Evangelical sex scandals and our false holiness

As a former Muslim, one of the most appealing aspects of Christianity is that God commands monogamy.  So it especially pains me seeing the numerous sex scandals pouring out of the evangelical church recently.

Courtesy of Hedieh Mirahmadi
Courtesy of Hedieh Mirahmadi

In an article in The Christian Post, many well-known pastors and leaders have come out strongly against the despicable abuse committed by the late Ravi Zacharias, ranging from rape, spiritual abuse, and unwanted touching of numerous women. They encourage not only repentance of any leaders still engaging in illicit sexual behavior, but they also advocate for accountability of all church leaders who are in a position to manipulate the spiritual and emotional needs of their members. Though first accused in 2017 of unwanted sexual advances, Zacharias's conduct went unchallenged and was only revealed upon his death.

And this past November, news broke that former Hillsong Church Pastor Carl Lentz was fired for "leadership issues and moral failures" after one of several extramarital affairs became public. Though Lentz is now removed from his leadership position at Hillsong, a staff member also reported his inappropriate conduct as far back as 2017, but it was vehemently denied.

In both cases, action is only taken once the behavior becomes publicly undeniable and many lives are irreparably harmed. As Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore so aptly put it regarding the Zacharias sex abuse reveal, "This awful report — coming on the heels of so many other situations detailed before — should rouse the conscience to ask not just how sadists can get into places of Christian leadership, but whether we have created a situation where the very presence of a conscience is an impediment to advancement in…. some sectors of American Christianity."

I was a devoted Muslim for over 20 years and can attest to the abuse that many Muslim women endure – the worse of which is being forced into illegal, polygamous relationships where both the women and children have no legal rights and are subject to constant mistreatment and ridicule in the community. Though many Muslim men do not engage in polygamy, the practice is permissible under Islamic law. That air of legitimacy causes the most harm because it gives the man a religious justification to force a woman's acceptance. For myself and other former Muslim women, one of the most attractive teachings of Christianity is about marriage.  A husband and wife become one flesh[1] and have a responsibility to one another of honor and love.[2] Adultery and other forms of sexual depravity are repeatedly condemned throughout the Bible. The Apostle Paul explicitly warns believers that God's wrath will come on the "sons of disobedience" who engage in sexual sin.[3]  Jesus said even lusting after a woman was committing adultery in the heart.[4] With such stern warnings, how can we allow such behavior to go unchecked in the Church?

Simply apologizing after the fact that Christian leaders are caught and wishing them well in their future endeavors is not solving the problem, nor is it creating a sense of accountability. For the rest of the Church, who has to face the ridicule of outsiders who accuse us of hypocrisy and corruption, such an approach is offensive. Church members, elders, and leaders must demand stricter policies for investigating claims of misconduct if they want to demonstrate their commitment to the Gospel of Christ.

The Lord warns, "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves."[5] Being aware means the onus is on us to safeguard the community against people who could harm the body of believers with false doctrine. Whether it is outright misstatements of God's word or actions that implicitly condone conduct against Biblical doctrine, allowing such behavior to go unchecked can have far-reaching consequences. It not only damages the reputation of Christians as a whole but causes irreparable harm to the many who suffer at the hands of these individuals.

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In contrast, the Lord tells us, "Do not judge, or you too will be judged."[6] Though tension exists between these two concepts, many other tenets of the Gospel warn that teachers will be held to a higher standard and encourage the body of believers to confess their sins to one another and to admonish fellow believers who are stuck in sin.

Viewed in its totality, the Gospel teaches us accountability and holiness. "For the Scriptures say, 'You must be holy because I am Holy.'"[7] The Church is one body, and when one part is hurting, we all suffer. Each of us has a responsibility to live a life that honors one another and the Holy Spirit that dwells within us. Though all of us at times fall short, the Lord holds our leaders to an even higher standard, and the Church should do the same. Yes, judgment is for God alone, but that is not an excuse to let evil actions run rampant.  If we fail to hold fast to the sacred tenets that set us apart as followers of Christ, we risk becoming the exact type of people that Christ warned us about. "Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'[8]

[1] Mark 10:6–9
[2] 1 Peter 3:7
[3] Ephesians 5:3-6
[4] Mathew 5:28
[5] Mathew 7:15
[6] Mathew 7: 1
[7] 1 Peter 1:16
[8] Mathew 7:22

Hedieh Mirahmadi was a devout Muslim for two decades working in the field of national security before she experienced the redemptive power of Jesus Christ and has a new passion for sharing the Gospel.  She dedicates herself full-time to Resurrect Ministry, an online resource that harnesses the power of the Internet to make salvation through Christ available to people of all nations, and her daily podcast

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