Friday, February 22, 2013

Under the Cover of Godliness

Well, it has happened again.  A prominent, local pastor was arrested for trying to have sex with a minor.  It was a sting and the policeman pretended to be a 16 year old girl online. The pastor agreed to meet her and give her $200 in exchange for sex back at the parsonage. He had the cash and condoms in his pickup (no pun intended). If you have nothing to do some day, do a Google search for "pastor arrested" and see how many you turn up.

I had an old, ex-coal mining uncle (who died a couple of months ago).  He was quite rough around the edges. He use to say (and he was quite a character from deep in the mountains) that when you bait a trap with . . . well a very vulgar name for a women's genitalia . . . you will catch a preacher every time.

But this is not a discussion on preachers or pastors. They just happened to be an easy target as their professional name implies a sense of "godliness." This is more of conversation about godliness and what I believe is the myth inclusive in that concept.

I use to be a godly man for about 15 years.  I considered myself godly as did my peers.  I could quote scripture left and right. I had quiet times every morning. I prayed before I ate . . . especially if other Christians were watching.  I was as sincere as anyone could be.

But here is the real problem.  I do think that godliness is always a myth.  I'm not doubting sincerity. But we have a human nature, emotional baggage and other vice driven parts of us that don't mend over night, or even after years of "discipleship."  The process of discipleship is the process of socialization into a particular Christian class and is as fragile as paper thin porcelain.

I'm not suggesting that the process of godliness makes us more likely to do horrible things, like solicit sex from a minor.  I'm also not saying that our nature is so bent that we can't resist that draw of evil.

My point is, if you believe that you can change your character overnight, and your peers believe the same thing, but in reality you cannot (because our character is written on the very real brain) then we fall into role playing.  We start pretending that we are above the nature.

This is where I think we become most vulnerable.  How many people have been hurt by so-called godly people?  Too many to count.  But if they see themselves as godly and their local society sees them as godly, then a space or hollow develops between the facade and the real person. It is within that hollow that bad things can grow.  That is why the most visible "godly people" have done the most horrible things.

I would much rather trust my daughter to take a trip with a man who is humble and extremely self aware of his fallen nature, than a godly man.  I no longer trust godly people because I was one once . . . and I've been betrayed by them.

I think of a friend of ours who discovered that her very attractive 13 year daughter would hold hands or cuddle with her 30 year old, married, youth pastor when they were alone.  He assured her that he was a godly man and only did it only to comfort her, spiritually . . . but never did it when other kids (and certainly not his wife) were around. Hmm . . . now that is odd. She, being a naive girl raised in the myths of evangelicalism never doubted his motives . . . even when he told her to keep it a secret as the other kids would be jealous.

Thank God that we are forgiven.  We do strive to do good. To walk in humility, to seek justice and to love kindness . . . but we never arrive at any of those lofty goals.  What we fear are bad motives deep within us  . . . usually are.  We don't deceive ourselves into thinking we are above that. We don't need to hate ourselves for our nature, but to understand our true and dangerous self and to enjoy grace but beware of nature.


Mike Hale said...

Nice post. I've been reading your stuff for a while and think you've got some great insights, though very different from my own. In regards to Christian men who are "godly," though, I've gotta say I think you're being too rough on these men, and the church in general. I know tons of people who refer to themselves as "godly," and I know how they struggle with lust. So, they fall sometimes. Big deal. Is it better to just grab every woman you see and not struggle, not admit that you are lustful, not try to be godly at all? What's the point of judging the church and those in it? I personally (as a christian universalist) love church, love my stoic methodist church, love the lavish, mystical catholic church (which I sometimes attend).

In the catholic church, priests can't marry, so we get all these stories on the news about sex abuse, right? Well, the only reason the culture eats it up is because the culture is evil, not the men, not the church. We love anything that makes God seem unreal, impotent, fake. And what does that better than pointing out the flaws of the clergy? It really gives us an ego boost, I think, to say, "look at all these disgusting religious people. I'm way better than them and I'm not even "religious!""... All the "I'm not religious, I'm spiritual" people.

As if you can have one without the other...

Anyways, I think the world outside of the religious organizations is way worse: our culture is demented; our gods (technology, science, celebrity) are more blind and asinine. Why make such a fuss about the church? When men in a church fall into sexual sin, it is usually a slide, a quick misstep; not a lifestyle. Calling these "godly ones" out has been done to death. Also, I guarantee you King David had young teenage girls as concubines... Solomon, Saul, Nebachudnezzar too. Men are attracted to young girls - always have been, always will be. That youth leader is a regular dude. Nothing abnormal about it at all. So, it probably made her parent's upset. Parents are always upset about things that frankly wouldn't bother God in the least.

Anonymous said...

Mike wrote:: "Well, the only reason the culture eats it up is because the culture is evil, not the men, not the church." But the line of evil runs through every single human heart. The only difference for Christian humans is that they have accepted grace of Christ and have now eyes to see and a Spirit to nudge them forward in love and truth.

In fact, one could make a case that Christians will have more internal battles than those who are unbelievers, because they are fully engaged in a war on God's side.

It is important to remember that we do not live in ancient Rome, which was governed by leaders who insisted that they were gods and found anyone who wanted to say differently eligible for capital punishment. This country still approves of the ideas of Christianity. Oh, sure, it is negligent and lost, and some are into power and control, and there are those few who openly despise Christianity, but the level of static is not high.

I have been out and about, and the fact is, Mike, that unbelievers are generally tolerant except when the church does things that they themselves know are plain immoral. Then they go beyond general kibitzing and turn angry. Indeed, how could it be that the ethics derived from common grace (unbelievers) might be purer than those derived from special grace (Christians)?

We have a profound lesson in humility to learn. I know we do not want to cause any to stumble over the character of God because of our sins, but when we ignore legitimate accusations and then also cover them over with self-righteousness, we make a mockery of our witness and the God we worship.

The Christian Monist is correct that the idea of "godliness" can be very dangerous. It can bring one to several deeply incorrect (and most often unconscious) conclusions:
1. Being made in the image of God means we are like God.
2. We are representatives of God on earth and carry the seal of approval of God.
3. We are forgiven for our wrongs and therefore they carry no common consequences.
4. Since those who are without God have lost His image, nothing of what they say could possibly be pertinent to those who represent Him.

At the deepest level, the Christian knows that he still struggles with usual human flaws. That internal dissonance is often resolved by ignoring those struggles and failures. But this resolutioin only encourages the flaws to grow unchecked, and as a result one becomes divorced not only from one's nature but also the path on which we are called to walk with God.