The Need for Christian Whistle Blowers
After nearly forty years as a Christian, most of that in one form of ministry or another, I have noticed repeat patterns that have concerned me because they can easily lead to a personality cult or worse. It is the failure to speak up and say something when there are clearly Scriptural violations. It can happen in anything from a local home fellowship of a dozen people to an entire denomination, but it often is what I call the Emperor’s New Clothes syndrome.
You remember the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes, don’t you? I’ve made mention of it from time to time and seen blank looks on a lot of folks’ faces, so let me refresh your memory:
A charlatan comes to a remote kingdom where the king has a reputation of being both proud and a fool. The charlatan gains an audience with the king and shows him “a suit of beautiful clothes that can be seen by anyone except a fool.” Actually, he has his arms extended as though he’s holding a suit of clothes but, in truth, there is nothing there. The king, not wanting to be seen as a fool, says he sees them just fine and would like to purchase these fine (nonexistent) clothes. OK, scene two, the king decides to show off his new clothes to his people so he rides through town on a horse naked. Everyone in the crowd, also not wanting to be thought of as foolish, all rave about his new clothes, until one little boy speaks up and calls things as they are and eventually has the entire population laughing that the king has been had. The king returns to his castle in both disgrace and embarrassed. End of story for the king and his kingdom, but unfortunately not in the world of today’s religions.
Many of us who have tried to point out to cultists that their leadership “has no clothes on” wonder why more of these faithful followers don’t speak up and say so. But, the price to do so in most cults is way too costly. While these self-styled prophets continue to embarrass themselves with obvious contradictions, the drones continue to rave about the fact that “the church is true because it has these latter-day prophets” (though it really doesn’t matter what they actually prophesy). Or that the organization and governing board will not lead the devout Witness astray. The pressure to conform with the rank and file makes the true Christian living in the midst of such a culture yearn to see one honest “kid in the crowd” speak up and say, “that’s stupid! the prophet has no logical or theological clothes on!”
But we can’t point the fingers at just the religions with Biblically aberrant beliefs; we have it right in the Body of Christ, even here in Utah where you’d think that Christian folks would be more sensitive to what is error and the need to confront it.
Let me give you a few examples that have happened to me, or folks close to me, personally:
1) A very loose girl showed up at our services until I finally spoke up and said that unless she stopped her sensual behavior, she’d not be welcome here. Only a couple of people from other churches saw the problem, but apparently no one in the church where she grew up and still attended. She would play the good little ‘christian’ girl to her folks, but literally change her clothes into halter tops, short-shorts and use her body as a literal weapon with which to assault Christian guys, and others. After one New Year’s Eve party where she was lap dancing from guy to guy, one Christian fellow had the courage to speak up and say something. But it took weeks before anyone else said anything about it and I notice that just about every one of those guys who were present and kept silent are backslidden today.
Because we addressed it, we were marked by her folks and others at her church as intolerant. After she ended up pregnant (little surprise) we heard no more criticism of us but it amazed me that so few people saw what was happening and would address it.
2) A pastor’s son decides that he wants to live a lifestyle that is not moral and the one sister who speaks up and points it out to the pastor and his wife (both of whom are in denial that there is a problem) is basically told that not only is there no problem, but that she should mind her own business. The son is nowhere in God today and has probably brought about the spiritual demise of several others through his predatory behavior.
3) A pastor who supposedly preaches the word of God but has a serious problem with control. Anyone with sufficient guts to gently but firmly approach the pastor is told “well, if you can’t trust my spiritual leadership, then you should leave,” thereby ridding the assembly of any voice of dissent. The same pastor says that to say anything critical is to “touch the anointed of God” (a negative term in charismatic church circles which simply means, “buzz off -- I’m from God and you can’t criticize me without incurring God’s wrath.”) This is pastoral abuse, plain and simple, but few want to challenge it. To do so can be costly in relationships and the fear-factor that you have “brought an accusation against an elder” is ever-present and well-practiced by the abusive leader.
4) A Pentecostal church with which I was associated for some time goes off in the area of prophecy and demons. When I try to address the issue one-on-one with the pastor, I’m treated as an intruder and basically told that I’m listening to gossip and will become a gossip myself if I pursue questioning the pastor. Half the church eventually leaves over the false prophecies and a moral lapse on the part of the one of the elders. I have met the senior pastor on three occasions since and he just looks through me. I have become a non-person -- part of the price for confronting what eventually ended up in serious error that hurt a lot of people. It had been a very loving church but people wanted to keep their head in the sand when problems arose in the face of serious elder abuse.
