Bob Coy Scandal And How ‘Moral Failure’ Language Hurts The Church
The pastor Bob Coy scandal had a strange affect on me.
For those who don’t know, Bob Coy had been the Senior Pastor of Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale since 1985, before officially resigning this past week due to “moral failure.” According to the official statement from Calvary Chapel, pastor Bob is spending time receiving counseling, working on his family, and focusing on his relationship with God. The 20,000 plus member church was shocked and confused by the news, but the other leaders will continue to teach and preach.
As a former pastor myself who left “vocational” ministry to pursue a different vision of what the church could be, I can only imagine the struggles of my brother in Christ. But when I heard the news on Monday, I shocked myself with my response. My response to the Bob Coy scandal was, “I’m not surprised”.
Now before jumping all over me about being insensitive and judgmental, hear me out. Not being surprised by the Bob Coy scandal has nothing to do with the man himself. I don’t know pastor Bob, have never met him, and have very little to say about Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale or his Active Word ministry. I was not calloused towards his condition or his struggle, in fact I was heartsick and broken for his family. But his moral failures, which turned out to be an affair, do not surprise me.
I served in one local church as an associate minister and a preaching elder for over eight years. Not many months went by where I didn’t hear of a pastor who had succumbed to the devastating sin of “moral failure.” It is a special category that has been created for pastors and church leaders. It is secret talk for adultery, drug use, or other especially “bad” sins that can disqualify a man from ministry. The problem with “moral failure” is that it is confusing and unhelpful.
The reality is that every church leader is extremely guilty of true “moral failure.” Moral failure implies that there is such a thing as moral success. The idea that any pastor, including Bob Coy, is capable of moral success is just plain contrary to the gospel. In fact, the gospel that so many failed and successful preachers have proclaimed states our need for Jesus because we are moral failures.
Moral failure is more than adultery, murder, drug abuse, or theft. Moral failure is an angry husband, an overbearing father, little white lies, gossip, gluttony, pride, control issues, and countless other hidden thoughts and actions that occur every day. The very message of Jesus is that we need him because we are moral failures. It is in the cross and resurrection that he exchanges his moral success for our moral failure.
What has developed in the western church is a distinction between “normal” Christians and pastors. Pastors have become functional saviors, who we all look up to and are supposed to be an example of moral success. But what this system has created is an unbearable burden for church leaders to be on another level morally. For fear of failure, “little” mistakes are kept hidden. And as we know from the scriptures, our children, and ourselves, little things eventually become big things.
Do leaders have a responsibility to the church to lead well? Absolutely. Should they set an example in life and godliness? Unquestionably. Was the Bob Coy scandal handled correctly? As far as can be seen in public, it would seem so. But why did the church feel the need to call his affair a “moral failure” or that his moral failure was the cause of his disqualification from ministry? Because we have a broken celebrity culture within our churches that requires more of our leaders than they can handle.
I would like to suggest that we throw out the term “moral failure” from our Christian dictionaries. It perpetuates a concept that distinguishes pastors from “common” Christians. Should we hold leaders to a standard? Yes, namely the same standard that we hold ourselves to in Christ. The descriptions of church leaders in I Timothy, Titus, and I Peter are not some extra special standards for leaders. They are descriptions of what a life with Jesus looks like. They are not a burden, but instead the picture of a man who already knows what it means to lead.
For the health of our churches, leaders, and one another, please let’s stop talking about moral failure. Instead, let us breed a church culture of confession, repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation.
We can learn from the Bob Coy scandal. And we can start right now by praying for our brother in Christ and considering how we handle our own moral failings on a daily basis.