Sunday, November 05, 2006

25 years in review: sex and drug scandals

Let's review, shall we?

In my 25 years as an evangelical, these are the mighty who've fallen that have either had a direct impact on my life or have had the tangential impact of disillusioning me. Some are personal friends and relatives, some are movers and shakers within evangelicalism. Every single one shocked me to the core....

    A leader in our college Christian movement was having sex with one of my good friends (yep - not married)
    The pastor of a church in Indio that supported us stepped down due to an extra-marital affair.
    Don Moomaw (pastor of Bel Air Presbyterian Church where I was a member and which supported Jon and me as missionaries) preached a sermon on abstinence until marriage and then, was asked to leave his post when his extra-marital affair was discovered.
    Lonnie Frisbee, the catalyst to the signs and wonders movement of the Vineyard, died of AIDS and we were told that in fact, Lonnie was gay. (The link I provided goes to the Lonnie Frisbee Project, a documentary film made by a friend of Jon's. It's making the rounds in California.)
    Mel White, well-known ghost-writer for clients such as Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell, D. James Kennedy, Ollie North, and Pat Robertson, comes out as a gay man and starts Soulforce.
    A single female member of our missionary team had sex with a Moroccan Christian.
    Another single female member of our team had sex with a Moroccan Christian and went on to have two children by this man, married him, moved to the states and then, he left her for another woman. He then outed the missionaries he left behind in Morocco to the government officials. Nice.
    A husband and father to three, on our team, had an extra-marital affair with a Moroccan maid while his wife was on furlough.
    A traveling prophet who visited our missionary team molested several of the missionary children.
    Mike Trout, Dobson's co-host and my favorite guy from Focus on the Family (Fof) back when I listened daily for ten years, resigned from his post when he revealed he'd had an extra-marital affair.
    That same month, the head of Fof's recovery from homosexuality ministry was found drinking and dancing in a gay bar.
    One of my friends from college, a pastor of a Presbyterian church, left his wife to live with a girlfriend.
    Carl Tuttle, our senior pastor from the Anaheim Vineyard, successor to John Wimber, was removed from the pastorate when he was found to have a gambling addiction as well as an addiction to prescription drugs.
    My brother-in-law, an Assemblies of God pastor for twenty-five years, left his wife and kids to live with a girlfriend.
    Cheryl Lindsey, well-known homeschooling model, admitted that her husband beat her and then she had an affair. (I admit to complete sympathy with her on this one. Her new husband rocks and the abuse was criminal... still, it was a shock to hear about the whole sequence of events by someone who was supposedly following all the Christian principles that should have resulted in a happy home for her and her husband and their 11 kids...)
    One of our dearest friends in CA revealed that her husband was going to prison for molesting one of their daughters. They were members of our home Bible study group and Johannah was close friends with the molested daughter.
    Rush Limbaugh divorced for the third time and was addicted to prescription drugs. And he thinks drug addicted people should go to jail! I was a regular listener until then.
    An uncountable number of priests are discovered to have molested boys.
And finally:
    Ted Haggard combined the worst of all possible "beastly choices" (according to the evangelical morality police) and had gay sex with a male prostitute while high on crystal meth. My God, does the siren sound any louder? If the Holy Spirit can't help Ted resist those starkly evil temptations, then what the heck is evangelical Christianity good for? It's about all they preach - personal integrity, sexual purity, accountability and moral unimpeachability.
I should add that my father had extra-marital affairs while I was a child which led to my parents' divorce. My original interest in Christianity as a college kid was, in large part, an attempt to join a community of people committed to similar moral ideals so that I would reduce the risk of being left for another woman...

Yeah, as Alanis Morrisette might sing: "Isn't it ironic? Don't ya think?"

Update (2:20 p.m. est): Haggard confesses to congregation that he was in fact guilty of sexual immorality.
"The fact is I am guilty of sexual immorality. And I take responsibility for the entire problem. I am a deceiver and a liar. There's a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I have been warring against it for all of my adult life," he said.


