Monday, August 22, 2011

When the preacher needs a minister

On Aug. 12, mega-church pastor and televangelist Zachery Tims was found dead in his room at the W Hotel in Manhattan.

He was the founder and pastor of New Destiny Christian Center in Apopka, Fla., with a reported membership of more than 8,000 worshippers.

The 42-year-old preacher made headlines in 2009 when he admitted to an “indiscretion” with a stripper. His wife of 15 years, filed for divorce soon after.

I have known Tims for several years, so the news hit hard. Police still are investigating the cause of his death, but The Wall Street Journal reports, “a white powdery substance, believed to be narcotics, was discovered with the body.”

If his death turns out to be from drugs, I can’t help but wonder if it could have been avoided. Too often pastors fail to seek help when needed.

The pressure of leading a congregation can be tremendous. Parishioners turn to their minister when they need guidance and support. But, for the pastor, there may be no one filling that role. Unfortunately, it sometimes is difficult for ministers to find confidants; many fear being discredited if their flaws are exposed.

Congregants sometimes have unrealistic expectations and can be quick to judge any missteps. Pastors should indeed strive to exemplify biblical principles, but they are not infallible. If perfection is a prerequisite for becoming a minister, nobody qualifies.

Throughout the Bible, we see examples of God’s chosen prophets and priests committing sin. While there were consequences, their indiscretions did not disqualify them from their positions.

Since becoming a pastor, I have been fortunate to form relationships with other pastors who have been a source of strength and accountability. Through the years, these friendships have helped me navigate tough situations. Every minister needs a support network.

The circumstances surrounding Tims’ death are not a reflection of how he lived; he did tremendous good in his life. We may be tempted to judge, but Jesus’ words to the Pharisees attempting to stone the woman caught in adultery are worth repeating: “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”

Judge candidates by their politics, not their piety

The pool of presidential candidates includes two Mormons: former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Both men are keenly aware that their affiliation with the LDS Church could hurt their shot at the White House.

In a major 2008 speech, Romney affirmed his faith but asserted he would not confuse his church’s teachings with a president’s constitutional obligations.

Huntsman recently took a different tack. In an interview with Time magazine, he said it was “tough to define” his personal faith.

Christians are expected to formulate their worldviews from biblical principles. This is especially true when voting for president. If a candidate’s political views do not align with the Scriptures, Christian voters should side with someone else who more closely reflects their spiritual convictions. Presidents make decisions that can affect society’s moral fabric, so, for some people of faith, it is crucial to have officeholders who institute and preserve biblically based moral principles.

The religion of candidates is a factor only if the office seekers allow the doctrines from their faith to affect their politics and if the resulting views clash with the Bible. But even in this instance, it is their politics being judged, not their religion.

While religions disagree on how to obtain eternal life, they generally share a moral creed: Love God, respect and serve others, cherish the sanctity of life. When translated into political ideology, theists from various faiths usually uphold the same political values. (Of course, not all people of faith vote their religious convictions.)

The fear some have in backing Huntsman or Romney is that the two candidates would be unable to make national decisions independent of their church — even though both have emphasized that, if elected, they would not be beholden to their faith.

The Constitution bars any “religious test” as a qualification for public office. It also restricts Congress from establishing laws prohibiting the free exercise of religion.

The hope is that all politicians honor the Constitution and the separation of church and state. Candidates should be judged by their political views, not their religious values, even though the two sometimes are one and the same.