Scandals surrounding high-powered leaders seem to have become the norm. One of the motivations that drove the founding of The Love Akron Network was my concern that the American Christian Church was losing its voice and credibility. Remember the ministry fiascos of the Bakkers and Swaggarts? In the mid-80s Jim Bakker and his wife Tammy became media superstars within the Christian community because of their daily television show, the PTL (Praise the Lord) Club. Their guests were the “who’s who” of the political and religious world. I won’t take the time to reiterate what brought an end to this ministry, but the fallout was awful. This tragedy became national news, which in turn became fodder for late night comics to poke fun at Christ’s Church. Jimmy Swaggart’s “fall from grace” is a whole different story I won’t address here. His “hell fire and brimstone” preaching revealed a duplicity that left a nasty taste in the mouths of sinner and saved alike.
Today the scandals surrounding high-profile people bear the names of President Donald Trump, Pastor Bill Hybels, Pastor James MacDonald, Jussie Smollett and…and…and… When you follow the story line of all of these sad and sometimes sordid narratives, the question ultimately is asked, “Did they break the law and do anything illegal?” Yes, of course that’s an important question because laws do matter, regardless of who chooses to ignore them. However, I think there are two larger questions that also need to be addressed by those who are being scrutinized. The first question is, “Is it right?” Something can be legal but not right, particularly if viewed through the lens of ethics, morality, and justice.
Some of us will remember Joseph Fletcher who made famous in our day the philosophical discussions around “situational ethics.” Situational ethics purports that something may be wrong under one condition but right under other circumstances. I’m not going to weigh in on that debate, but I can tell you this world view has given many an excuse to justify their behavior when it was just plain WRONG. I was once in a meeting with a politician who was trying to justify negative politicking because it “works,” and it helps win elections. To which I replied, “But that does not make it right.”
Here’s the second question- “Is it wise?” A behavior can be legal and right, but to exercise the “right” to behave in that manner doesn’t mean it’s wise to do so. There are some choices that we can make that don’t necessarily violate the letter of God’s law but violate the spirit behind the law. Wisdom dictates that sometimes NOT exercising a right means obeying a higher principle, which will bring glory to God. Have you ever heard the colloquial, “It just doesn’t pass the smell test?” A wise person will ask this question before acting. The Bible says that we are to shun the appearance of evil. In other words, we must live life so that if what we are about is made public, we wouldn’t have difficulty explaining our choices. The court of public opinion is still the deciding factor in most cases. A great question is, “Would I want this in the national news?”
I’m not sure where these scandals will lead, but I’m convinced each individual who is in the spotlight regrets what it has done to their family and in some cases, God’s family, their local congregation. Trust has been broken, reputations have been tarnished, and in some cases ministries and “kingdoms” have been destroyed. I’m grateful to God that I’m able to leave the leadership of The Love Akron Network without a scandal or tarnished shadow over me or this amazing ministry. No, I most certainly am not perfect and yes, I wish I could have some do-overs. However, I can honestly say that I have attempted to exceed the “is it legal” standard and weigh each decision with the other two questions ― is it right and is it wise? My greatest desire is to finish well and if I should die before Christ returns, my prayer is that if there are tears shed, it will be driven by memories of rejoicing rather than regret. And when they do my committal at the graveside, on my tombstone will be the words, “Mark loved Jesus and Loved Akron.”