Yesterday I was blessed to have an interesting and enriching email exchange with someone who lives across the country from me. This person had made a comment regarding a blog post I did back in May, as my discussion of my forthcoming (now published) novel triggered something in his life that affected him and his family for many years. Our cyber conversation bore a lot of fruit very quickly as we found much common ground and a lot of issues on which to commiserate together.
I know that sounds awfully vague (and frustrating to the reader), but it wouldn't be fair to divulge the specifics. One area we covered, though, was the varied reaction from people who profess to be Christians when their pastor-leaders (a) commit actual heinous moral failings or when (b) such pastor-leaders are accused of such actions but are shown to be either innocent or else the evidence does not sustain the accusation.
My friend's father was a pastor, and he was accused of something horrific. Yet there wasn't any evidence to demonstrably show the accusation could stick. What followed, however, was really bad. My friend's parents were pretty much shunned by their friends in the church, and they found no moral supports from the other regional churches in their denomination. It was as if the mere ugliness of the unsustained charge brought out a stench they couldn't ditch, a situation that--in my estimation--was unfair and grieviously uncharitable.
This is also the case even when some pastor-leaders get nailed for stuff they did do, whether it be embezzlement of church funds, adultery, fostering dissension, or (sadly) what seems to be the most devastating trend--pornography addiction. Now of course, there is a difference between those who are accused yet are innocent and those who are caught dead to rights. But very often the exceeding tragedy is found in the reaction of other Christians. We forget that "there but for the grace of God go I." We forget that in the midst of this, our leaders are fragile and hurting people who crave moral support and decency in these difficult moments.
Frankly, it angers me (and this is something my friend and I discussed yesterday) when pastor-leaders who end up having done nothing wrong get snubbed, yet there are those who screw around/adulterize get restored to the ministry and leadership in a flash (sometimes thanks to the good ol' boy system). But maybe that's a post for another time.
What this issue of how we react to leaders' moral failings and stumbles really underscores is how lonely the position of a leader is. You are really only a heartbeat away from disconnectedness. Now sometimes we bring this on ourselves. But there is something about being a leader that unfortunately brings on this stiff-arming from others, whether they be those you lead or your equals. During my time in North Carolina, for example, when I served as a pastor, I felt the most abject sense of loneliness. No matter how approachable you are, there is a barrier nonetheless. And people who write books on leadership cover a lot of good principles, but what is lacking is how leaders deal with the loneliness factor.
When leaders fail and try to redeem their failings, they deserve some latitude. I'm not saying they automatically deserve immediate restoration to all the perks of their position; there is a powerful redemptive quality to time spent in the wilderness. But they need to spend that time with willing folks who desire to walk the difficult roads with them. People who profess grace should be people who extend grace to others. Otherwise, what's the point of life together towards a common goal?