Lately, we've witnessed Exhibit Nos. 4,117,899 and 4,117,900 in the never-ending saga of preachers behaving badly.
In late August, the New York Times reported that Mark Driscoll, the nationally prominent pastor of Bellevue, Wash.-based Mars Hill Church, had agreed, under pressure, to take a leave of absence after being accused "of plagiarism, misusing church funds and creating a culture of fear at his church."
Mars Hill includes 15 campuses in five states and claims a weekly attendance of 15,000.
Former aides and churchgoers have long criticized Driscoll as "a bully and abusive to staff members," the Times said.
Early this month, closer to home, the Herald-Leader reported that the public ministries of Pastor Pete Hise and Pastor Sharon Clements of Lexington's Quest Community Church had been discontinued by the congregation's overseers.
According to the church's website, Hise and Clements, who are married to other people, "confessed to an unhealthy emotional attachment that led to the crossing of physical boundaries while stopping short of sexual intercourse."
Quest, founded by Hise, has about 5,000 members, the Herald-Leader said. It's perhaps best known for sponsoring the annual Questapalooza Christian music festival.
I can't lend specific insight to either of these situations.
I've never met Driscoll, for sure, or Hise or Clements, either, as far as I know. I've never attended their churches, never even watched them on the Internet.
But I have been in the clergy for nearly 35 years, and I'm the son of a man who ministered for 60 years, and I know many other preachers, too.
So, in that respect, I possess something of an insider's view into why so many ministers fall flat on their moral chins.
I can explain the cause in three words: Preachers are human.
That sounds self-evident. I imagine your response as, "Well, duh."
But it's startling how often people — parishioners, the general public and, sadly, ministers — forget this elemental truth.
The minister is a human being, with all that entails.
He uses the bathroom exactly like you do. She suffers from painful bunions. He fights with his board of directors over money for new projects. She fumes at slow drivers who block the passing lane. He loves the music of AC/DC.
She struggles against a nebulous rage that probably stems from her tough upbringing at the hands of alcoholic parents. He has racy thoughts and enjoys sex. She smokes cigarettes on the sly. He has no idea how to communicate with his surly son.
Clergy are human. Preachers, lay people and heathens alike all inhabit the same tainted old flesh-bags that carry our well-meaning souls around.
This is one reason I love the Bible so much: It's relentlessly, shamelessly candid about its characters' humanity.
There's hardly a figure in all the Scriptures who could keep a job today as even the assistant pastor of a third-rate congregation.
Noah got so drunk he passed out naked in front of his sons. Abraham lied, fathered a child with his wife's maid and twice loaned his wife to other guys. Lot committed incest. Rebekah was a duplicitous conniver. Jacob stole his brother's inheritance. Rahab worked as a hooker. Samson was brutal and suffered from a mortal weakness for foreign prostitutes.
David initiated an affair with a married woman, then tried to cover it up by murdering the woman's husband; he also was perhaps the worst father in history. Solomon turned from the Lord to idols and maintained a personal harem.
Elisha had such anger problems that he sicced bears on a group of boys because they made fun of his baldness; 42 boys died — over ill-timed remarks about a bald spot. Peter was hotheaded, hacked a guy with a sword, cussed and even denied he knew Jesus to save his own hide.
That's the short list.
And these are the book's heroes.
Nope, no self-respecting pulpit committee would consider calling these folks.
A bunch of reprobates. Except when they weren't. On their better days, these same men and women all were used by the Almighty to change their world.
The Lord has a way of accomplishing miracles through spectacularly flawed people. Probably because flawed people are the only kind available.
I'm not arguing that when preachers err they should get a free pass, necessarily. Our actions on Earth, good or bad, do entail consequences.
If a pastor habitually mistreats his staff, sooner or later he'll face a mutiny as would any abusive CEO, and probably lose his position. If a pastor gets involved with a coworker, he'll have to deal with the fallout from that, too, both at home and at church.
What I am saying is that when ministers mess up, no one should be particularly shocked or scandalized. And everyone should show some basic compassion.
Preachers are just like you. They intend well, but they do screwy things.
Doesn't mean they aren't anointed by God. Doesn't mean they aren't sincere. Doesn't mean they aren't truly sorry. Doesn't mean they can't reform. Doesn't mean the message they preach isn't true.
It only means they're human. No more, no less.
I've been in this line of work most of my life. Heck, at this point, I'm more surprised when a preacher doesn't fall than when he does.