Good for the soul, but is it good for the Church?
October of this year marks 10 years since I started openly talking about a longtime struggle with pornography. I am grateful for the journey of recovery and sobriety that I believe God has led me on. I’m even more grateful for family and friends who joined me along the way cheering, supporting, and holding me accountable. The most notable of course is my wife Christina. She’s had to endure the most with this salacious tale. She’s the private type, doesn’t really need or want people knowing what’s going on in her world or ours. So when I decided that I really sensed God moving me toward making my sexual sin public I had to get her blessing. Interesting thing is she had that same sense that God was in this and others needed to know.
So in 2003 with Christina’s affirmation and with only 2 people on the face of the earth (Christina and a family friend) aware of my porn problem I approached conference leadership and let them know. From that point on word spread pretty fast. Soon local and national news got wind of the story. My story was one of the early ones revealing the secret struggle that often strangles the life out of pastors. Now there are numerous stories of pastors revealing their own struggles with porn.
While I was praised by some there are those who were highly irritated by such a public confession. They said it put the church in a bad light. That people would be turned off by such a dirty confession by an SDA pastor. They believed that my story didn’t need to be public. To their point the people that needed to know, knew about it, and Christina and I were in a good place as a couple. I wasn’t caught by anyone and as far as the general public knew, including those at my church everything was fine. It could have stayed that way.
But I chose, at the prompting of the Holy Spirit, I believe, to share my story in order to bring attention to a real problem facing the church. Perhaps more importantly though I chose to speak up because God had truly changed my life.
Over the past almost 10 years of traveling the country and bringing awareness to this issue I’ve encountered some of those critics who still question very seriously why I confessed so publicly. In fact the attitude tends to be rather hostile and comes with references to Ellen G. White’s counsel that seems to imply that such a confession does more harm than good. With respect to Mrs. White I must profoundly disagree with her or at least I disagree with an interpretation of her writings on this topic by some. For some of my SDA friends that statement alone will amount to heresy and grounds for dismissal from SDA denominational ministry.
So public confession may very well be good for the soul, but is it good for the church? I would say yes, but not in all circumstances.
I don’t think we need to vomit all of our junk up on people at every large public gathering that’s not at all what I’m advocating. I’m certainly not calling for pastor’s to stand before their congregations each weekend confessing their past or present failings. And we certainly don’t need the gory details of every members sexual philandering or other sinful activity.
But we do need a grace-oriented atmosphere of transparency, and authenticity. Yes, I know it’s awkward, but I think good things can come of it. The problem with churches is we appear a little too squeaky clean if you ask me. From the outside looking in we appear to have all the answers and they’ve resulted in our being pretty well put together. Jesus does change us for sure but do we have have to come off so holier-than-though?
I had a pastor friend of mine tell me that he got into a conversation with someone about the issue of pornography and how so many pastors were coming forward telling stories about their struggles. He himself has never struggled with porn, but he said he intentionally left that out of the conversation as to leave the question of whether or not he struggled ambiguous to the person. In other words he didn’t go all out to make sure that the person knew that he was pure and upright in all things.
I think that’s what I’m getting at. We try so hard to control how others view us. We play into their assumptions about how good Christians and good Seventh-day Adventists ought to act and behave. The effort we put into keeping up appearances only deepens the resentment when it’s uncovered that we’re not all we made ourselves out to be. The word screamed at us from the current generation is “hypocrite”!
As for Ellen White, I’ve read some of the stuff people have thrown at me. But here’s the thing. She wrote during the Victorian Era. That era was all about appearances. It was all about never letting anyone know what was going on with you because it could cause an outbreak of that very sin. In my opinion she is simply writing out of the context of her time reflecting the attitudes and subcultural nuances of her day. If she were alive and speaking into the church today my guess is she would have a different message. I think she would have a strong voice against all of the pretention that goes on. She would challenge the church to be real or at least stop trying to manage our image to the point that we come off pretty plastic.
So yes, I believe there is room for public confession and it serves the church well. We don’t need the kind where we drag a pregnant teenage girl up on stage (minus the boyfriend) and make her confess to having pre-marital sex and an unintended pregnancy. But I do believe we need small groups where people can be honest and the members don’t freak out. I am for a church where when sin becomes known they don’t react as if someone has grown and eyeball in their forehead. I am for a church where obvious and not so obvious sinners are welcome, embraced, and loved into living differently.
“Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” Proverbs 28:13