There is definitely something wrong.
A Christian pastor admits to an adulterous affair, files for divorce, is stripped of his ordination credentials, and should be undergoing church discipline — but, hey, no problem! — another church hires him almost immediately as their director of ministry development.
A Christian celebrity’s past comes back to haunt him when the fact that he molested five children is revealed publicly — but, hey, no problem! — it was just a youthful indiscretion; he repented; and it was really no big deal. Then the same celebrity’s involvement with the Ashley Madison adultery website is exposed, along with several instances of adultery — but, hey, no problem! — we all sin and, besides, sexual perverts can “let Christ turn your ‘deepest, darkest sins’ into something beautiful”.
A serial pedophile serves 20 months out of a life sentence, is almost immediately upon his release re-arrested for voyeurism — but, hey, no problem! — his church leaders set him up on a date with a naive (or disturbed) young woman and their pastor performs the wedding ceremony, knowing full well that the serial pedophile intends to have children. (Now that this is in the news again because the court has information that “shows [Sitler] has had contact with his child that resulted in actual sexual stimulation“, one would think the pastor would be repenting in sackcloth and ashes over his advocacy and support for a serial child molester…but, no.)
What are we assume from all this? That Christians think adultery and pedophilia are not big deals? That we don’t care about marriage vows and innocent children? That we are in cahoots with predators? That we are idiots, easily duped by predators, but too prideful to admit it? That we are worse than hypocrites?
This is, unfortunately, not a new problem for the church. Paul had to address it in 1 Corinthians 5:1: “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans…” Just like us, some of the early Christians were behaving in ways even worse than the surrounding unbelievers, and engaging in sexual acts considered unacceptable by their society’s standards…yet the church was not doing anything about it.
Sexual immorality is not just like every other sin: “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.” (1 Corinthians 6:18) It definitely shouldn’t be happening within the church: “But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints.” (Ephesians 5:3)
Those of us who have spent any time reading our Bibles know this. We know it full well. Even those who have never opened a Bible recognize that the three examples I gave at the beginning of this blog are seriously wrong. But if we believe the most basic tenets of the Christian faith, the very essence of the gospel, we of all people should recognize the hideous seriousness of sin. Sin is deadly. Rather than minimizing serious sins and trying to pretend that God views serial child molesting the same that He views swiping a half-used cheap ballpoint pen from work, we need to take sin as seriously as God does.
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people — not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:9-13)
Most of the time, we get this exactly backwards. If Ed Iversen, a church elder, had taken the above passage seriously, he would not have been inviting Steven Sitler over for dinner, and he certainly wouldn’t have done so in order to introduce him to a young woman.
Yes, we shouldn’t write the sinners in our midst off completely and irrevocably. There is what we call “church discipline” and — following evidence of genuine repentance — a process of restoration and reconciliation. But this does not mean hiring adulterous pastors immediately after their affairs, covering up child molestation, making excuses for gross immorality, writing supportive letters on behalf of perverts, or acting as matchmakers for serial pedophiles. God can and does transform lives. But we must stop being naive suckers, and we must cease from being so out of touch with reality that we are easily conned into enabling — even encouraging — predators to continue in their pattern of destruction and abuse. Men like Douglas Wilson (a pastor with no training in treating sex offenders) are incorrigibly arrogant and foolish if they insist that, over the course of “about half a dozen” sessions, they can determine if a serial predator “has been completely honest“. It is bad enough for an ill-equipped pastor to be duped because his poor judgment and over-inflated sense of importance allowed him to get in over his head; it is far worse for him to refuse to acknowledge the devastation caused by his pride and ignorance. At the very least, such a pastor should admit to his error, and apologize for it, rather than attempting to defend himself.
As someone who is admittedly prone to wander, I have my share of “deepest, darkest sins”. I believe in a God of redemption and reconciliation — in fact, I am staking my life and all of eternity on that belief. However, God does not turn our “deepest, darkest sins” into “something beautiful”. He takes sins away. The beautiful thing He does with sin is to remove it as far from us as the east is from the west. There is no silver lining to sin, and no bright side. There is nothing to redeem. What He redeems is us — our lives after our sins have been repented of and forgiven.
Getting rid of the consequences of sin is not as easy a process as getting rid of the guilt of sin. God forgives, but He doesn’t necessarily undo the damage our sins cause, to others and to ourselves. The process of sanctification is what brings healing and wholeness to us, as we leave our patterns of sin behind, and as we overcome the attitudes and thought patterns that led to those sins. It’s an ongoing process.
I’d be a naive idiot if I assumed that, since God forgave my sins of x,y,z that these will never pose a temptation to me again, or that I am instantly “cured” of whatever it was that caused those sins to be a problem for me in the first place. No matter how far some of those sins might fade into my distant past, wisdom would dictate that I should never let down my guard. Trusting God is an entirely different matter than trusting myself not to fail in the very areas that I have failed in the past.
Freedom from certain sins might necessitate curtailing freedom in certain areas. A repentant embezzler would never want to place himself in the position of being church treasurer and bookkeeper, nor would he want to place anyone in the awkward and uncomfortable position of having to supervise him. One would think that a repentant pedophile would be even more circumspect and willing to restrict himself. After all, we are talking about innocent human lives that are at stake. If he is not yet that repentant — or if he is still too arrogant and selfish for his or anyone’s good — one would hope that the leaders of his church would have the wisdom, Biblical understanding, compassion, humility, grace, and plain old common sense to set him straight.
If we don’t clean our own house, eventually someone else will be forced to do so. We need to start with ourselves, and we need to start taking God…and sin…seriously. May we learn to hate what God hates, and love what and whom He loves, and may we become more like His Son, instead of less.