Two Cautionary Tales of Sexual Misconduct

In 2022 two events occurred that should serve as a stark reminder to preachers everywhere. The first was the Hillsong megachurch leadership implosion. Hillsong first came under public scrutiny in 2020 after then-Hillsong New York City pastor Carl Lentz was fired for “leadership issues and breaches of trust, plus a recent revelation of moral failures”.

Lentz was accused of having a toxic and manipulative leadership style. He was also accused of sexual misconduct, which involved three alleged affairs, the receipt of suspicious massages and exposure of himself to his housekeeper on three occasions. Since Lentz’s misconduct came to light, several other Hillsong pastors were also found to have behaved in ungodly ways.

Hillsong was also was rocked by its founder Brian Houston’s resignation in March 2022 from his role as Hillsong’s Global Senior Pastor. His resignation came after it was confirmed by the Hillsong board that Houston had engaged in inappropriate behavior with two women.

Houston was accused of sending “inappropriate” text messages to a former Hillsong staffer, and then in a separate incident, Houston reportedly spent 40 minutes inside another woman’s hotel room after losing his room key during Hillsong’s annual conference. At the time, Houston was drunk and had consumed anti-anxiety medication beyond the prescribed dose. According to Houston and the woman, no sexual activity took place.

Prior to the misconduct revelation, Houston had stepped down from his duties as senior pastor in January to focus on legal charges he was facing for allegedly concealing his father’s sexual abuse of children. In the wake of these allegations, several churches have decided to split ways with the church group.

The second occurred in May 2022. Guideposts Solutions, a third-party investigative group, released a report into sexual abuse by leaders within the Southern Baptist denomination. The report found that many SBC leaders worked to stop lawsuits against potentially abusive pastors and responded to accusations of abuse with “resistance, stonewalling, and even outright hostility”.

“For almost two decades, survivors of abuse and other concerned Southern Baptists have been contacting the Southern Baptist Convention (“SBC”) Executive Committee (“E.C.”) to report child molesters and other abusers who were in the pulpit or employed as church staff. They made phone calls, mailed letters, sent emails, appeared at SBC and E.C. meetings, held rallies, and contacted the press … only to be met, time and time again, with resistance, stonewalling, and even outright hostility from some within the E.C.”, the report said. “Behind the curtain, the lawyers were advising to say nothing and do nothing, even when the callers were identifying predators still in SBC pulpits”, the report added.

One of the most notable people accused of abuse in the report was former SBC President Johnny Hunt. The report alleged that while Hunt was the president of the SBC, he forced a sexual encounter with a pastor’s wife in 2010. Hunt served as the president of the SBC from 2008 to 2010.

Initially, Hunt denied the report, saying he “never abused anybody”. He then released an updated statement noting that he had “allowed himself to get too close to a compromising situation”. “It happened when she invited me into her vacation condo for a conversation. Against my better judgment — I chose to go”. Guidepost said Hunt “groomed” the woman, the wife of another SBC pastor and decades younger than Hunt. The group also said Hunt made inappropriate comments about her and kissed her on the forehead.

During their seven-month investigation, Guidepost also discovered that the E.C.’s former vice president and general counsel, D. August Boto, and former SBC spokesman Roger Oldham both kept their own private lists of abusive pastors. On May 26, top SBC leaders released the 205-page list of pastors and church leaders accused of sexual abuse outside of and within the convention. According to the Associated Press, more than 700 names are on the list, which only includes people accused of sexual misconduct between 2000 to 2019.

Of the hundreds of ministers listed in the report, nine remain in their work with churches, with two reportedly serving at SBC-affiliated churches. The report features completed entries that note if there was “an admission, confession, guilty plea, conviction, judgment, sentencing, or inclusion on a sex offender registry”.

Following the report’s release, several high-profile SBC members announced that they were leaving the denomination.

These two events form cautionary tales for all preachers. While it would be easy to castigate the denominations in our pulpits for their moral weaknesses and the fact that they give us preachers a “bad name”, the truth is the pull of sexual immorality is always present in God’s people.

In fact, it’s so prevalent that Paul declared, “Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Corinthians 6:18-20). Joseph demonstrated this wise advice when he fled from Potiphar’s wife in Genesis 39:12.

A preacher, for various reasons, can face incredible sexual temptation. And it’s difficult to take fire in the bosom and not be burned (Proverbs 6:27).

Kyle Campbell

Bible Lectureship

(March 17-20, 2024)

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