Power and money and a multitude of loyal followers can blind a man to his spiritual condition. “I must be okay,” he thinks. “Actually I am more than OK. I am anointed. I have this big ministry. Millions of people watch me on TV. I am a multi-millionaire. I can buy anything and everything I want. God has blessed me and set me up high. It’s true that other people must obey certain rules. But I am above that. I’m special. I have special needs.”
When a highly visible minister starts to think this way, and to act on these thoughts, it is the beginning of the end. To paraphrase Proverbs 16:18, pride parades itself flagrantly before a fall. How true that proverb is when we see church men in the public eye step into the trap of moral failure. Consider Jimmy Swaggart, operating a ministry still, but in the shadows compared to the height of his popularity in the 1980’s. Jim Bakker, whom Swaggart helped to bring down, has been reduced to a small ministry following his release from prison. Ted Haggard is currently trying to mend himself and his family and find his way back to ministry. The late Earl Paulk apparently lived a double life for decades, denying the allegations of sexual misdeeds. But before his death in 2009 his ministry was ruined by lawsuits and accusations and since then the 10,000 member congregation has dwindled to a tenth or less and his expansive Chapel Hill Harvester church facility was sold to another Atlanta church.
Now come the stories of alleged sexual misconduct of Bishop Eddie Long with young men he took under his wing to mentor. Married and with a family, the flamboyant Bishop Long was at the peak of his career, pastor of a church with 33,000 members, associate of powerful men in politics and government, acting as host to presidents and presidential candidates in his New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, where Coretta Scott King was eulogized at her death in 2006.
Are the allegations lies? If so Bishop Long can lie down to rest at night, knowing that his conscience is clear and that his fellowship with the Lord secure. Whatever comes, if we are blameless, we can face it knowing that God is the vindicator. He will repay and set things right.
But if the allegations are true, the only honorable course of action is to say, “Yes, I admit I did wrong, and I repent. Please forgive me.” Admittedly there will be a heavy price to pay. The name and the ministry are tarnished in that case. If the church is to survive, a new pastor must be found who can step up and lead the church through a process of healing and restoration. If the entire ministry has been built on the preaching and charisma of the pastor who has been caught in sin, the church may not survive in its present state.
It will be interesting to follow this story of Biship Long to its conclusion. If the charges are denied and turned aside somehow, that may not be the end of the story. Unless true repentance and restoration take place, the truth will come out. It may take decades, but as in the case of Bishop Paulk what is hidden will be made known and everything that is covered up will be uncovered.
Every young, up and coming evangelist and pastor should consider these examples seriously. You will never get so big that the moral laws of God no longer apply to you. Unrepented sin still leads to death and destruction.