Bilbo said...

Hi Julie,

I can't help questioning what all of this means???..Does this speak to the failures of particular individuals, the power of sex, the institution of marriage, the state of our society, or a combination of everything. Since I am not above reproach on this particular subject I'll listen to what you or others have to say...

Dave said...

Julie, I'm following your comments quite closely as this story unfolds. I'm really disappointed in the meager response from most other Christian bloggers on this topic so far. I've been searching to see what others have written and to me it looks mostly like avoidance and denial so far, which doesn't surprise me - it's a tough reality to face up to. Of course, Haggard is getting shredded from the left - it's easy for people on that side to voice their opinions and vent emotions as well. I'm just wondering how the broader evangelical movement is going to deal with this one.

Your inventory of the personal scandals you've had to live through is so sad. A series of emotional and relations assaults, really. No matter how often one experiences them, I don't imagine they get any easier or less astonishing.

That LA Times article you linked to Haggard's name is good. It offers some background that isn't included in the typical wire report coverage of this story - especially the bit about "professional suicide" engaged in by pastors who find themselves unable to either handle the pressure or step down voluntarily - they do something reckless to bring the charade to an end. Very illuminating bit of insight there.

OK, back to my own blog. I have a lot of ideas going through my head on this subject. Not exactly what I was looking for to get "recharged!" But I guess it worked out like that anyway...!

jim said...

Hi Julie,

You forgot Jimmy Swaggart getting caught hanging out with a prostitue on Airline Drive in New Orleans...

What's troubling in all of this is that these incidents seldom lead to real reflection in the evangelical community about what leads to such hypocrisy. (though, there are some books out there by a few pastors who have sought real redemption.)

At the same time we do have to be honest that these things happen with just as much frequency in liberal protestant churches (believe me I've heard plenty of stories along similar lines in my more recent exposure/history with liberal churches!) The problem in both contexts often boil down to abuse of power and authority.

However what I think is different about the evangelical community is that the church eats its own and then moves on without really asking what is it that leads to such problems in the first place.

My heart goes out to Ted mostly because I don't think he'll be able to honestly look at himself and figure out what's really going on, nor will the community around him allow him to do that.

julieunplugged said...

I left Jimmy Swaggart and Jom and Tammy Faye off my listbecause they are pentecostals and I always thought they were whacked so their failings for me, didn't personally reverberate. Still, of course you are right that they are in that list in terms of how the public views them.

I think the real difference between liberals and conservatives has more to do with what they emphasize as being the goal of the Christian life. Liberals don't tend to promote sexual purity as their chief evidence of being led by the Spirit and leading a spirit-filled life. Conservative Christians do... all the time.

The highest good for evangelicals is being morally superior to others to testify to the transforming power of God which will then lead to witnessing opportunities.

Liberals (as I understand them) see themselves differently... as making a social justice oriented difference as the activity of the Gospel.

What do you think? Do you see it differently?


julieunplugged said...

That should read "Jim" and Tammy Faye. :)

SusansPlace said...

"Power corrupts and absolute power corrups absolutely." Last night was talking to John and the kids about Haggard and other mighty men that have fallen. Interesting that you rarely hear of "mighty" women falling. But I digress...
I wonder if the pressure, and power, of these positions causes these folks to crack a bit. The pressure to be perfect can cause bizarre behaviors in other areas of life. I don't know. My gut feeling is that Christianity really doesn't make much difference in the morality of believers. They may say it does and on the outside it looks like it does but when honest, those moral sins are still there. Discrete viewing of pornography that is then denounced from the pulpit. Patterns are set in people at a very young age and without behaviorial therapy, they are hard to change. Prayers alone rarely change people. If they did, there would be no need for "First Place"(Christina diet program) or any other number of self-help groups. People would just pray and they would be healed or walk away from sin or whatever. I'm 50 and I haven't seen it happen often. Most people that change do so by requesting prayer and then getting outside help. There isn't much help for the pastors. Who wants to keep a pastor, who is suppossed to be leading the flock and above all reproach according to Paul, when he is addicted to pornography or gay or gambling? How can he help me if he cant' help himself. The pastors are breaking under the pressure. That's my 2 cents.


