The unacknowledged malady of the Christian faith has surfaced again leading to tragedy. A 36 year old former mega-church pastor, Isaac Hunter, has committed suicide after a sex scandal. Another dimension of this tragedy is that his father…also a mega-church pastor…is Joel Hunter and he is a confidante of President Obama. Within the past year the son of mega-church pastor Rick Warren also committed suicide after a long-term battle with “mental illness.” Within the past year the pastor of a large, prominent evangelical church in Hammond, Indiana went to prison for having sex with a teen-age parishioner. And, from my youth on, I can recall the recurrent issue of “sex scandal” and “financial impropriety” and other misconduct surfacing in the clergy. When very young, it would usually lead to a sudden decision of the pastor that “the Lord” was leading him to pastor a different church, with the truth coming out much later. And, of course, we cannot overlook the horrible sexual-abuse scandal that the Catholic church is still dealing with.
My point here is not to point an accusing or shaming finger, or to snicker at the apparent hypocrisy but to express profound sorrow that men with deep spiritual direction in their life succumb to the lure of such poor choices that they wreck their lives and the lives of those around them. And, as in the present case, the anguish is so intense, that sometimes they even despair of living and take their own life. My concern is that these men have demonstrated that an essential element in faith has been missing in their life and that is an acknowledgement and embracing of dark impulses that are always present in all of our hearts. The problem is not in having these impulses but in refusal to acknowledge them and, when beset by them and the temptation to act on them, having no one to whom they can “unpack their heart with words.” They cannot disclose this shadow side of their heart because the Christian faith they have been taught does not permit them to acknowledge this darkness. Their faith is often a sanitized version in which “human-ness” is denied in the effort to trot out each day of their life a squeaky-clean “Christian” persona. They glibly quote Paul, “I will to do good, but evil is present with me,” but do not fully appreciate the extent of that evil; for the real “evil” is the evil that lurks in the “thoughts and intents of the heart” which needs to find the light of day somewhere.
This most recent suicide brought to my mind the anguish that sexuality can bring in a man’s life. And, I don’t care how “spiritual” you are or how “noble” or “good” you are you will continue to be a sexual creature and that will always involve the temptation to…shall we say…err and might include impulses with which one is uncomfortable. As Woody Allen put it, “Of course sex is dirty, if you do it right!” But whatever impulses surfaces in our sexual life they are just that…impulses…and don’t have to necessarily be acted on. Someone in the position of spiritual leadership needs to have someone to talk to about them. But my central point here is that in some faith traditions, opening-up about sexual matters will not be permitted. Because the real intent of this type of faith is to provide a denial system, a facade that will allow the individual avoid reality; and that type of person will inevitably be leading his flock to live the very same kind of life.
Christian faith…or any faith…involves honesty and the first step in honesty is to admit that we are not honest. We are born with blinders on and, when we see this, we will still have blinders on. But, if we can accepted the “possibility” that we have blinders on, we can be given pause, and perhaps be a little more human and less “pious.” Yes, we will then later discover more blinders…and more, and more. But that is merely to discover that you are human. That is merely to learn that, being a mere mortal, you tend to see only what you want to see.