Note: Today's essay may simply seem like another in a series of Christian-bashing missives, but to be fair, yesterday's critique of Chuck Colson's editorial was to support his goal by endorsing a better battle plan. Today's essay is, unfortunately, your run-of-the-mill televangelist bashing, for which, I must admit, it's hard for me to muster any apologies...
Sad to say, but it's hardly a scandal anymore when a flashy televangelist gets caught with his pants down. Instead of reacting to the news in disbelief, we ask "what took so long?"
Well, at least I do, but then, I'm more cynical than most. So when word got out that Marcus Lamb, founder of the Daystar religious broadcasting network, had an affair several years ago and has tried to keep it quiet all this time, I think I rolled over in my bed and slapped the snooze button.
District Attorney Says No Shake-Down Took Place
Indeed, the way this story has been treated in the press, the "news" isn't that he had an affair, but how he kept it hidden, how he got the woman to move out of state, and why he and his wife never bothered to tell their television audience. This ambivalence about Lamb's violation of his marriage covenant speaks more to the sad state of televangelism in the United States than anything else.
Lamb and his wife, Joni, have rationalized away their cover-up of the affair by saying it was a private family matter they wanted to resolve without public scrutiny. Well, I hope they've gotten everything resolved by now, because lawyers have begun crawling all over things.
Last week, the Lambs went on their daytime show to announce his past affair, claiming three people were extorting them for millions in hush money. As it turns out, the Lambs, apparently true to their sensationalistic Pentecostal leanings, were making more of the "threats" than was true.
A lawyer for at least one former employee did notify the Lambs that his client was suing them over the trauma she had endured for keeping his affair secret. And yes, she's suing the Lambs for millions of dollars. But he claims to have in no way threatened to go to the media with the story if they didn't pay up. It was a court case, after all, not a back-room shake-down. Instead, the Lambs panicked and, realizing they'd made a big mistake by not coming clean with their viewers years ago, decided to try and deflect some of the attention off of themselves and onto their former employees.
How's that for a slimeball husband who's had an affair: blame your employees for having to tell the truth!
They're Both Trying to Spin Their Way Out of It
Joni Lamb hasn't exactly been a saint through all of this either. While she can hardly be blamed for her husband's affair, she apparently learned of it from the employee whose lawyer informed Daystar of the lawsuit. Although initially thankful to the employee, by outing her as an extortionist, Joni is hardly taking the high road in this situation. In fact, by her attitude and the way she's phrased her perspective on her husband's indiscretion, she seems more devoted to preserving their cash cow of a television empire.
Which is what this all comes down to, doesn't it?
If their TV ministry truly engaged with their virtual flock, wouldn't Marcus have felt enough remorse to confess to them what he'd done against his wife and God? Why didn't other executives at Daystar hold him accountable and insist on a sabbatical until counseling and reconciliation with his wife had been completed? This is standard procedure in other ministries - along with, on occasion, dismissal and replacement.
Instead, the Lambs posted the following on their website:
"After Joni told her husband the Lord convinced her he was worth fighting for, together they submitted to an intense process of repentance, forgiveness, reconciliation and restoration through pastoral counseling and personal accountability under the leadership of an expanded church-based spiritual authority team."
What is "an expanded church-based spiritual authority team?" And why didn't this team consider the people who watch the Lamb's television ministry worth including in this reconciliation? Granted, the actual sexual component of an extra-marital affair affect the husband and wife the most. But if you're a preacher of the Gospel with a television ministry, don't you owe your congregation some sort of apology? Do you wait until you fear being exposed before you try and backtrack publicly?
And if it was, of all people, your employees who learned about the affair and told your wife, wouldn't you - and your wife! - want to lavish some Biblical therapy on them to help them sort through what has happened? After all, if they're the dedicated employees you'd want to have working for a TV ministry, they would be heartbroken, disillusioned, and angry. Why didn't the Lambs have pity for the people who found themselves caught in the middle? From all outward appearances, haven't they just concentrated on themselves?
All of This is Getting Old
Maybe they're the Gospel charlatans many televangelist critics have supposed them to be. Maybe because they have a horribly shallow faith that can't see beyond money and ratings? Maybe because they're so myopic and driven that one's personal reputation comes before treating one's employees fairly and with grace after they're the ones who learn of your affair?
Defenders of the Lambs might accuse me of charging into this story like a bull in a China shop. I don't know enough of the facts to render a judgment. This is still a private matter that we have no business interfering with.
To which I retort with an unequivocal: Balderdash! God holds ministers of His Gospel to a high standard, and fellow believers have the right to expect sin to be dealt with in accordance with those high standards. Notice, I didn't say we have the right to expect ministers to be perfect. Some people may have expected the Lambs to be saints, and I'm not blaming them because they're not. But believers do have the right to not be deceived by those who lead us.
Of course, the Lambs will be in court soon, explaining away how and why they did what they did - to each other, and their employees. And it will all become public record.
Oddly enough, if they had done the right thing - even after Marcus's unfaithfulness, they would probably have emerged from this mess with a lot more privacy than they're going to be left with now.
Which is too bad for all of us.