TiaDavidandOurLittleChickens said...

"then what the heck is evangelical Christianity good for?" said it. :P People will always be people so I don't think there is a spirituality out there that can eliminate sin. I do however think that laundry lists like this one point to a deeper problem at the foundational level; they are a symptom of something else. The proof is in the proverbial pudding.

We'll never find deliverance in moral systems or poweful men.

Just my probably-not-too-popular-opinion.

australisa said...

Bilbo said:

<<< I can't help questioning what all of this means???..Does this speak to the failures of particular individuals, the power of sex, the institution of marriage, the state of our society, or a combination of everything. >>>

Do you think that there have been periods of history that were that different than the present in terms of morality? Today we have unprecedented mass communication that enables us to see the stumbles of every prominent figure. That might account for some of this perception.

I think that many more alternatives (divorce, homosexuality) and addictive substances are more readily available at this point in time but I think that has been true at various times in history.

I don't know that things like domestic violence are any worse now. In fact, I think current social pressure actually lessens it compared to times when people didn't think much about a wife being hit once in a while.

Maybe I have a blind spot or am taking your comments in a different direction than you meant. If not, do you see something about today's culture that is more damaged than times past?


jim said...

I think, Julie, I'd tend to agree with you about the difference between liberal/conservative emphasis on purity.

When a pastor violates the bounds (relations with parishioners, a fellow pastor, secretary) in a liberal church the violation is seen as an abuse of power, whereas in a conservative church the violation is one of ual purity.

But regardless of the context in which such violations occur they are no less damaging to the body of Christ.

julieunplugged said...

I agree with you there, Jim.


Bilbo said...

Australisa wrote:

Do you think that there have been periods of history that were that different than the present in terms of morality?

Bilbo: I think there is a "qualitative" difference in the past and present, but don't mean to imply one is better than the other. Personally, I think some things are better, but some things are worse....

Australisa wrote:

Today we have unprecedented mass communication that enables us to see the stumbles of every prominent figure. That might account for some of this perception.

Bilbo: I totally agree...and...would add that we don't have accurate information regarding the past in terms of people's individual behavior. They didn't interview people back then, and than publish the results like they do today...and over the years...some historians have unearthered enough material to suggest folks in the past may not have been as pure or untainted as some people seem to believe.

Australisa wrote:

I don't know that things like domestic violence are any worse now. In fact, I think current social pressure actually lessens it compared to times when people didn't think much about a wife being hit once in a while.

Bilbo: Agreed...and would add that working conditions in this country and individual rights for women and others has improved..

Australisa wrote:

Maybe I have a blind spot or am taking your comments in a different direction than you meant. If not, do you see something about today's culture that is more damaged than times past?

Bilbo: The "potential" for death and destruction come to mind...ala...WWI and WWII...and I think materialism is problematic....but...other things have improved and I'll leave it up to God and others to assert, it they want to, whether our culture is better or worse...

Kansas Bob said...

One of the sad subtle (maybe not-so-subtle) messages of fundamentalism and some flavors of evangelicalism (certainly not all) is the morally superior message that "we are different". Your post points to the fact that we are more alike than we are different. It is sad when anyone violates trust - whether they wear the Christan tag or not.

What makes Haggard different is not so much the visible sins but the hypocrisy that is involved. I think that religion is a weird phenomenom that puts people in positions where they are compelled to be hypocrites. Something inside of them causes them to reject who they really are and forces them to live external lives that are so different than their trues selves.

Fundamentalism really put me in that place of hypocrisy where my whole identity was external. It was only in pain that I began to reject living from the outside and start living from the inside - from my heart.

Russ Noland said...

I've been having an ongoing discussion with a long-time friend about why it seems that those of us who were raised in more conservative church circles seem to actually be more prone to these kinds of activities than most people. Maybe it's the lens through which I view life, of course, but this is just the way it seems to me.

