When President Trump nominated a number of prominent evangelicals to lead various departments of the federal government following his inauguration, I viewed it as a tremendous opportunity. These men and women could demonstrate to the nation that those who follow Jesus govern much differently than those driven by other motivations. Their leadership would be marked by humility, diligence, and most of all integrity. Scandals that rocked prior administrations would not surface at agencies led by those committed to Christ.
Sadly, some of these ‘Christian’ leaders betrayed the trust of the American people. Even worse, their behavior dishonored the Lord. Not only did they fail to establish a high-water mark in government ethics and maintain the highest standards of integrity, they left a trail of corruption and financial malfeasance in their wake.
Federal officials are investigating one of these men for violating anti-corruption laws surrounding efforts to leverage his government position for personal gain, using public funds for personal travel (in first-class no less), having employees perform personal tasks, and demanding a personal security team that cost millions of dollars.
Another cabinet official resigned after reports revealed he regularly traveled on private charter and military jets at taxpayer expense rather than travel on commercial flights that would have saved nearly a million dollars. Compounding his graft was the hypocrisy behind it. As a congressman he regularly railed against government waste and demanded more accountability from profligate bureaucrats.
Of course, senior Trump officials aren’t the only Christian politicians who have besmirched the name of Jesus in recent years. It also includes multiple pro-life congressmen who, despite their public policy positions, insisted their mistresses obtain an abortion after they became pregnant. In contrast to the conservative political platforms these men supported – predicated on family values and Christian principles – they pursued extra-marital relationships and then demanded the murder of a life they helped create. Such hypocrisy nauseates those already cynical of Christianity.
What’s more, each of these officials denied all wrongdoing, insisting he had crossed no criminal, ethical, or spiritual lines. Perhaps that’s not surprising. The ‘Christian’ motivated by self-interest and personal gratification rarely cares about confessing his sin and repenting.
Sadly, the tarnishing of Christianity isn’t limited to prominent and powerful people. It includes celebrated churches and popular pastors as well. For example, last August one of Houston’s mega-churches refused to open its facilities to those left homeless from the historical flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey. Despite the massive size of the sanctuary (which seats nearly 17,000) and an enormous church campus, the pastor ordered the doors locked. Apparently there was no room in the inn for those in desperate need of compassion.
It was an act of incomprehensible selfishness. How could a pastor worth upwards of $40 million (and who owns multiple homes including a $10 million estate) and a church that spent nearly $100 million on renovations turn away the needy from its doors? The response stands in stark contrast to Jesus’ expectations for His followers, as illustrated in the parable of the Good Samaritan.
The pastor’s explanation merely compounded the problem. He insisted the church was inaccessible to outsiders because of flooding in and around its property. When photographs surfaced online refuting that claim, he quickly backtracked and opened the church doors.
But the damage was done. In the midst of one of the worst natural disasters in America’s history, the nation watched a prominent evangelical church and its pastor model behavior marked by greed, selfishness, and dishonesty instead of generosity, sacrifice, and integrity. What it learned was that the Church too often reflects the values of the world instead of the teachings of Christ.
More recently a highly esteemed evangelical pastor at a renowned suburban Illinois church resigned amid reports that he met in private with female leaders and congregants at hotels, in his summer home, on his yacht, and inside his private jet. He claimed that nothing inappropriate happened with these women; his actions simply reflected bad judgment. But according to the allegations of a half dozen women it wasn’t for lack of trying on his part that nothing happened.
That one of the nation’s most respected evangelical pastors could have a pattern of pursuing women that goes back decades is disturbing enough. But at least church leadership eventually intervened and secured his immediate resignation. They recognized that the pastor’s behavior violated biblical standards of holiness and purity. They understood that keeping him on staff would sully the reputation of the church and dishonor Christ.
What makes this story even more alarming, however, is that these same church elders found no issue with the pastor owning a second home on the lake, a yacht, and a personal jet. It never occurred to them that such ownership constituted a troubling misunderstanding of biblical stewardship and revealed an unbridled love for worldly possessions. (Click here for a detailed discussion on stewardship). Their indifference to the greed and selfishness evidenced by such misuse of the Lord’s resources signaled an astonishing message to society: Evangelicals believe such behavior is not sinful. In fact, it is to be celebrated as a sign of God’s blessing. God gives some Christians (including pastors) exorbitant sums of money to lavish themselves with luxuries, while other believers suffer in extreme poverty.
Unfortunately, these are not isolated or infrequent incidents; they simply reflect the most extreme and egregious examples of a dangerous condition gripping the heart of the Church. American Christianity increasingly ignores the growing greed, selfishness, materialism, and covetousness that has taken root and is flourishing in thousands of churches across the country, especially inside evangelical congregations. American Christians increasingly exhibit the same insatiable appetite for worldly treasure, power, and popularity desired by society as a whole.
What we fail to realize is that such behavior is more than a minor blemish on the Christian community. It has fully disfigured the body of Christ. Our unabashed embrace of this world is an affront to Jesus and mirrors the idolatry practiced by Israel in the Old Testament.
It ignores Jesus’ repeated statements on the subject and His numerous warnings to avoid pursuing the things of this world, and it reveals a willful and rebellious rejection of Scripture. Worse, it signifies a willful and rebellious rejection of Jesus Christ.
How could American Christianity – especially evangelicalism with its emphasis on orthodox doctrine, a personal relationship with Christ, and salvation by grace – enter into such an adulterous relationship with the world?
Obviously, it didn’t happen over night. Like most adulterous relationships, it happened over time. Initially, Christians and the Church simply flirted with the world. Over time that seemingly innocuous relationship grew to include secret kisses, which then evolved into heavy petting, and eventually morphed into full-blown adultery. Of course, like most adulterers the Church attempts to maintain the appearance of a healthy marriage with its betrothed (Jesus) and tries to hide its clandestine affair with the world.
Oddly, it largely succeeds in keeping its adultery hidden in plain sight (though it’s glaringly obvious to independent observers), because an overwhelming number of American Christians have bought into this grotesque expression of faith, ignoring Jesus admonition that “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and riches.” (Matthew 6:24, NLT).
It continues to thrive and spread throughout the Church in part because pastors are unwilling to confront this issue with their congregations since their lives and lifestyles evidence the same adulterous relationship with the world. This pattern of adulterous behavior continues to escalate in intensity and frequency among churchgoers because they have no interest in learning the truth. Of such people Paul says, “They follow their own desires and look for teachers who tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They reject truth and chase myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
This ongoing and blossoming affair does more than discredit the name of Christ and undermine the mission of the church; it consigns millions of churchgoers and would-be believers to eternal darkness by sanctioning an abominable sin and selling the souls of parishioners in exchange for this world’s momentary pleasures.
So what’s the solution? How does the Church exit this adulterous affair and renew its commitment to Christ? How does American Christianity return to its first love and extinguish its self-destructive love for the world?
Ideally, God sends a few prophets to preach a message of repentance and burdens thousands of prayer warriors to pray for national revival under the leadership of the Holy Spirit.
If this fails to galvanize the Church and Christian community to return to the Lord, then it’s likely God will intervene by removing the object of our affections from our lives: our prosperity, comfort, and security.
I hope and pray we quickly and wholeheartedly turn back to Him before it comes to that. Or worse, it becomes too late.