I was reflecting recently on the pastors I’ve known who’ve fallen over the years, and the “sense of betrayal” that attends such an event. (And no, before anybody asks, this is not because another one has bitten the dust. Just looking back and ruminating.)
“Sense of betrayal” is in scare quotes above for a reason. Granted that the man failed to live up to the obligations of his office — but let’s be honest, how much of this “sense of betrayal” was real, honest, personal betrayal? Most of these people who feel so betrayed didn’t know his strengths and weaknesses, his triumphs and his temptations. They didn’t know him to be an excellent human being, and then find themselves horrified that he had hidden some dark secret from them. They didn’t know him at all. To them, he was a position, not a person; he was trained to maintain professional distance, and they were frankly more comfortable with him at arm’s length. They didn’t know the man, and they didn’t want to.
So the “sense of betrayal” in this case isn’t at all the same thing as, say, a wife experiences when she discovers her husband has had an affair. This is not the shock of discovering that a person you know turns out to have a side you didn’t know. This is the shock of discovering that your pastor is a person at all. It is not the pain that comes from an unfaithful friend, but the scandal that attends a toppling idol.
And this is why, in some circles of the church, they simply can’t restore a fallen minister. It isn’t that they could not do the hard work of coming to know the whole man in his brokenness and shame, ministering Christ’s healing grace to him, and bringing him back to full expression of the gifts and calling that God has irrevocably given him. The fall of a minister is a tragedy, a disaster. But it happens because of sin. I don’t want to trivialize it at all, but it’s not some mysterious and insoluble malady — it’s just sin. Jesus died for it. We’re the church, for crying out loud, the very Body of Christ, whose body was broken and blood was shed to reconcile the entire creation to God. Restoration is what we do. In heaven, we all will be perfectly restored, and “Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven,” right? These people pray it — why can’t they abide the thought of God answering their prayers?
Because they never conceived of their pastor as a fallen human being who serves God imperfectly in the first place. They can handle the thought that their fallen former minister might some day serve God imperfectly. What they can’t do is restore the illusion that this particular man can’t fall, and in those circles, that’s a basic qualification for holding the job — as is complicity with the illusion. And then we wonder why so many of them fall.
Here lies a toppled god
His fall was not a small one.
We did but build his pedestal
A narrow and a tall one.
The above theological light verse is a Tleilaxu epigram from Frank Herbert’s Dune Messiah.