In Zephaniah 3:4, the Lord specifically speaks against the sins of Judah’s religious leaders, stating, “Her prophets are arrogant; they are treacherous men. Her priests profane the sanctuary and do violence to the law.” The problem is not confined to Zephaniah’s time. Still today, religious leaders sometimes sin and betray those they lead. What can ordinary people do when those in church authority are overtly sinful?
First, as Zephaniah illustrates, God knows the situation and will ultimately hold sinful religious leaders accountable for their sins. Numbers 32:23 warns the sinner that he can “be sure” that there will be a reckoning.
Second, we are called to forgive those who sin against us. Jesus taught in the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). Further, Jesus taught Peter to forgive above and beyond what is expected: the standard is not to forgive seven times, but “seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:22). Whatever the situation, we must maintain a willingness to forgive and not hold grudges.
Third, all religious leaders must be held accountable for their actions. Paul told Timothy that, if an accusation against a church leader is confirmed (1 Timothy 5:19), then steps must be taken to deal with the sin. “Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning” (1 Timothy 5:20). In cases where church leaders are found guilty of sinful actions, the local church is to call out the transgressor and condemn the sin publicly. Leaders are not above the law, and accountability is important.
Fourth, sometimes personal confrontation is necessary when a religious leader sins. The apostle Paul once had to confront Peter about his hypocrisy (Galatians 2:14). In this case, Peter changed his actions, leading to a better situation for all involved. Positive change, including repentance, is the goal in such cases.
Finally, it must be noted that if a religious leader is involved in criminal activity of any kind, it is the duty and responsibility of those aware of the crime to report it. There is no justification for cover-ups or delays in reporting a crime.