On his way to heal the ruler of the synagogue’s daughter Jesus is interrupted by a woman with a bleeding problem. The story goes that she made her way through the crowd in order to touch Jesus with the hope that she would be made well. This woman had this bleeding problem for 12 years, had suffered much under it, spent a ton of money on doctors, and her condition only got worse. It was a terrible situation for a woman to be in in ancient Palestine. Being a woman in such a time was challenging enough but being considered unclean and financially poor just made it worse. She was the forgotten, the marginalized, the invisible. Her goal of touching Jesus was quite a bold one given her state. There were many unknowns. Would Jesus know that he had been touched? Would he get angry if he realized an unclean woman touched him thereby making him unclean? How would others react like the crowds and those who were friends with Jairus, the ruler of the synagogue? After all, by touching him she would make Jesus unclean and he would thereby make Jairus’ entire house unclean as well as his daughter.
I sometimes wonder if, in a sense, the woman with the bleeding problem is a representation of so many of the women who have been victims of pastoral indiscretions. In particular, I think of the recent happenings with celebrity pastors like Tullian Tchividjian who has finally been disavowed by many who supported him before and after his first reported indiscretion. When his sexual indiscretions first came to light many of his followers and supporters were quick to defend him. This was understandable given what his writing and preaching had done for them. When he had gotten a new job shortly thereafter at another church many of his supporters defended this much to the dismay of his detractors. And then more came out; more indiscretions, more victims, more problems. Finally, he was even disavowed by his supporters and colleagues.
The situation with Tullian Tchividjian represents a far deeper malady in American Christianity. That malady is multifaceted. At its core is its radical individualism that makes it hard for us to understand sin and its deeper dimensions collectively. Since we often speak in individualized ways about sin, talk about a personal relationship with Jesus, and refer to ourselves as “I, a poor, miserable sinner” it makes sense that we would miss this dynamic. While forgiveness comes to us from God we must also be aware of the forgiveness that we need to give and seek from others (Jesus was quite clear about this). When it comes to grace we tend to have an interdependent blind-spot. For example, while there were very public calls for Tullian’s forgiveness there was next to no concern expressed by his followers and supporters for the victim(s). It was as if they didn’t matter because all is grace, but that is the deeper malady to which I am pointing.
It does matter.
Generally speaking, the debate regarding whether or not such a pastor should be removed or reinstated tends to take place on a rather base level. At the risk of sounding overtly simplistic it usually boils down to two camps:
There’s the fundamentalist camp that simply takes Paul’s words to Timothy and Titus that a pastor should be above reproach at face value. Therefore, if a sin of sexual indiscretion is committed the pastor should be removed, simple as that. On the other side is the reductionist camp whose position is that, in light of the indiscretion committed, if there is repentance and thereby forgiveness he should be reinstated. It sort of disregards Paul’s words for the sake of the gospel. Again, these are very base positions and sort of linear in their understandings. Ultimately, they don’t really go below the surface.
Now, I’ll confess that I would have been more inclined to give a guy like Tullian a pass before I served a congregation whose previous pastor had had an adulterous relationship. Even now, I often have to shake myself of my individualized presuppositions in order to see something more clearly. Anyway, one of the things that I came to realize was that there were multiple levels to what had occurred. It wasn’t just about one man’s sin, it was actually about so much more. The congregation was deeply hurt by this behavior for a long time and struggled to make sense of it. There were disagreements about whether he should have been removed since he had done so much good like grow the church. There was the pastor’s own unhealthy and unresolved issues that led to his adulterous affair along with the culture of the congregation that played into this. What’s more, there was a woman, who, quite frankly, had been taken advantage of by a man in authority. After the pastor was removed, while many wrestled over what happened to him, there wasn’t much talk about her. In fact, there was even anger towards her as if it was fully her fault and not his. As one person, a woman I might add, remarked to me, “He’s a man, he had needs.” In a sense, the woman had been marginalized, pushed aside and forgotten about because she had messed everything up. Notice the deep and dark spiritual elements in my description.
It’s these sort of dynamics that many are simply unaware of and don’t give much thought to because we are not trained to think in such ways. But if we are going to understand the true threat and problem of pastoral sexual indiscretions we need to learn how to approach such things in such a manner. Seeing things in such a way was not a challenge to someone like the Apostle Paul given that in the ancient world one’s identity was not bound up with self but with group. This is why we ought to heed his words to Timothy and Titus when it comes to qualifications for pastors. This is ancient wisdom par excellence. Being above reproach goes so much deeper than simply having a good reputation amongst outsiders. There is a deep spiritual component that has a deep spiritual impact on the collective whole.
Because of such happenings I’ve been wondering if a sort of misogyny plays into guys like Tullian being able to get away with what they’ve gotten away with. It may not be an overt misogyny but more of a benign sort. Sort of like the expectation that Jesus would definitely heal the daughter of a synagogue ruler without concern for a marginalized woman. I mean had Jesus not stopped and referred to the woman with the bleeding problem as his daughter would anyone have even cared about her? After all, Jesus had to save the daughter of a very important person and she was just getting in the way, like so many of the victims may have gotten in the way of Tullian being restored.
Recently, many who had come to the side of Tullian and defended him after his first indiscretion had come to light had taken the opportunity to disavow themselves of him in a public letter and announcement. I appreciate their doing so but the thing that’s a bit disconcerting is that these same persons are still associated and work with a pseudo pastor who has a problematic history similar to Tullian’s. It might do them well to reach out to his victims, speak with them or read their stories and see the collective affect of his sins. That may make them a little more weary of supporting and associating publically with those who have caused similar damage. Whether we like it or not, sin has consequences. Emotional abuse and sexual abuse have consequences and they cannot be so easily swept away as so many other things in our disposable culture can be.
I’ll be honest, I doubt that’ll happen. In fact, one reason is because most of those who initially defended Tullian and then disavowed him are men. What’s more, my hunch is that what led them to initially support Tullian was what they perceived to be a higher good. After all, Tullian reached many, his books could be found in Barnes and Noble. Similarly, the organization Christ Hold Fast has reached many, thus, the higher good. Then again, the higher good should have prompted Jesus to ignore the woman with the bleeding problem and get to the house and daughter of the synagogue ruler. But he stopped to heal this woman, this daughter, and then he went on to heal the synagogue ruler’s daughter.
Please think about that.