When the stories about the nightclubbing Episcopal priest from Pennsylvania first hit my inbox, I was reminded of the sex scandals involving a range of Reverends including Jimmy Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, and Ted Haggard as well as self-professed “Christian” political leaders like Gov. Mark Sanford; former Rep. Chip Pickering (R-Miss.) and Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.)
All too often, the media focuses on the more salacious sexual aspect to these stories, ignoring the other more substantive issues that accompany such acting out behavior. For example, no one seemed to report on the Family’s range of questionable activities until Sanford, Pickering and Ensign were shown to be connected to the Family-owned C Street townhouse. In Salon this summer, Jeff Sharlet, author of the New York Times bestseller The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power, wrote that these scandals aren’t simply a case of family values politicians getting caught with their pants down:
If sexual license was all the Family offered the C Street men, however, that would merely be seedy and self-serving. But Family men are more than hypocritical. They’re followers of a political religion that embraces elitism, disdains democracy, and pursues power for its members the better to “advance the Kingdom.” They say they’re working for Jesus, but their Christ is a power-hungry, inside-the-Beltway savior not many churchgoers would recognize. Sexual peccadilloes aside, the Family acts today like the most powerful lobby in America that isn’t registered as a lobby — and is thus immune from the scrutiny attending the other powerful organizations like Big Pharma and Big Insurance that exert pressure on public policy.
Imbued with the spirit of self-righteousness, such Christians begin to flaunt the narcissistic components of their personality that might not have been so easily detected until they began to bask in the glow that can ensue when public personalities get placed on a pedestal. Over time, they deceive themselves into believing that their desires are in sync with Jesus’ call for their lives. The Lord’s Prayer asking God that “Thy will be done” is replaced by “God bless my will.” Somehow they forgot Jesus’ teachings that “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. (Luke 18:15, NIV)
Should they be found guilty of any transgression and exposed by the media for “sinning,” they fail to comprehend what, if anything they’ve done wrong. Any repentance they might offer for their discretions tends to be orchestrated in a manner that enables them to maintain their carefully crafted public persona.
In today’s feature, “Along Came a Spider: What the Pope Doesn’t See,” Anthea Butler shows that even an institution like the Catholic church can find itself “in the throes of a Maury Povich-style DNA paternity case show.” Just as with the case of the Family, the sex-capades with Father Cutie and Father Dueppen’s $1800 visit to a strip club not to mention the priest sex abuse cases that keep resurfacing do provide for titillating headlines. However, as Butler points out, “the deeper issue within the hierarchy of the Catholic Church surrounds bureaucracy and a corporate fealty that is designed to protect the institution at all costs; even when the corporation’s clients (parishioners) are being abused.” Therein lies the crux of the situation—by turning a blind eye when boys are behaving unbiblically, the narcissistic virus that emanates from these self-centered souls ends up infecting the entire body of believers.