Those who defend fallen Christian leaders as “wounded warriors,” and put all the emphasis on their need to heal and be productive and use their gifts, often do not seem to grasp the harm done to the church, the body of Christ, and the damage done to the credibility of the gospel among unbelievers. In some cases, church leaders have counseled fellow pastors not to confess their adultery publicly, and not even to tell their own wives whom they have betrayed.
First of all, it’s vital to remember that while transparency and the admission of sin are necessary, they are not sufficient, nor are they necessarily indicative of a changed heart. There are guys in accountability groups who share with each other week after week how they failed again by viewing pornography. Some are routinely congratulated and commended for being open, honest, vulnerable, and transparent. Those qualities all seem virtuous. But where it counts the most, by returning to their sin as a dog goes back to its vomit (2 Peter 2:22), they are not being virtuous at all, even if their “transparency” gives the illusion they are.
Not long ago, I read an online forum where hundreds of people were commending a Christian leader for his honesty and humility in publicly admitting his immorality (after it had already been made public by others). But when one person posted the suggestion that in light of the biblical qualifications for being a church leader (1 Timothy 3; Titus 1), he should stay out of Christian ministry for the foreseeable future, she was met with a barrage of responses from people accusing her of being judgmental and unforgiving.
The tables get turned, so that the “loving” thing to do is to act as if the affair (in this particular case, multiple affairs), divorce, and remarriage are not relevant to future ministry, and the “hateful” thing is to suggest that while God’s forgiveness is always there for the truly repentant, there are indeed consequences. One of those consequences is disqualification for ministry for at least a significant period of time (unless and until a new long-term track record of purity has been clearly established).
Years ago it became popular to say, “The church is the only army that shoots their wounded.” Now, if this were an appeal to stop telling people they are ungodly because they struggle with depression and fear and suicidal thoughts, and face difficult marriages and abuse and mental and chemical imbalances, it would be called for. It would be a very valid criticism and a call to express God’s grace and kindness, and to understand and emphasize with hurt, struggling, and wounded people.
But too often, the accusation of “shooting their wounded” is applied to those church leaders and laypeople who understand God’s grace, who affirm His full forgiveness of the repentant, but at the same time believe that the Bible’s moral qualifications for church leaders should be taken seriously and therefore extreme caution should be exercised before restoring someone to pastoral ministry and Christian leadership.
I personally worked with a gifted Christian leader who fell but who publicly confessed, truly repented, and lived out the rest of his life doing what jobs he could find, including driving a bus. At his memorial service, his family could hold their heads high, and I believe God said, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” But when he was asked two months after his affair was over to pastor a church, our counsel to him was that it was way too soon to even consider it.
Some interpreted our response as unloving and judgmental. In fact, we were not only trying to protect the body of Christ, but we were also trying to protect our beloved brother.