As with the Catholics, the Evangelical movement in America has also been forced to deal with people in leadership that has publically failed to live by the standards their own structure demands from them. Initially these leaders have tried to deny their guilt but when they eventually have had no other choice but to confess, the movement has done a remarkable job trying to restore the confidence in them. I am not claiming that all situations have been the same but I have noticed a general trend of public repentance and counselling broadcasted on television. The principal message has been that ‘Yes, this person screwed up but look at what is happening now, we are leading the sinner back on the right path, so you can safely continue to have faith in our leadership’.
The alternative to this orchestrated repentance ceremony has been for the other leaders to totally reject the wrongdoer and exclude him or her from the group of trusted leaders. We saw this take place not too long ago when Rob Bell started asking uncomfortable questions about heaven, hell, and the fate of every person who ever lived. Before his book ‘Love Wins’ was even published he had received goodbye messages on Twitter and well-respected pastors talked about him as a heretic in every possible media available. This situation was obviously different than with some other leaders since Bell was not willing to repent from his opinions and that is, I believe, why the other leaders saw no other choice but to publically denounce him. Such an act is called scapegoating and when done in public it carries the power to create unity within the structure.
As we now have seen, there seems to be at least three different ways of protecting the structure when its representatives fail to live up to its own standards. The first one is to ignore it completely and hope that the problem never reaches the surface; the second is for the other leaders to restore the failed leader’s credibility in public; and the third is to straightforwardly sacrifice the fallen leader if no other option is available.
Another thing I hope has become visible in these posts is that it does not matter what kind of transgression the leader has committed, what matters is that he or she has broken against the rules of the structure. Hence, different structures might have different rules but the important thing is that the ordinary people within the structure can see a resemblance between the leaders and the Christ that is being preached by them. This is, to give another example, why it is important for preachers of prosperity theology to radiate wealth and health since if they did not, people would see a discrepancy between the preacher and the message.
The experience of dying with Christ does not mean that we simply step from one such structure to a better one, rather when we die with Christ we die away from all structures based on exclusion and are led into a new life where we no longer are Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female; for all are one in Christ Jesus. In this new life there is no exceptions to Jesus’ commandment to love your neighbour as yourself because the idol god of the oppressive structures has died and in this life we are called to live lives shaped by the promise of a reconciled world achieved and made known by God through the raising of Christ from the dead.