Hurt By Christian Leaders?
This is a letter received from Dr. James C. Dobson, Ph.D
President of Focus on the Family
P.O. Box 500, Arcadia, Ca 91006
I'm sure many of you share my concern and dismay over the recent
developments which have rocked the Christian community and threatened its
credibility. Not in my lifetime do I remember such revelation and conflict as
have occurred in the last few weeks, and the worst may be yet to come. Two
stories, especially, have caught the press, and even moved the Iran-contra
affair off the front page.
First, Oral Roberts announced to his supporters that God planned to
"take [him] home" if he didn't raise $8 million by March 31. Many of us
flinched, wondering what kind of a God would kill a loyal servant for the
failure or disobedience of his television viewers. Please understand that my
purpose here is not to criticize Oral Roberts, but rather to express concern
over the way the event is being PERCEIVED by the non-Christian public. Believe
me, I have evidence of their scorn.
Shirley and I received a letter a few weeks ago from a woman who was
very upset by the Roberts controversy. She sent me a news clipping of the
story and then vented her wrath on us. We were blamed for holding a "tin cup"
out to the public and living off the contributions of exploited people. The
letter was painful to read, even though Shirley and I have never taken a dime
of salary from Focus on the Family in its ten-year history. That is but one
example of how disillusionment generalizes from one person or one ministry to
On the heels of the Roberts episode came the shocking admission of an
adulterous affair by PTL Club President Jim Bakker and possible extortion
payments to keep it quiet. Jim and Tammy Bakker resigned in a swirl of
controversy, and Jimmy Swaggart entered the fray by bringing additional
charges. Then came the news media--Ted Koppel, Larry King, Dan Rather, Peter
Jennings, and Tom Brokaw. Johnny Carson aimed his monologue at the Bakkers
and a reporter observed, tongue in cheek, that we had lived through Watergate,
Irangate, and now Pearlygate.
Our hearts are grieved by these tragic developments. Not only do we
regret what the Bakkers and the Swaggarts are experiencing personally, but we
are especially concerned for the multitudes of people around the world whose
faith may have been weakened by these revelations. In their eyes, another
Christian leader has fallen. A proclaimer of the Word has shown himself to be
flawed like everyone else. And now, clergymen are hurling public accusations
back and forth and threatening to sue one another. I can almost hear the
disillusioned believers asking themselves, "Is this Christian way of life
really valid? Is anyone living up to its standard? Or is it all a cruel
If you have asked those questions in the past few weeks, or if you have
been hurt or rejected by an uncaring pastor or hypercritical church, I would
like the privilege of expressing some thoughts that might be helpful. First,
what is so new about Christian leaders who fall victim to the ravages of sin?
Didn't the majority of the great patriarchs of the Old Testament prove to be
just as fallible? Adam and Aaron and Samson and Saul and Solomon revealed
their weaknesses. David himself, being uniquely ordained and loved by God,
killed Uriah so he could conceal his infidelity with Uriah's wife. As for
hypocrisy in the New Testament church, Ananias and Saphira blatantly lied to
their fellowship about money and paid the penalty of death for their folly.
Certainly, sin is not a new phenomenon in the church, nor should it weaken our
faith when it occurs. After all, our confidence is not in men or women, but
in the Holy One of Israel who is the only All-Wise and Perfect God. Only He
is worthy of our trust.
I am reminded of the Pharisee who asked Jesus a question, calling Him
"Good Master." Before responding, Jesus commented on the way He was
addressed, "Why do you call me good? There is none good but God." By this
admonition, Jesus was telling us not to put our eyes on our fellowman--even
those who have been exalted in positions of respect. This is not to say that
we should disregard the authority of godly leaders, but rather that our faith
should not depend on the goodness of professing Christians. To lean too
heavily on another person, regardless of how committed he or she seems, is to
set ourselves up for disappointment. I have witnessed that disillusionment
occur time after time.
Let me say with strong conviction that the truth of the Gospel does not
rise or fall with human experience. The message of Scripture would still be
valid if every person on the face of the earth abandoned its ideals. In
Noah's day, only one family out of millions remained devout and obedient. Lot
was equally outnumbered in the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Yet the eternal
Word of God has continued unaltered down to this moment, and it will persevere
even when the world is history.
