First, it is important to point out that “so many” is not an accurate characterization. It may seem like many evangelical Christian leaders are caught in scandals, but this is due to the vast amount of attention such scandals are given. There are thousands of evangelical Christian leaders, pastors, professors, missionaries, writers, and evangelists who have never participated in anything “scandalous.” The vast majority of evangelical Christian leaders are men and women who love God, are faithful to their spouses and families, and handle their activities with the utmost honesty and integrity. The failures of a few should not be used to attack the character of all.
With that said, there is still the problem that scandals do sometimes occur among those claiming to be evangelical Christians. Prominent Christian leaders have been exposed for committing adultery or participating in prostitution. Some evangelical Christians have been convicted of tax fraud and other financial illegalities. Why does this occur? There are at least three primary explanations: 1) Some of those claiming to be evangelical Christians are unbelieving charlatans, 2) some evangelical Christian leaders allow their position to result in pride, and 3) Satan and his demons more aggressively attack and tempt those in Christian leadership because they know that a scandal involving a leader can have devastating results, on both Christians and non-Christians.
1) Some “evangelical Christians” who are caught in scandals are unredeemed charlatans and false prophets. Jesus warned, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves … Therefore by their fruits you will know them” (Matthew 7:15-20). False prophets pretend to be godly men and women and appear to be solid evangelical leaders. However, their “fruit” (scandals) eventually reveals them to be the opposite of what they claimed to be. In this, they follow the example of Satan, “And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve” (2 Corinthians 11:14-15).
2) The Bible makes it clear that “pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18). James 4:6 reminds us that “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” The Bible repeatedly warns against pride. Many Christian leaders begin a ministry in a spirit of humility and reliance upon God, but as the ministry grows and thrives, they are tempted to take some of this glory for themselves. Some evangelical Christian leaders, while paying lip-service to God, actually attempt to manage and build the ministry in their own strength and wisdom. This type of pride leads to a fall. God, through the prophet Hosea, warned, “When I fed them, they were satisfied; when they were satisfied, they became proud; then they forgot me” (Hosea 13:6).
3) Satan knows that by instigating a scandal with an evangelical Christian leader, he can have a powerful impact. Just as King David’s adultery with Bathsheba and arranged murder of Uriah caused great damage to David’s family and the entire nation of Israel, so has many a church or ministry been damaged or destroyed by the moral failure of its leader. Many Christians have had their faith weakened as a result of seeing a leader fall. Non-Christians use the failure of “Christian” leaders as a reason to reject Christianity. Satan and his demons know this, and therefore direct more of their attacks against those in leadership roles. The Bible warns us all, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).
How are we to respond when an evangelical Christian leader is accused of or caught in a scandal? 1) Do not listen to or accept baseless and unfounded accusations (Proverbs 18:8, 17; 1 Timothy 5:19). 2) Take appropriate biblical measures to rebuke those who sin (Matthew 18:15-17; 1 Timothy 5:20). If the sin is proven and severe, permanent removal from ministry leadership should be enforced (1 Timothy 3:1-13). 3) Forgive those who sin (Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13), and when repentance is proven, restore them to fellowship (Galatians 6:1; 1 Peter 4:8) but not to leadership. 4) Be faithful in praying for our leaders. Knowing the problems they deal with, the temptations they suffer, and the stress they must endure, we should be praying for our leaders, asking God to strengthen them, protect them, and encourage them. 5) Most importantly, take the failure of an evangelical Christian leader as a reminder to put your ultimate faith in God and God alone. God never fails, never sins, and never lies. “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory” (Isaiah 6:3).