Private Pain, Public Trust: Why Leaders Must Be Open About Failure

by | Feb 23, 2010 | Blogs, Fire in My Bones

Christians were
shocked last week after learning that Benny and Suzanne Hinn are divorcing. Do
ministers owe us an explanation for their failures?

Judging by the calls and e-mails I received last week, charismatic
Christians were confused and dismayed when the Los Angeles Times broke
the news that healing evangelist Benny Hinn and his wife, Suzanne, are getting
divorced. The comments I heard were mostly sympathetic: “I am so grieved.”
“This is a wake-up call.” “This is heartbreaking.” “I’m praying for the Hinns.”

And a few people were angry: “What is happening?” “Here we go
again.” “This is why the secular world looks at us and laughs!”

“Every Christian
has access
to God’s mercy when he makes mistakes. But a leader is held to a higher
standard of accountability and disclosure.”

Hinn’s ministry, based in Texas, eventually posted an official
statement online to quell the public outcry. It says:

Pastor Benny Hinn and his immediate family were
shocked and saddened to learn of this news on February 17 without any previous
notice. The couple has been married for more than 30 years, and although Pastor
Hinn has faithfully endeavored to bring healing to their relationship, those
efforts failed and were met with the petition for divorce that was filed
without notice.

Both Pastor Hinn and the board of directors of the church ask for the
prayers of ministry partners and friends as the Hinn family walks through this
difficult season. Pastor Hinn also wants everyone to know that he remains
firmly and unquestionably committed to God’s calling—as he continues in his
thirty-sixth year of ministry—to take the life-saving and miracle-working Gospel
of Jesus Christ to the nations through crusades, broadcasts, and mission
outreaches.

I’m grateful that
Hinn released this statement, but I hope he plans to say more soon. He has
influenced far too many people around the world to keep us wondering why his
marriage is ending.

The charismatic
segment of the church has endured a long string of divorces, moral failures and
embarrassing scandals among high-profile ministers. The most recent wave began
in 2006 with Ted Haggard’s fall (which did not end in divorce, thanks to Gayle
Haggard’s tough decision to forgive Ted). Megachurch pastors Randy and Paula
White of Tampa, Fla., announced their break-up in 2007; then came similar
news from Juanita Bynum and Thomas Weeks III in Atlanta, followed by Jamal Bryant
and his wife, Gizelle, of Empowerment Temple in Baltimore. And on and on it
goes.

Part of the fallout
of these scandals was the widespread disillusionment among people who follow
these leaders. We naturally expect ministers to be models of Christ-like behavior,
and they have a solemn charge to do so. When shepherds fail, the sheep often
faint.

We’ve even seen
this in the secular world. When politicians or celebrity athletes experience
personal failure, the public wants an explanation. Tiger Woods, for example,
waited three long months before finally hosting a press conference last week to
admit what he called “irresponsible
and selfish behavior.”

Of course no
minister is perfect, and every Christian has access to God’s mercy when he
makes mistakes. But a spiritual leader is held to a higher standard of
accountability and disclosure. Those who assume a public ministerial role incur
a “stricter judgment,” according to James 3:1. That means a leader can’t have a
moral or ethical breakdown and then just hide it, ignore it or laugh it off.

It also means he
can’t spin the statement to his advantage. The church, of all places, should be
a No Spin Zone. We must take full responsibility, and that includes publicly
owning up to our failures—and stepping down from the pulpit, if necessary, for
however long it takes to find healing.

Please understand
that I am not attacking a brother in Christ. I honor Benny Hinn for the fact
that many people have come to the Lord in his evangelistic events around the
world. I also know that leaders often are hit with the worst spiritual attacks
because they are on the front lines. I believe we owe it to Benny and Suzanne
to pray that their marriage can be restored.

Yet in this season
of moral and spiritual crisis we must appeal to all those in public ministry to
handle their charge with care. Of all people on earth, those who preach the
Gospel of Truth must tell the truth.

 J.
Lee Grady was editor of Charisma for 11 years and is now serving as
contributing editor. You can find him on Twitter at leegrady.

 

Three days after this column was posted, Benny Hinn released this statement to his supporters.

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