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No sexual misconduct. No financial impropriety. No problem, right?

Not so fast.

For the second time in the last year and a half, a prominent evangelical leader has taken a highly publicized leave of absence while confessing to the sin of pride and character flaws.

C. J. Mahaney, president of Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM), a national network of nearly 100 church plants, cited "various expressions of pride, unentreatability, deceit, sinful judgment and hypocrisy" in a July 6 statement explaining his indefinite leave.

In March 2010, Bethlehem Baptist Church pastor John Piper embarked on an eight-month leave, saying his soul, marriage, family, and ministry pattern needed "a reality check from the Holy Spirit."

"My sense is that many of the celebrity religious leaders are well aware of and intentionally attempt to guard themselves against sexual and financial temptations," said Scott Thumma, a Hartford Seminary sociologist who studies megachurches. "But they forget that pride comes before a fall."

In the case of a pastor such as Mahaney, a leader in a neo-Reformed movement, such a downfall might be even more probable, Thumma said.

"I could imagine neo-Reformed preachers and theologians emphasizing a theology that stresses election and predestination and implies a 'seriousness' about rigorous theological contemplation, leading to an attitude of religious superiority that would suppress abuse of sex and money but compound a sense of pride and elitism," Thumma said. "However, it is to the credit of C. J., John Piper, and others to recognize this and remove themselves—or be willing to be removed—for a time of reflection and spiritual introspection." ...

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