5) After a few months as an associate pastor at another church, I notice serious problems with the senior pastor’s need to control. He plays people against one another, every one of his leadership people leaves and leaves angry, (why did I think I would fare any better?) and there are serious enough financial breaches that I almost wish for an IRS audit. My privately confronting the situation with the pastor only results in his becoming sullen; soon he is giving me false prophecies that God has shown him that I am supposed to move to Russia to minister. When I tell him after four weeks of his relentless manipulation of guidance, that God is not showing that to me, he tells me that it is my failure to hear from God. It gets much worse than this and I finally resign after his lying shows up in the church treasurer’s books in black and red. Wishing I could go the way of the dodo bird with that church, alas, the elders hold a special meeting a month after I resign because it appears that since I have left, the church has lost “the only real pastor they ever had” and the church is splitting. They ask me to clarify the problems I experienced. I do so, with the evidence of serious problems. The reward? Misunderstanding and shunning on the part of some and indifference on the part of others. The question remains in my mind, “why did I even bother?!”
Did it hurt? Yes. Especially when my motives were questioned. It never occurred to my accusers that I was simply obeying God with regard to holding the leadership accountable to a standard of Biblical integrity. Or to have the pastor, after-the-fact, say libelous things about me in order to destroy my credibility. Anyone who questioned him, was accused of being “a gossip.” Sound familiar?
These are but a few of the instances I have witnessed over the years and what is particularly grievous is that few, if any, are willing to stand up to ‘Christian’ leadership that bullies them.
Ezekiel 3:17-21 says, “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. When I say to a wicked man, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you do not warn him or speak out to dissuade him from his evil ways in order to save his life, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood. But if you do warn the wicked man and he does not turn from his wickedness or from his evil ways, he will die for his sin; but you will have saved yourself.
“Again, when a righteous man turns from his righteousness and does evil, and I put a stumbling block before him, he will die. Since you did not warn him, he will die for his sin. The righteous things he did will not be remembered, and I will hold you accountable for his blood. But if you do warn the righteous man not to sin and he does not sin, he will surely live because he took warning, and you will have saved yourself.”
If you obey God’s word on the matter, you will often be standing alone, battered with the verbal accusations from without as well as the mental ones within with the usual “what ifs,” like, “I have become an accuser of God’s leadership.” Your motives will be questioned and you’ll sometimes wish that you had just gone along with the flow and perpetuated the status quo. (Hey! That rhymes!)
Let’s come into some balance on this thing, brethren:
If you have a critical spirit by nature, you’re probably not being called to be God’s watchman on the wall. Some folks just like having a contrary spirit and their attitude is always to criticize and whine. The ministry of being a brave watchman, is not necessarily a ministry of being confrontational or negative. The ultimate purpose of the watchman is to protect the flock and to restore by speaking a positive word. The whole ministry is basically prophetic because it means speaking what is the mind of God, both as a warning and as an exhortation. It should serve to balance, correct, guide and ultimately edify. It is never meant to criticize and rarely rebuke.
It is a tough call to have in your life if you’re going to be honest and fair in your use of this gift. You will lose friends over this. I did; there are some people in this valley who won’t speak to me now -- sadly, people with whom I had shared the Communion Cup many times. But I’m a no-nonsense kind of guy.
You know, some folks thought that Paul Carter’s letter to me warning me about movies and especially my reviewing them, was out of line. While he may have been a bit strong, please remember that I did say at the end of his letter, which I published as it was, in its entirety, “at least Paul cared enough about me to write when he thought I was wrong.” Since then, two more people have written me to say they agree with Paul’s position: Ron Seim in California and Margaret Nicol in Ontario. They entreated me as a father in the Lord, something that we are told to do when confronting a Christian leader.
How much heartbreak we all could have been spared in this country if someone had spoken up to Jimmy Swaggart or Jim Bakker years before each one’s ministry was shipwrecked! We all know that they answered to no one, one of the reasons they had to fall eventually.
But where were these great self-styled “prophets of God,” --these guys who run all over the country with their “ministries?” I’m talking about so many of those big names you see in the glitzy ads from Charisma Magazine, for starters. Are they truly watchmen for God if they are not policing their own ranks? Perhaps one of these prognosticating wonder boys would have had an ear with some of these troubled televangelists that you and I would not have -- and they might have listened to them. But I have always questioned the reality, reliability and integrity of these self-appointed mouthpieces for God when they don’t bring a clear word to these charismatic ‘princes’ of the Church.
Of course they won’t do it! To do so would be “professional suicide” of their ministries. I prefer the word “professional” because that’s what they have become -- professional soothsayers -- and they are received in the Body of Christ as though they are of us. It doesn’t matter if they are spouting heresy, they are still revered because some other televangelist in a spiffing suit with a wife who’s groomed like a circus horse endorses him.
Where are the real voices for God? Are you one of them? The glossy ones have failed to sound the warning to God’s people. You, my readership, (I personally know most of you), might be the hope we have to sound the alarm and then the all-clear trumpet of restoration to a badly bruised Body of Christ.