Scandals shine a bad light

No excuses for offenders, but churches, leaders often unfairly tarnished

By Terry Pluto

When a pastor such as Ted Haggard crashes and burns his ministry, it’s so easy to attack churches and those who lead them.

Haggard was the president of the National Association of Evangelicals, speaking out against gay marriage while seeing a male prostitute and possibly using methamphet-


Think of Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker and all the other television preachers who have trashed their churches and lives. Then there were those sexual scandals with the priests.

It’s so easy to become cynical, to lose sight of a real God because of all the politics and phoniness.

No excuses should be offered for what Haggard and the others did. They can be forgiven, but they should not remain leaders of their churches. Forgiveness does not erase consequences.

If they committed serious crimes, their priestly collars or having “Reverend” next to their names should not keep them out of jail. At the very least, they should spend a significant amount of time away from the pulpit while putting their lives back together.

Haggard was fired from his church and resigned from some other organizations. At first, Haggard denied even knowing the man who made the accusations. Then he said he bought drugs, but didn’t use them. He said he had a massage, but no sex. By Sunday, he had issued a statement admitting to most of the charges against him.

When something like this happens, it’s easy to forget that the overwhelming majority of pastors, priests and other leaders in faith are good people trying to live the right way.

They don’t have 14,000-member churches such as Haggard. They don’t have their own TV shows, radio shows and book contracts. They aren’t on conference calls with the White House, as was Haggard.

If they have a staff, it’s probably someone who answers the phone and works in the office. There might be another person to be the custodian.

Researcher George Barna found in 2003 that the average church has 89 adult members in attendance each weekend. Sixty percent of churches have fewer than 100 adults. Only 2 percent have more than 1,000.

Smaller churches often are places where those in leadership know everyone’s name. Many of those in the pews are older and rarely wealthy.

These pastors, priests, nuns, deacons, rabbis and others in leadership roles have about as much in common with pastors such as Haggard as a high school coach does with New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick.

They aren’t stars, they are servants.

One of the reasons so many famous pastors have self-destructed over the years is because they become Christian celebrities. Their services are more like performances. They are at center stage with huge screens showing their image inside churches that can be as large as NBA arenas.

They begin to live on jets, flying from one end of the country (sometimes the world) to the other for conferences and revivals. This can become very lucrative. As their name grows, so do the temptations of all kinds, especially sexual.

Too often, they lose their families and forget why they first went into ministry. It becomes big business, and they are preaching corporations. Sometimes, they are seduced by politics and sound like party operatives.

This is not true of every mega church pastor. Rick Warren (Saddleback Church) and Bill Hybels (Willow Creek) have led huge churches, even larger than Haggard’s. They both agreed years ago not to become TV evangelists with their own shows, hoping to keep their spiritual compass in the right direction. There have been many moral well-known popes and bishops.

The Chapel’s Knute Larson and The House of the Lord’s Bishop Joey Johnson have led two of the largest area churches for decades with dignity. Ronald Fowler of Arlington Church of God celebrated his 37th anniversary as the church’s pastor this weekend.

You might have a church leader whom you admire, and this would be a good time to let that person know it. Too often, they hear complaints about music and parking when they can use a little praise for doing a hard job that few truly appreciate.



  1. Rich Said:

    Well said, Terry. (As always.) I worked closely with Knute at The Chapel for fifteen years. I can tell you that his integrity is admirable and he really lives what he teaches. Even though he’s a minor celebrity in town, he’s still the first one to hold the door, pick up the trash, or run down the hall to grab you coffee. These guys (Ron, Knute, and Joey) deserve a genuine “thanks!”

  2. Yes, Bishop Joey Johnson has proven himself to be an effective leader. He led me straight to Christ!

  3. Charlese Said:

    Thank you for that reminder. There is a “remnant” of leaders who are walking in the anointing given to them and God has blessed them immensely for their faithfulness. Nonetheless, they still need to be encouraged and prayed for on a regular basis. They provide the spiritual food that enables us to live this life (and the life hereafter) in victory, so that’s the least we should do!

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