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There’s a new age of transparency and accountability that leaders today have to reckon with.

The headline comes across your feed. A leader – maybe even one you respect – is embroiled in a scandal. And as you work down the article, scroll through the comments, and work back to discern what’s true, you probably feel the same mix of emotions that the rest of us do:

Disbelief. Defensiveness. Anger. Sorrow. Discouragement. And the list goes on.

church scandals

But there’s a familiar cycle to the ensuing commentary. Those of us behind our phones and laptops watching the story unfold find ourselves falling into some pretty predictable camps. And as we process and respond, we seem to be caught up in the same three myths when it comes to leaders embroiled in scandal.

Myth #1: Public Leaders Aren’t Private Sinners

Scandals are scandals because at first they’re so hard to believe – especially when they surround a talented leader who has accomplished so much that they’ve become a public figure. Maybe you’ve read their books, listened to their podcasts, attended their conferences. Perhaps you’ve even seen your own leadership grow as you followed their example.

Which frames up the question so many of us grapple with at the first sign of a scandal surrounding a leader we respect:

“How could such an accomplished and public leader who did so much good be capable of such a thing?”

Behind that question lurks a couple of myths.

First: We buy into the myth that leaders who are capable of accomplishing great things aren’t as capable of doing some equally destructive things.

As it turns out: they are. And they always have been. You can hardly turn a page in the Bible (Old or New Testament) without reading about one. And if we were honest with ourselves, we see one every time we look in the mirror.

But behind that myth is an even more sinister one:

We buy into the myth that great leaders accomplish great things because they are great people.

Well… maybe. But it’s pretty easy to project onto a leader some great character qualities – especially when that leader has accomplished some pretty great things.

The fact of the matter is this:

Not everyone is a leader, but every leader is a sinner – so every leader is capable of doing both great AND destructive things. In fact, it’s usually the case that the more success a leader has in the public, the more opportunities for failure in private.

Not everyone is a leader, but every leader is a sinner Click To Tweet

Myth #2: My Outrage Is Enough

In the internet and social media age, everyone has a platform. Everyone has a mic.

When this is leveraged well, it can be an incredibly powerful tool for change. In the last decade we’ve seen:

  • Municipalities address systemic racism and violence at a new level
  • Women empowered to hold men accountable for their private abuses
  • Corrupt officials outed and ousted;
  • Entire governments be toppled – simply because of a hashtag that became a rallying cry.

There’s a new age of transparency and accountability that leaders today have to reckon with.

But there’s a dark side to this new era of activism that leads some of us to buy into another myth – especially those of us for whom a handful of characters is our native language:

If my outrage is as loud as everyone else’s outrage, then I’m part of the solution… not the problem.

Maybe. But then again, maybe not.

With #metoo, we saw celebrities who voiced their support be accused the next day of abuse.

We’ve seen the same political leaders calling for transparency and accountability hiding skeletons in their own closet.

And how many tweets, blogs, and sermons written about the sins of another should have first been applied to the author – but weren’t?

It’s not wrong to be outraged. But before you fire off that post or retweet that article, put yourself in your own crosshairs. You might have a little bit different perspective.

Myth #3: Leaders Can Fall from Grace

I’ve not only read about but served alongside leaders – and in my case, male leaders – who had extramarital affairs while in a position of power and trust. It was terribly destructive for the person they had the affair with, not to mention for their own wives, families, congregations, and souls.

They had a moral failure. And because of the position they held, the pain of that failure was multiplied as it reverberated through every one of their circles, public and private.

They fell.

But they did not fall from grace.

I hate referring to a moral failure as a “fall from grace.” It’s more than just semantics. And it’s more than just a myth.

It’s a lie.

Leaders can’t fall from grace any more than you or I can – because:

There is no bottom or boundary to the grace of God. There is no sin that can outweigh, outmaneuver, or overpower the cross.

There is no bottom or boundary to the grace of God. There is no sin that can outweigh, outmaneuver, or overpower the cross. Click To Tweet

We have to be so careful as we talk about leaders (or anyone!) who fall – for whatever reason. While it might cost them their position as a leader, it does not cost them their position in the family of God. They might be sitting in a different seat post-scandal, but they are still at the table.

And this has to be part of our narrative as we talk about leaders who fail and fall. We have to be able to talk about not only the nature of what they did, but also about what Jesus did for them. We have to apply the gospel – not in a way that minimizes or dismisses the consequences of their actions, further victimizes their victims, or props up their image, but in a way that recognizes our common need for the grace of God in Jesus Christ.

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