Speaking personally, now, I have thought about these issues for many
years. In fact, my greatest fear has been that I would do something to hurt
the cause of Christ. Some of you have heard me share an experience that
occurred in 1976 in which the Lord spoke very clearly to me. I was a featured
speaker at the Christian Booksellers Convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey,
and arrived a day or two early to capture the spirit of the event. I'll never
forget walking down the aisles where new materials were being displayed and
seeing my picture and my books prominently arranged in various places. At a
precise moment in time, I seemed to hear the inaudible voice of God speaking
directly to me. This is what He said as expressed in my own words: "Jim,
look around you. I have chosen for reasons that you don't understand to make
you visible and influential with my people. And in that sense, I am preparing
to make the work of my Kingdom vulnerable to you. That's why I'm telling you
now to be careful. Think before you act. Hold a tighter reign on your tongue
and on your thought life than ever before. When your natural impulse is to
become angry or vindictive, resist the temptation as much as possible. And
keep your life free of willful and deliberate sin. You will soon be in a
position to hurt my people. See that it doesn't happen!"
How I pray that I will remain faithful to that charge! I would rather
have never been born than to cause others to reject the plan of salvation and
the Christ who gave His life for them. More than any other purpose in living,
I am determined to fight a good fight, finish the course, and keep the faith.
Nevertheless, I ask you to pray that the Lord will help me fulfill that
calling. I, too, am riddled with imperfection and could fall victim to
Satan's temptations. I do not believe I am vulnerable to the sin of
infidelity, because my needs for love and companionship are met so beautifully
by Shirley. But there are other dangers, perhaps emanating from weaknesses of
which I am not even aware. What I'm trying to say is this: Don't put your
trust in me, either! I will do my best not to disappoint you, and my only
desire is to serve you and your family. But remember that there is none good
but God. Keep your eyes on Him, only.
Here is one final thought that I must express while I am reflecting on
these critical issues. I have tried to say that EVERY man and woman is
vulnerable to sin at some point. When the conditions are right, each of us is
capable of bringing embarrassment and reproach to the cause of Christ. "Satan
is like a roaring lion, seeking whom he might devour" (I Peter 5:8). This
satanic pressure and our human vulnerability to it poses a vitally important
question to Christian leaders: How can we protect the reputation of the Gospel
in such insecure hands?!
I can't describe how strongly I feel about this question and what I
believe to be its only answer: WE MUST NOT LEAVE THE REPUTATION OF THE
KINGDOM IN THE HANDS OF ANYONE WHO LACKS STRICT ACCOUNTABILITY TO ASSOCIATES
WHO CAN HELP KEEP HIM ON THE PATH. In the highly visible and often criticized
arena of finances, for example, a Christian organization was formed in 1979 to
administer that kind of oversight. It is called the Evangelical Council for
Financial Accountability (ECFA), and was established to provide strict
guidelines and requirements for ministries that join voluntarily. Among other
things, to belong to ECFA it is necessary to (1) have a functioning board of
directors that is independent of staff and family; (2) conduct an annual audit
of books by certified public accountants; (3) provide a full disclosure of all
financial details to anyone who requests it; and (4) remain within tight
guidelines in fund-raising efforts. ECFA is a wonderful idea, providing
accountability and stability where there could otherwise be enormous money and
power held privately by mere mortals.
I am pleased to say that Focus on the Family has been a member in go
standing of ECFA for years. We are grateful for the accountability that we
feel to it and to our strong and independent board of directors. Several
times per year, these men and women who serve on our Board ask me to account
for every dollar contributed to Focus. Furthermore, a board audit committee
monitors expenditures of funds month by month. These men and women also have
the courage to confront me if they feel I am drifting one way or another. I
have asked them to provide this oversight responsibility and they consider it
their Christian duty to perform it.
I am pleased to say that many Christian ministries have taken similar
steps to protect themselves against wrongdoing. ECFA now has 341 members;
unfortunately, many large ministries do not belong, including those involved
in the present conflict. I'm not sure why that is true. I believe that any
ministry which chooses to remain autonomous is making a serious mistake even
if the highest integrity has prevailed to this moment. EVERYONE needs to
report to SOMEONE. The dangers of power are simply too great to be held in
independent hands. It is at least possible that the recent embarrassing
events would not have occurred if the proper accountability had been
maintained. I pray that this painful experience will produce a greater
appreciation for independent boards of directors and accountability to the
Christian community at large. It is long overdue.
