Good morning Wade. I wanted to comment on your blog post privately today, and I hope you do not mind. I really enjoyed your post on Admiral Nelson. I am a history buff, but had never heard of him before. Thanks for sharing it.
Anytime I hear of a “hero” who has an affair, it makes me take pause of my own behavior. Several years ago, I became involved in an extra-marital affair. As soon as the affair occurred, I recognized that I had forfeited my right to the pastorate, found a secular job, and resigned the pastorate. Eventually I divorced, and married the woman I was involved with. God’s grace and faithfulness were things I always knew about before, but now I know about personally. Romans 8:28 is not just a theory or a theological argument, it is absolutely true, and for that, I am thankful.
The author you quoted is right when he says that history tends to vilify the players in these kinds of circumstances. To some of my wife's family, I was a sexual predator, who had offended before her, and after her. In collusion with others within the our local association, attempts were made to dig up evidence from previous churches I had served that I was a perpetual moral offender. Of course, they found none, and only when the people were confronted by some close to me did they back off and drop the subject. To the church people I served as pastor, my current wife was the villain, the whoremonger of Proverbs 5 and 6, come to seduce the mighty man of God.
Ultimately, neither extreme is true. I had never before been involved in anything even remotely close to this kind of behavior, and have never since. But I found myself in a place of despair in ministry, the recipient of terribly mean-spirited anonymous letters, constant attacks by a few deacons, and the recognition that I was not happy in my marriage. I was in trouble, for sure. My current wife was at the time lonely, seemingly trapped in a loveless marriage, and never intended for anything like what happened to happen. We were on a collision course, and we both knew it. Within a year, our friendship had turned into internal feelings that I knew were inappropriate. I contacted two other pastor-friends, and asked them for direction and accountability. They directed me to certain Bible verses to meditate on, and prayed with me. I never heard from them again. I contacted my director of missions, and asked for a meeting. He came and asked me point blank if I had had an affair, and I said, “Absolutely not. I have not laid a hand on her.” He said good, then prayed with me, then went to three other pastors (that I know of), all with connections at my church, and told them that I was having an affair with a woman in my church. It did not take long for the rumors to spread.
For the better part of a year, I tried to some measure to do the right thing, but was constantly being accused of doing the wrong. My daughters, who were young teenagers at the time, were at different times pulled into rooms at church and told by people that their father was having an affair. It was the most difficult time of my life. Although it was flawed logic, I determined that I had been doing the right thing my entire life, and this is where it has taken me. I reasoned that if I am going to be punished and lose my career for something I did not do, I might as well do it. It was then that the relationship turned romantic. Of course, later on, people would say, “See? We told you he was having an affair!” It was a self-fulfilling prophecy.
I say all of this because I deal with this issue often: am I a good man? Am I a decent person, who made one really big, career-ending mistake? Is the good I did in the fifteen years I spent in vocational ministry valid, or does my one indiscretion render all of that null and void? Am I capable of doing good in the future? Am I permanently disqualified from vocational ministry? (not that I would ever want to pastor again—I’m no glutton for punishment). These and other questions are ones that I deal with fairly often, especially when I run into people who knew me from before.
When I read posts like yours from today, I am encouraged in some ways—I’m not the only one to have gone through this, I’m not the first, and I won’t be the last. But at the same time, I am also discouraged, when I read comments like this: “ It can be said that Admiral Nelson was a great commander, but it cannot be said he was a great man. May Christian people never be blinded by the world's tendency to turn a blind eye toward unethical behavior or immoral activity simply because the perpetrator of such activity is considered a hero.”
Not that I disagree—Nelson was a perpetual philanderer. I find that people tend to place me in the same category as him, even though it only happened to me once.
You should know that I have come to grips with what happened. My family is changed forever, but is happy, and in many ways better off. God really is good as making all things work together for the good of my family. My wife and I stand as ones forgiven by the grace of a mighty God, and we will forever be thankful. However, there are those who seem to look upon us as people who are part of a blight on Christianity, and a black mark on ministry. Will that ever go away?
Thank you again, Wade, for your article today. And thank you for your articles every day. I never get tired of reading your insights. You are a great encouragement to me, and I appreciate you greatly.
I would propose you are not a good man. You are a great man.
You are humble, open, transparent and acknowledge your moral failure. The difference between a flawed man and a good man is the inability to feel guilt, sorrow and remorse for moral failure. Admiral Nelson never expressed remorse or repentance. In fact, he flaunted his behavior. He was never broken or saw it as a blight -- which you obviously do yours.
The difference between a good man and a great man is the grace of God. A genuine faith relationship with Jesus Christ causes a man to make an honest evaluation of his moral failures, mitigates against the natural desire to hide or cover it from others, works tirelessly to restore that which has been lost where possible, but most important of all, rests in Christ's forgiveness while moving forward in life.
It seems that to me that you now know experientially what we preachers all understand intellectually. Our only hope is God's grace.
This is what makes you a great man. You cannot boast about your life, but you can boast about Christ. This is where we all should be.
In His Grace,