Lessons Pastors/Leaders/Influencers Can Learn From Scandals – Part 1

Sadly, it’s become a routine part of our week to hear about a breaking scandal. Last week it was revealed that David Patraeus, head of the CIA and Gulf War hero resigned after an “F.B.I. investigation uncovered evidence that he had been involved in an extramarital affair.”  Many have commented  that the timing of the revelation is odd given that he was to testify about the Benghazi attack.  Yes but the story should be just as troubling regardless of that and should remind us of the need for trust and character in positions of power and influence.

Yesterday news broke about Kevin Clash, the voice of Elmo allegedly having an inappropriate relationship with a young man who was 16 at the time. And sadly, there’s always news of a pastor or a Christian figure allegedly involved in something inappropriate as well.

Understandably many wonder what drives these men (and women) to do such things – “Don’t they know they’re going to get caught??” I’ve thought that too.

In listening, reading and wondering, I often hear these possibilities:
The need for escape from the pressure and stress that drives people into temptation and the abuse of their power.
They are often preyed upon by people who want to experience the excitement of the power and spotlight.
Perhaps it doesn’t have anything to with being preyed upon or a real need for escape but instead – people reveal their true selves when given power, wealth and access along with the misguided notion that “I can get away with it.” 

Or is it a combination of all these reasons and more?  In any case, what are we to learn from such things? And more importantly, what is our motivation for learning? Is it to escape in the gossip of damaged reputations and feel morally superior,  is it to become more effective in hiding our own trespasses and potential scandals? Or do we hope to learn for the good of others and for the common good? In answering that question we can move from the judgement of others, away from our selfish pursuits and into the protection and restoration of others.

I want to examine these often-heard possible explanations and offer some thought for not only preventing future scandals (maybe our own) but even more important, to actually live better and in way that is faithful to the calling we have received.

“The need for escape from the pressure and stress that drives people into temptation and the abuse of their power.”
This has always felt a bit incomplete to me and “too convenient” as in “I’m so stressed, I just can’t help myself …” Still, there’s something about “the need for escape” as we can all see so much personal, relational and social damage attributed to this idea of needing “to get away from it all.” Examples of escapism include abusing of drugs, alcohol, food, sex, media, a hobby, a cause and just about anything that you can lose yourself in.

Among the many problems with escapism is its arrogantly individualistic and does not take into account the needs or feelings of others. It’s not to say that people are completely selfish and quietly loath their loved ones and so forth but for whatever reason, their judgement is clouded and their need for escape overcomes their sense of duty and responsibility, blinds them of their identities and enables them to forfeit their sacred vows.

We should find that when we are stressed that we need to be in conversation with people we love and trust. We ought to also feel that we need to “escape” not from something but to something and so the need for prayer, meditating, reading, journaling, reflecting, etc. should be lifelong and very important practices for us.

When I find others stressed, it’s amazing what a conversation over coffee, a beer, or a meal can do. Of course, it’s not the consumption of the said examples but the relational energy and care for each other that helps keep each other grounded, accountable and cared for. We would be well-served to reach out to each other when we are stressed and when when we find others stressed.

“They are often preyed upon by people who want to experience the excitement of the power and spotlight.”
Indeed, I’ve heard stories like this and on a very small level, have even experienced some of the awkward attention often associated with being a pastor/leader (again even on this small level). When I hear such statements, it seems to me they serve better as warnings than any basis of justifying scandalous behavior. Yes, there are people trying to trap others. It is not beyond belief that there is a woman out there trying to seduce Tim Tebow in some scandal (there could be a guy trying the same too). Similarly, I am confident that there are evil men/women out there trying to trap women of power/influence as well.

But what I see more of is people who are enamored with the spotlight and to make a long story short, commit a series of bad decisions and compromises that result in a mutual realization that both/all parties are in too deep and have a little recourse but to try to cover it all up out of self-preservation and perhaps also, confused feelings. Obviously I am not a qualified a psychologist, please only read those words as an observer.

But here’s the lesson for pastors, leaders and influencers of any kind. You may not consider yourself that good-looking or attractive (and let’s face it, a lot of these guys involved in such scandals are not “studly” by any means ;), but no one should be naive to the opportunities that present themselves.  The sheer volume of pastoral sex scandals should remind us of this.

The success story is not the simple avoidance of a sex scandal but to live a life that is honorable, that serves the common good, and for the Christian, a life that brings glory to God. Let us recognize the various temptations associated with our positions (sexual and financial) and practice safe guards that protect what we represent, protect those we love and follow with me here, also protect the potential fellow scandal-partner(s) – many of whom are often hurting themselves and have spouses, children and families that could be devastated as well.

Among the many takeaways from these scandals are for those who are married, strengthen your marriage. For those abstinent, guard your celibacy. Let us be people of prayer, of moral fortitude, and who put the needs and good of others before our own – as that is part of the responsibility with everyone who holds a position of leadership, everyone who holds a microphone, everyone in power. Again, we do these things not merely to avoid scandal but for honor and to live as intended. May the Lord strengthen us as we seek to rely on Him.

In addition to being preyed upon and the need for escape, I want to look also at the third given reason in the next post: when given power, wealth and access along with the misguided notion that “I can get away with it” that people reveal their true selves.

Thanks for reading, feel free to add/send your thoughts/comments.