My theory tends to be that it has to do with the whole repression thing. We're just told so many things are wrong that we stuff what are really very natural feelings until they explode all over everyone.

This probably oversimplifies to a degree, so there's more in the mix, no doubt. The whole idea of "getting away with something" can be quite a tempting path for those of us who are in leadership. Someone like Haggard, who has a highly visible life, gets more of a shakedown than a bigger fish in a smaller pond might receive.

I have a list of these folks, too, Julie. I think the most surprising part of your post, though, had to be that Paul Cain was a pretty big deal at some of the churches down here in Texas for quite awhile, too.

Either way, we all have our list of folks who have disappointed us. I think that part of the process of maturing is learning to live with the reality that everyone has feet of clay.

I had a pastor early on in my young adult life who ended up going to jail for stealing a bunch of rare books. Interestingly enough, he used to talk about his need for grace pretty regularly and his standing statement on this was: "There's not a sin in the book that I'm not capable of committing."

While I hated what happened to him, I think I understood where that came from. And, I've taken it to heart...because I know it's true, not just for him, but for all of us...under the right circumstances, at the right time, with the right set of events in motion, I just wonder if there's anything we're not capable of.

Anonymous said...

Julie, although you state that your list is long, it is far from complete. I have come to experience that the longer, stronger, and more powerful a Christian evangelical becomes, "pushing the morality envelope" is just part of the life. There is a rising star in Charlotte, NC who has been publically accused of sexual promiscity.......from a member of his own family! Research the pastor of University Park ( He should be the poster child of how seductive power is for religious leaders who are blindly followed by thousands of followers!

Anonymous said...

Julie; I thought your comments were spot on (regarding your column today). I consider myself an Evangelical and am working on a PhD in Theology precisely because I hope to contribute to some positive reconstruction of American Evangelical theology. There really is a big gap between popular theology (taught every Sunday in Evangelical churches in America) and good academic theology. Within this gap is this Evangelical notion that the Bible is the sole source of Christian theology and that right doctrine will solve most moral problems. Unfortunately for popular Evangelical leaders, neither of those two premises are accurate and (as you have pointed out in your piece) are actually amazingly damaging.

American Evangelicalism really needs a wakeup call theologically. The notion that the Bible is the sole source of wisdom is unfounded and not credible and more progressive theology has been on to this point for hundreds of years. I suggest that Evangelical leaders spend less time 'confronting' moral ills and more time working out their theology via the abundant resources that exist in academic circles. By doing some good theological reconstruction Evangelicals might realize that the 'Kingdom of God,' as preached my Jesus Christ, is not about morality but rather about the wholesale redemption of the temporal world. Perhaps Evangelical should focus on love and grace instead of judgment. That might make a moral fall like Haggard's more comprehensible when they occur! David Worley

julieunplugged said...

Russ, I think you're right when you say this:

My theory tends to be that it has to do with the whole repression thing. We're just told so many things are wrong that we stuff what are really very natural feelings until they explode all over everyone.

I wonder if conservative Christians in particular are just afraid of any kind of passion... They want to bottle it up or re-direct it to God - the safety of the virtual over the material. But ultimately, we all seek love and affirmation from those with skin on.

First anon: will check that link out. Thank you!

Second anon: Kudos on your Ph.D, work. Where are you studying? I'm in my last year of my MA in theology at Xavier University. I loved your tone and interest in bringing academic scholarly research into evangelicalism. I have a similar desire. I may come from a new place theologically, but I share your enthusiasm to see evangelicals become more open to diverse theological contributions to what it means to be Christian.

Fun having new posters here! Thanks all. I was gone today but sure enjoyed reading everyone's comments in full tonight!


jasonk said...

