Heartbreakingly, this isn’t new. Perhaps it is new to you, but it isn’t new to me and it isn’t new to history. And it isn’t exclusive to Christianity.
The bloody wreckage left behind by abusive leaders is smeared across the centuries, in every time period and in every country. Today it continues.
Leadership attributes attract people. Knowledge and education, though oftentimes required and impressive, fade to the periphery of charisma and well-spoken words.
Did we even hear what they said or did we get lost in how they said it?
Did we even see what they did or did we stop at what they said?
Did we even engage our minds to critically think and consider asking a question about either: their words or their actions?
Maybe we did ask a question. If so, how were our questions received? Were our words genuinely considered? Was a valid, well-supported point taken into account and applied in the future? Were apologies offered by leadership as new information was presented? Was the truth valued more than the appearance of having been “right"?
Or were we responded to with a posture of defensiveness? Were we cut down through condescension and wit so quick that we couldn’t keep up?
Were we responded to with anger at our audacity to voice a concern? How dare we respectfully challenge, despite the goal of protecting our beloved leaders. We feel unintelligent and emotionally shut down. The leader is obviously much more adept than us, so we will remain quiet the next time. Though in reality, there won’t be a next time, because we won’t even allow ourselves to consider there could be a question in the first place. We will simply believe and affirm.
Because our leaders could not be wrong...right?
They are too righteous. Never mind that David committed adultery, then had Bathsheba’s husband killed intentionally to cover up his sin. What if he had not humbled himself before the Lord and begged for forgiveness? Even though he did, there were consequences.
They are too close to God. Never mind that the church was built on Peter who had denied Christ three times. What if he had not been convicted of his sin and repented?
Their work is being blessed. Never mind that Rome was incredibly wealthy and seemingly untouchable while martyring the children of God.
They are anointed. First, do we know what this actually means? Second, beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves (Matthew 7:15 ESV).
These scriptural accounts are not irrelevant to our lives! "What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun" (Ecclesiastes 1:9 ESV). We have not evolved beyond biblical relevance. We are fully at risk of drowning in the same waters as those who came before us.
Many who did not understand the devastation of this reality, now do. Nothing grieves me more. My heart aches and my shoulders sag under the weight of another leader who has succeeded in causing immeasurable harm to those we love.
Lord, have mercy. Please redeem the pain of the abused and reverse the damage done to their personhood and to their faith. May they not confuse our sin with who you are, rather may they know the truth of your goodness.
Though this horror isn’t new, we cannot become desensitized to it. Instead, we must become tired of it. Fed up. Unwilling to allow it to happen again. We must become educated on the psychology of leadership and equipped to recognize the yellow and red flags as they present themselves, for inevitably, they will present themselves. Hindsight cannot continue to offer our only clarity.
We can learn from our failures and the failures around us. We can re-train ourselves to trust in a healthy way, a way that not only allows for scrutiny, but encourages and demands scrutiny. We are responsible.
And we can stop this.
Trust does not negate questioning, love does not negate accountability, and leadership does not negate humanity.
Let us commit to a trust without harm.