Wednesday, September 2, 2015
Spoiler Sex and Churchy Grace
As if to validate my personal disillusionment with America's vast evangelical industrial complex, at least two heavy-hitters within celebrity Christianity are making waves for our religious subculture this week.
The first was R.C. Sproul, Jr., who confessed to having an Ashley Madison account, and has been suspended from Ligonier Ministries for a year as punishment.
The second is Tullian Tchividjian, the adulterous former pastor at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, who on the heels of being defrocked by his denomination, has accepted a new position at another Presbyterian church in Florida.
Granted, he won't be the senior pastor for his new congregation. Still, the title of Tchividjian's job - "Director of Ministry Development" - reeks of hasty improvisation on the part of his new religious employer. Apparently, he's got friends in high places who figure Tchividjian's notoriety and good looks can somehow help the church, rather than create an illusion that notoriety and good looks are worth more than snubbing one's own denomination.
After all, isn't "ministry development" a task to be directed by all church leaders? It would have been more credible for Tchividjian's new employer to simply admit his new job is "Something We're Creating On the Fly So We Can Instantly Elevate the Cool Quotient of Our Staff."
For his part, Sproul insists that while he indeed created an account at Ashley Madison, the recently-hacked "have an affair" website, he never actually met any women from the site, either in cyberspace or in person. And frankly, considering some of the sexual antics within which other pastors have been caught, simply creating an account at a pro-adultery website seems to pale in comparison. Yes, it's still wrong, but how many other sins do pastors get away with without even a slap on the wrist?
Besides, who decided that being suspended from working for his father's ministry for one year was just about adequate in terms of punishment? Wouldn't one month have sufficed? Or would two years be more appropriate? Or was one year about the length of time in which Sproul could realistically maintain his standard of living without receiving a steady paycheck?
And how many evangelicals created accounts on Ashley Madison using pseudonyms and fake e-mail accounts? Perhaps Sproul's Achilles Heel is his honesty; honesty for actually using his real name, while more savvy evangelicals have been far more subtle and discrete? Is the lesson here not to use your true identity if you're going to surf sites like Ashley Madison?
Oh, the contrasts between Sproul's buttoned-down contriteness and the snowballing audacity of Tchividjian's glittery, sexy saga! The tall, tanned, and open-collared grandson of Billy Graham says his wife had an affair, then he had an affair after learning of hers, and that on the road to redemption, he can file for divorce and flaunt his denomination's strictures simply because he can. He's a surfer dude and a cool South Florida hipster. He's worth all the second chances anybody wants to give him, simply from his charisma, looks, and religious pedigree.
Repentance sure looks a whole lot different in the Florida sunshine when you're a hunky spiritual specimen like Tchividjian. They must wear extra-dark sunglasses there.
Meanwhile, the America living outside of our vast evangelical industrial complex looks on, bewildered at how we can denounce gay marriage yet fritter away our own leaderships' marriage foibles. On the one hand, Sproul's punishment could be considered overkill, especially since he never used his account. Yet on the other hand, Tchividjian gets what amounts to a free pass by another church in his own denomination because he's such an admired celebrity. And despite the fact that he actually, actively, and admittedly cheated on his wife.
Interestingly enough, both Sproul and Tchividjian preach the supernatural benefits of God's grace. At least God's grace is perfect, however. The same cannot be said for the type of grace dispensed by our vast evangelical industrial complex.