Whenever I mention a highly public religious leader on my blog, I always get a barrage of responses from people who either support or criticize that person. The supporters accuse me of speaking out of turn, warn me against judging, and disapprove that I didn’t go to the ministry leader privately first. The other side cites accountability issues, ministry abuse, and financial indiscretion as evidence that some leaders should be looked at more carefully and publicly. Either way – it brings up a really good question:
“In the age of public media, when some religious personalities choose to live their lives in the fishbowl of public scrutiny, is it OK to discuss their actions publically as well?
It’s a good question, and here’s a few thoughts:
First, is technology. Social media demands discussions and conversations. This generation thrives on wrestling with issues online, so if you think you can stop that wave, you’re about to be surprised. Check out the multiple theology and culture blogs and you’ll find Christians engaged in very vigorous and lively debates about people, issues, and ideas. To this generation, it’s not about hard feelings or judging. They believe arguments live very well online.
Next, remember that the admonition about judging from Matthew 7 actually isn’t about not judging, it’s about not being a hypocrite. Remove the plank in your own eye first before you judge the splinter in someone else’s. It’s actually about being able to judge more honestly and accurately. Second, in 1 Corinthians 5:13 it says, “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. Expel the wicked man from among you.” That indicates that we are indeed to hold believers to account. Further, there are numerous warnings throughout the New Testament about authority in the church, and how leaders should be held to a higher standard.
From my perspective, we’ve actually spent too much time criticizing the outside world (which the scripture tells us not to do), and not enough time holding each other to account. As a result, we’ve allowed great shame to come into the Christian community under the misguided principle of “not judging.” We can’t judge motivations, and only God can judge hearts. But I don’t see anything scripturally wrong with judging actions and whether they help or hinder the gospel.
What about Matthew 18 and the teaching about privately going to a brother who has wronged you? On a personal level, I support that completely. I would certainly do it in our local church body. But in today’s celebrity driven ministry world, how exactly do you reach major ministry leaders? It’s not like they’re able to take every phone call.
Finally, I wonder if the media age has forever changed the dynamic of criticism and confrontation. For instance, when you move outside the local pulpit and put your teaching, actions, or ideas on the web or international television in an attempt to reach millions of people, doesn’t that make it legitimate for those millions of people to talk about what you’ve just said or done publically as well?
To be clear, let me say that I’m not necessarily talking about pastors at the local church level. When they speak in front of a congregation, it’s an in-house thing, not being broadcast across the country. Plus, I understand how criticism can undermine the ministry of a local pastor and we need to respect that. They minister locally and in privacy with members of their congregation. Even if a local pastor blogs about ministry issues – particularly the task of ministering to his local congregation, I would respect and honor that role.
However, if that same local pastor began blogging, speaking outside the church, or broadcasting his views on theology, leadership, politics, culture, or other public issues, then he opens himself up to public discussion about his perspectives and positions.
So the issue becomes, regardless of their private motivations and intentions, when ministry leaders live their lives in public, and present their ideas, actions, and teachings online and in the mass media, is it OK to discuss and debate those ideas, actions, and teachings publically as well?
What do you think?