A Culture of Cowardice (part five)

How is it that when a prominent Christian leader falls, the whole affair is so often shrouded in darkness? The secrecy seems to persist until the police, the media, the offended party (for example, in a sexual affair), or the victim of the leadership abuse (for example, when money has been misappropriated) brings it into the light.  How often are those illuminations met with skillfully-articulately denials or a minimizing reinterpretation of the offense?

Is it just me, or do you see it, too?

We who are Christian, are fond of reciting John 8:32 “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free”, particularly when the topic is evangelism.  Trouble is, our behavior – at very important times and in very important ways – covers up truth.

The Greek word translated “truth” is alethia, meaning “reality”, “what is”.  Yet, in times of crisis (like when a minister falls in sin), we seem to invest ourselves in elaborate cover-ups.  One reason we do, I think, is we’ve forgotten what business we’re in.

Is it any wonder those outside our faith community scratch their heads?  What are they to think when we froth at the mouth about the “truth” of our Gospel and then behave in ways that endeavor to keep truth hidden away?

Were the roles reversed, what would you think?  How likely would you be to consider their faith claims?

Andy Stanley in The Next Generation Leader correctly identifies courage as central to leadership.  One way leadership courage expresses itself, he says, is in recognizing and declaring current reality—regardless of how embarrassing or discouraging it is.  When a prominent pastor falls, the courageous around him or her will honestly and forthrightly communicate the truth of what happened.


In the people-development business, rather than the keep-the-people-comfortable business, they recognize this as a critical character-development opportunity.  A leadership failure is “ground zero” to anchor the values that are central to how we, as Christ-followers, are committed live.

When Paul instructed Timothy: “Those [elders] who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning.” [2 Tim 5:20], he placed the benefit to “the others” above whatever prices the leaders or the fallen elder would experience.  And, I invite you to consider that “the others” who are warned are not just those in Church.

And yet, for several decades now, we routinely sweep these humiliations under the rug: the priest is relocated to a new parish, the pastor takes a seminary position, the missionary goes on furlough, and the youth leader enrolls in graduate school.  Those close enough to the transgression to have been among the collateral damage most of the time just leave…the church…the Faith…and the stand for liberating truth.[Jn 8:32]

Paul counsels Timothy against favoritism in leading the church and administering discipline.  And yet, isn’t that exactly what we do?

Several years ago, I became aware of an egregious ethical compromise by a nationally visible leader with whom I had worked.  When my attempts to influence a correction were uniformly thwarted, I resigned.  The public explanation provided by that leader was an example of the positive-sounding pablum of most such announcements.  It said … nothing.

And, saying nothing, it succeeded in saying one thing clearly: “This is not the truth.”

So, when people close to the situation asked why I’d resigned, I told them.  I shared my errors in judgment, my failures to act on the prompting of the Holy Spirit years before, and my mistakes—the ways I’d contributed to the mess.  And, I shared, honestly as I know, exactly what those in leadership, including this respected national leader, had done.

When we claim to be “children of light” and yet switch off the light when what it reveals is unpleasant or uncomely or uncomfortable… are we not, in some way, strengthening the darkness?  Does not the darkness thicken when the Church fails to stand as light, in life?

Paul, to the church in Ephesus wrote: “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them… But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is light that makes everything visible.” [Eph 5:8-14]

Living within a Culture of Cowardice, we find it awkward to expose darkness the way Paul instructs.  Orienting ourselves around the least mature, our response to moral failures is to make it easy for the fallen leader.  We tell ourselves that the “restoration” of the fallen leader is most important.  So we keep the indiscretion secret.  We keep it in the dark.

Paul didn’t see it that way.

In the business of making mature disciples, courageous leaders will mourn with those who fall and warn everyone else, lest we disavow the truth we profess by the way we lead.