I only just discovered your blog this evening. It is interesting to me that you point out the sins of those around you who have committed sexual sin, and how it shocked you to the core.
If I were to see inside your heart, would I be shocked to the core? I bet I would.
My point is that you are in the unfortunate position of having to work around people who are fallen, imperfect, trying to work out their salvation. They struggle with sin, like everyone else. Your article spotlights a group of people who struggle with something you apparently do not struggle with. Therefore, it is easy for you to gripe about them, or to put it more accurately, gossip about them.
Forgive me for speaking so harshly, I don't even know you, but I have heard the same song and dance from hundreds of people, and my thoughts are thus: who are you to talk about being shocked by the sins of others? Take a look at your own heart. It is pretty shocking. There is a plank in your eye Julie. Deal with it, then come write about others' shocking behavior.

julieunplugged said...

Jason, how do you know that I have not done as you say?


Anonymous said...

Hi Julie,

For some reason, I get the impression that this thing called Christianity to you is somewhat like a club a person joins and takes an oath of perfection. I keep thinking about how all these people have failed, people who call themselves Christians. Hmmmm, think about all the people God chose to memorialize and highlight the human condition with in the Bible....David, Solomon, Moses..etc.....all spiritual failures.....hmmmmm maybe God did this for a reason??? Christianity is about one thing......For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.........."ALL" .....the struggle with sin is perpetual, Gods grace through faith is too......

Jeff Fowler

milton.magness said...

Hello Julie,
Falling into sexual sin is certainly not new. In my practice as a sex addicton therapist, I work with a number of clergy who have found themselves caught in a repeating cycle of sexual sin.

My work comes when there is enough of a crisis so that they seek help. The need to provide help for clergy who are sex addicts is so great that I developed a website just for them:

Anonymous said...

Your comments are valid, Jeff...but you left out one very important word, "forgiveness".

Susan Isaacs said...

hi Julie: I just stumbled upon your blog. I went to a lot of those churches you mentioned. Vineyard, Bel Air Pres, etc. It's not one particular religion or probably group. My friend Pat spent years on the Kripalu commune, and it turned out their guru was embezzling and sleeping around. I think it goes back to that human nature thing: power corrupts. It's not just religion, it's any venue where there's power or influence. It's just pathetic and inexcusable when people who claim some religious authority are the ones doing it. Anyway, I definitely relate to your anger.

Stephanie said...

I just ran across your site as I was looking up Carl Tuttle to see what church he currently leads worship in. What you write here doesn't surprise or shock me. I'm worse than any of these listed here. The shame is that it is only half the story. Are any of these men under church authority? Have they been disciplined properly and restored? I know that Carl has. I'm grateful that gross offenders like us have a savior. If not for Jesus, who identifies with everything we all struggle with, we would all be lost. Can we stop making it about the sinners (which is all of us)? As long as you look to man for righteousness, you will be disappointed. We must, then, only look to Jesus, who, while we were still in our sin, loved us enough to die on the cross. I for one am grateful. And my prayer is that all those on your list would be restored, not only to the one who paid for their sin, but also into fellowship with their brothers and sisters in Christ.

ericdrexil said...

Somebody will stand up for Jesus Christ and refuse evil. Many Somebodies will. Every person who goes after idols is a painful loss. I would rather die than disown my God and my family. I pray that God takes me out of this world before I go to sexual sin or any other idol. People need to work. In comfort and ease we have too much time on our hands. Remember King David should have been out fighting when he decided to enjoy the view from the balcony. I love you folks. God can hold you up. Don't despair.

DeAnne said...

People who preach a standard that is so high its nearly impossible to hold are bound to fail and also many of them are preaching these impossibly high standards because they have something to hide in the first place.

While I don't subscribe to the "Swinger Lifestyle" at least they are not hypocrites, I suggest you will find better luck within a more mainstream and less restrictive/conservative crowd. Pre-marital sex, homosexuaility and affairs still happen, in fact they are quite common but its not so disappointing when it does not happen with someone living a double-life and preaching purity and sancity.

You can be a great person, serve God and humanity without living with unrealistic expectations which sets you up to experience many disillusionments.