Consider these definitions of Day of Reckoning:
If someone talks about the day of reckoning, they mean a day or time in the future when people will be forced to deal with an unpleasant situation which they have avoided until now. via COBUILD Advanced English Dictionary. Copyright © HarperCollins Publishers
It’s the sin no one seems to think is a big deal. (I would argue that the Bible is replete with strong language prohibiting both lying and stealing). As an author, this one absolutely affects me. While it may be hard to understand the violation it is when someone steals your phraseology, consider this example instead.
Let’s say I spent many hours toiling over a painting. Let’s say it uniquely reflects not only my work, but my style. I love this painting. I’ve put myself into it. But one day, someone breaks into my home and takes it. Not only that, they (as my daughter Sophie reminded me as we talked about this last night) cover over my name with paint, then place their name on it. Then they take my piece of art to an art dealer and sell it for $350 (I’m an amateur artist at best!).
Not only have they stolen my painting, but they’ve passed it off as their own and profited from it. That’s called stealing. It’s wrong.
Yet, sadly, it’s happening in our Christian world. On a pretty large scale. I get emails every week of sites selling my books illegally. Recently we see plagiarism highlighted here. In the past we’ve seen it here and here and here. We also see it in sermons, where even one church seeks out a pastor who will simply act out someone else’s “rockstar sermons.” (I kid you not! I wish I were!). One story tells of a pastor (now at a new church) who copycatted sermons (here with audio evidence.)
I believe more of this will come out in this plagiarism-day-of-reckoning.
We cannot sit on Twitter for but a few minutes without seeing YET ANOTHER sexual abuse case involving the church. Recently, we see the egregious behavior of someone abusing developmentally delayed children at Willow Creek. But there are stories happening all the time in every denomination. Yesterday, the stomach-turning report of what’s been happening in many of the counties of Pennsylvania regarding priest-initiated sexual abuse released–the Grand Jury findings are beyond awful.
Yes, #churchtoo is true. Sadly. This abuse is happening in the walls of our churches, but it’s also happening in Christian colleges, ministries and overseas missions. It’s alive and well in Christian publishing. It’s in Christian families–even prominent ones. It’s occurring in marriage.
I believe sexual abuse and the horrific way we’ve handled it in the church is the reason many, many people are leaving the church. Instead of finding help and healing, they’re being silenced for the sake of the institution. Which leads me to . . .
Cover Ups/Demeaning Silencing
There’s almost too much to post about this awful trend. Victims come forward. They’re maligned by leadership. Eventually more victims come forward making it hard for leadership to deny the allegations. They backpedal. Make statements. The fallout is huge.
Sadly, protecting the institution takes grand precedence over the health and safety of the victim as well as future victims (because the abuse has not been eradicated upon first revelation). Why? It’s because of money.
Jesus reminds us we cannot serve both. But if we are serving money, we will protect the machine that produces the money. So what if a victim feels unheard? At lease we can do so much for the kingdom with our giant budget! The ends justify the means, right? (Please hear the sarcasm in my tone).
We’ve seen this protectionism happen in the grandest scale with the recent Willow Creek scandal. But it’s happening all over the country in small and large congregations. (It also happened in the wildly popular Hillsong Church, where the son failed to report his father (pastor) for sexual abuse.
So few walk through this scenario well, but this church did. My friend Jimmy Hinton, too. GRACE also works hard to uncover abuse and expose it to the light of day, listening to victims.
The day of reckoning is upon us. We see it in the outing of Andy Savage. Or the fallout of Paige Patterson. Which leads me to . . .
The Conundrum of Christian Celebrity
We all know power corrupts. But for whatever reason, this truth has escaped the church–even through the centuries. I remember the pointed words of Michael Card (and his subsequent quote of Donald Davidson) in his beautiful book, Scribbling in the Sand.
“Never cease praying that you will not become a star or a celebrity. Donald Davidson has said, ‘Our culture places an absolute premium upon various kinds of stardom. This degrades and impoverishes ordinary life, ordinary work, ordinary experience.’”
Katelyn Beaty aptly warns:
“Research suggests a high number of people with narcissistic personality disorder end up in ministry. Narcissists are skilled power wielders, using manipulation, gaslighting and deceit to consolidate power for selfish ends. Denominations should use vigorous, thorough psychological testing to weed out leaders who for various reasons can’t be trusted with that much power over people’s lives.”
I wrote about narcissism in my upcoming book The Seven Deadly Friendships–it’s sadly insidious in the Christian celebrity culture, a culture marked by absurdity.
- We see absolute mockery of prayer as a televangelist lays his hands on his jet for miraculous healing (after he said he needed a new one so he didn’t have to fly in demon tubes, aka commercial flights).
- We see pastors touting hyper grace theology, conveniently before and after they’ve been confronted about multiple affairs.
- We see pastors unbothered about their lavish homes.
- We see leaders with deep falls into sin, then miraculously rebounding back into ministry. (This rebounding is happening in shorter and shorter intervals.)
- We see pastors who demean others, have shady “business” practices, and yet put up shop thousands of miles away, then write more books (even when they’ve been rightly accused of plagiarism.)
- We see Christian leaders calling honorary degrees as earned.
- We see well known teachers allegedly buy their way onto the bestseller list here and here.
- We see it in churches narrowly targeting the wealthy for donations.
- A well known ministry I used to support had its ECFA credentials revoked after it “misled donors, mismanaged resources, has an ineffective board, and failed to live up to its promises as an ECFA member.”
- I’ve personally seen abuses with women, too–famous speakers, teachers and writers–who have behaved unbecomingly.
I’ve written about this on several occasions, but here’s one quote that stands out to me:
The kingdom of God is counterintuitive. Jesus stooped. He left the nirvana of heaven to hang out on this dusty earth. He made himself nothing (though he is everything) in order to rescue us. And his kingdom didn’t inaugurate via star preachers and ministers and authors and speakers and singers and actors. No, it began with ordinary men and women who had been turned upside down by the Preacher who had no place to lay his sacred head.
The day of reckoning may not happen today for those in the spotlight who misuse the name of Jesus for profit or gain, but it will come on heaven’s shores, to be sure. That’s when Jesus reminds us the first will be last, and the last will be first (See Matthew 20:16). The humble will inherit his kingdom. The broken will experience his strength. The maligned who align themselves with Him will find purpose and satisfaction. Those fleeced by celebrity “Christians” are seen by the actual Famous One.
. . .
I wish I didn’t have to write this post. It hurts my heart, heavies my soul. I write this as a flawed human being, prone to wander, feeling the weight of my own propensity for sin. I pray for myself, and I ask my prayer team to pray as well, that I would weather the little spark of fame that’s come my well with graciousness and humility. I hope my life and heart will be ready for the ultimate day of reckoning, where my works burn up, and I hope there’s a little nugget of gold leftover.
My prayer is that we would stop being a part of this mess. That we would call out egregious wrongs–in plagiarism, sexual abuse, cover up, and celebrity. That we would remind others that this does not represent the Kingdom of God. We do so with humble, broken hearts, longing to see the reign of Jesus in our midst, in our small communities, in the midst of our ministries and churches.