These are my thoughts for this month. I would welcome yours in return.
Our highest accountability here at Focus on the Family is to God and then to
YOU, our loyal friends and supporters. We listen when you talk. We respond
when you are displeased. Even the lady who sent the "tin cup" letter received
a courteous reply. Her opinion was important for us to hear. We consider your
trust to be our most priceless gift from the Lord, and I pledge to you that I
will never DELIBERATELY betray the cause of Christ.
Pray for us, won't you? And if you choose to continue supporting the
work of this ministry, that would be deeply appreciated. April is one of the
months when we have experienced deficits in the past, perhaps because of
federal and state taxes. But with your help, we will continue and pursue the
exciting projects and ministries God has laid before us.
Pray ÿalso for Jim and Tammy Bakker, ÿJimmy Swaggart, ÿÿOral
Roberts, ÿÿJerry Falwell and all leaders of ÿChristian ÿmovements
today. ÿÿWe may APPEAR to have no needs, ÿbut we are made of the
same imperfect stuff as the rest of humanity. ÿOnly the Lord can
keep up from falling.
James C. Dobson, Ph.D
That was the end of the letter, with the exception of a list of the
members of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability. The address
for the ECFA, in case you would like a free member report is:
P.O. Box 17511
Washington, DC 20041
Index of Articles of Interest Home
1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | 28 | 29 | 30 | 31 | 32 | 33 | 34 | 35 | 36 | 37 | 38 | 39 | 40 | 41 | 42 | 43 | 44 | 45 | 46 | 47 | 48 | 49 | 50 | 51 | 52 | 53 | 54 | 55 | 56 | 57 | 58 | 59 | 60 | 61 | 62 | 63 | 64 | 65 | 66 | 67 | 68 | 69 | 70 | 71 | 72 | 73 | 74 | 75 | 76 | 77 | 78 | 79 | 80 | 81 | 82 | 83 | 84 | 85 | 86 | 87 | 88 | 89 | 90 | 91 | 92 | 93 | 94 | 95 | 96 | 97 | 98 | 99 | 100 | 101 | 102 | 103 | 104 | 105 | 106 | 107 | 108 | 109 | 110 | 111 | 112 | 113 | 114 | 115 | 116 | 117 | 118 | 119 | 120 | 121 | 122 | 123 | 124 | 125 | 126 | 127 | 128 | 129 | 130 | 131 | 132 | 133 | 135 | 136 | 137 | 138 | 139 | 140 | 141 | 142 | 143 | 144 | 145 | 146 | 147 | 148 | 149 | 150 | 151 | 152 | 153 | 154 | 155 | 156 | 157 | 158 | 159 | 160 | 161 | 162 | 163 | 164 | 165 | 166 | 167 | 168 | 169 | 170 | 171 | 172 | 173 | 174 | 175 | 176 | 177 | 178 | 179 | 180 | 181 | 182 | 183 | 184 | 185 | 186 | 187 | 188 | 189 | 190 | 191 | 192 | 193 | 194 | 195 | 196 | 197 | 198 | 199 | 200 | 201 | 202 | 203 | 204 | 205 | 206 | 207 | 208 | 209 | 210 | 211 | 212 | 213 | 214 | 215 | 217 | 218 | 219 | 220 | 221 | 222 | 223 | 224 | 225 | 226 | 227 | 228 | 229 | 230 | 231 | 232 | 233 | 235 | 236 | 237 | 238 | 239 | 240 | 241 | 242 | 243 | 244 | 245 | 246 | 247 | 248 | 249 | 250 | 251 | 252 | 253 | 254 | 255 | 256 | 257 | 258 | 259 | 260 | 261 | 262 | 263 | 264 | 265 | 266 | 267 | 268 | 269 | 270 | 271 | 272 | 273 | 274 | 275 | 276 | 277 | 278 | 279 | 280 | 281 | 282 | 283 | 284 | 285 | 286 | 287 | 288 | 289 | 290 | 291 | 292 | 293 | 294 | 295 | 296 | 297 | 298 | 299 | 300 | 301 | 302 | 303 | 304 | 305 | 306 | 307 | 308 | 309 | 310 | 311 | 312 | 313 | 314 | 315 | 317 | 318 | 319 | 320 | 321 | 322 | 323 | 324 | 325 | 326 | 327 | 328 | 329 | 330 | 331 | 332 | 333