The news rumbled like an earthquake through evangelical circles. Tom White, the 64-year-old director of religious-persecution group Voice of The Martyrs (V.O.M.), had committed suicide after allegations that he'd molested a 10-year-old girl. For those of us who have no connection to the case or the ministry, the sad news may have been, say, a 4.0 on a spiritual Richter scale - enough to rattle a few pictures and shift our routines for a moment or two. I wonder what number on the spiritual Richter scale the little girl and her family would give to this news.
There is a predictable arc to the way many Christians talk among ourselves about high-profile cases of children victimized by high-profile spiritual leaders. We recoil in shock as the revelations of the leader's misconduct unfolds, while simultaneously reminding ourselves of the size of his organization and the impact of his ministry has had on congregation, community and world. (In most cases, it is a "he" we're discussing.) Days or weeks later, we may engage in a wistful airing of previously unvoiced suspicions: "He was always a little too friendly to the junior high kids, but I never felt like I could say anything because of his position." The third act comes as those loyal to the church or organization heroically proclaim that the message of the gospel will go on.
A fallen leader has never stopped the progress of the gospel, and never will. But I do not believe we are proclaiming the gospel well when we do not put priority on first things: namely, the victim and his or her family.
A few years ago, the suicide of a popular youth pastor at a megachurch made headlines in our Wisconsin community. Like White, the pastor took his own life rather than face legal charges that ...1
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