Whenever a Christian leader is discovered to have carried on a clandestine affair, a self-assured voice emerges among the gasps and sniggers. “Let us remember,” it says, “that all sin is equally heinous before God. Sexual sin is no different. We are all sinners, and in God’s eyes we are as guilty as our fallen brother or sister.”

There is a logic to that statement. It seems to suggest that if we will accept a leader with a mean streak, or learn to live with a visionary who subordinates accounting procedures to his pet projects, then we can rally round the banner of a sexually fallen leader.

But at least three realities set sexual immorality apart from other sin—and move us to treat it far more seriously when we discover it in the life of a leader.

First, like no other sin, dalliance destroys trust. Before the adultery comes the marriage. A man and woman stand before their community and the official representative of the church and the state. Short of baptismal promises, the marriage vows are the most comprehensive vows a Christian can make. When the dike is breached by adultery, spouse and children can drown in the tide of pain. And the ripples and eddies of hurt reach far beyond the immediate family.

The leader who philanders has broken a trust placed in him by a wide community—trust in his vision, reliability, wisdom, and veracity. And the essence of leadership is that trust. So a leader who violates trust in a fundamental and public manner is ipso facto no longer a leader.

But not only does adultery break a leader, it brands a leader. Acts of lust inflame the imagination. More than any other sin, sexual immorality scripts mental movies in which we can star.

When a leader treats a subordinate ...

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