Okay, I know I am sounding like a broken record, but no other subject has garnered the kind of response this one has. The subject of truth-telling in leadership is volatile. As I have said before, what is most amazing to me is how strongly some pastors and lay people feel that there are times when lying is justified. I share (with permission) two brief stories that push this topic one more step for me, and make me want to present them for consideration with two questions:
- Do these stories truly justify lying?
- What other options are there?
A single mom with four kids needed to find a job. In her past she had multiple problems with the law, including stealing some money from a previous employer. I became her pastor and counseled her for over two years before she got the job offer. She was not the same woman she had been before. Her faith had deepened and was strong. She was redeemed — a new person in Christ. She asked me to be a reference for her new job and I agreed. We prayed together and I assured her that her past had been completely wiped clean by Christ — which I truly believe. I was contacted for a reference for this wonderful, forgiven woman. I was asked if I was aware of any problems in her past, if I believed her to be trustworthy and honest, and if I knew of anything that might make her a bad risk handling large amounts of money. I said I wasn’t aware of any problems in her past, that indeed I would trust her completely, and that I thought she could be trusted with large amounts of money. None of those things were lies because they were all true. There would have been nothing to be gained by sharing the “facts” of her history. That was how I handled the situation then, and it is how I would handle it today.
I no longer go to church because I don’t trust the people in charge. I left my home church in 2001 because the pastor there lied to us about our financial situation, committing us to a building project we couldn’t afford then lying to us when we were about to default on our loan. The he left us with insurmountable debt to go start another church. The stress and despair of that church became so toxic that I found a smaller church with a young pastor dedicated to children, youth and young adults. I volunteered to work with these ministries and became part of a team. <Here I (Dan) substitute letters for the names in her email> J is this cool, handsome 26-year-old who everyone, especially the girls, loves. T is this really happy, friendly girl just out of college who makes friends with everyone. S is the musician. He can play anything on the guitar. I’m the practical one who takes care of details and organization. We all work together to lead programs and are a very close team. We are very good at what we do, and one of the things we do for each other is watch each others backs. S is gay and T is a real party animal — she drinks quite a lot and does some recreational drugs, but NEVER with or around the kids. J has occasionally crossed some lines, going out with women from the church, but none of us ever do anything inappropriate when we are doing church work with the kids. We keep our private lives out of our church work. The pastor knows all about us and she has, from time to time, had to calm people down who got upset about rumors. We all talked together and decided it was best to deny any and all rumors so that we can protect a really successful ministry. Some people would say what we do is lying, but I think that is too simple. Telling people that S isn’t gay or that T doesn’t drink isn’t actually true, but it does a whole lot less damage than admitting either one. Lives could be ruined or at least seriously damaged. And our pastor is ministering to us by protecting us and helping us stay in ministry with the kids. None of us are bad people and none of us are doing anything wrong, but other people have other opinions and it is just easier and healthier to keep a lid on everything.
I have strong opinions about both of these emails and have responded directly to the people who write them. Let’s just say we disagree… But I am interested in what others think — do either of these stories justify lying? Are there other options in dealing with either one? And maybe there is a third question for consideration — are we becoming a church where the ends always justify the means?