s, I got the notion to write a song about Jimmy Lee. Here is all I have accomplished since then.
Title: golden watch and silken suit
For my golden watch and silken suit,
I gave your cash and my soul to boot.
What I would not, well I went and done,
and I did it twice if it was fun.
In my golden watch and silken suit,
I turned your offerings into loot.
A talent to preach, I gave to corruption,
and spread it by the miracle of tele-vee-shun.
Pretty funny, no?
Love it. Can you add something about a thousand-watt smile in there?
Irregardless of public scandals, Jimmy Swaggart had a wonderful gift for the piano and I still enjoy listening to some old recordings of him playing gospel songs. (I also admire the talents of his cousins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Mickey Gilley.)