In Ministry Today's story on the aftermath of the Ted Haggard scandal ("What We Lost," January/February), Colorado sex therapist Doug Weiss recommended that pastors submit to annual polygraph tests to prove they are not in immorality. If that's not the dumbest, most ill-conceived, hair-brained idea I've ever heard, then it ranks somewhere near the top.
Let me say this up front—I am a sinner. I wish I could tell you that I have overcome the "sins that so easily beset" me, but I have not. I did give up soft drinks a few years ago, and I don't swear like I did when I was a young Marine, but in the really tough things that normal people struggle with, I am still in the fight.
Do I covet? Yes, once in a while. I don't want another man's wife, but there are a number of pastors whose buildings I lust after. Have I ever murdered? Not really, but if thoughts could kill, there would have been a few times.
Used the Lord's name in vain? Did that. Dishonored parents? Did that, too. Have I loved God with all my mind, heart, soul and strength? Sadly, no. Am I walking in unforgiveness? Not to my knowledge, but there were years when I did.
I have been in the presence of truly godly and holy people. I have been in the presence of those who pretend to be. I am somewhere in between. If I took a polygraph to prove to someone that I was without sin, then it would only prove what I and those who know me well already know—I need mercy.
In my faith tradition, we do not use a polygraph to uncover hidden sin. What we do have is an ancient rite called "confession." In the confessional, with the assurance of absolute confidentiality, I am able to confront those dark areas in my life that I hide from others. In that place of safety, I am held accountable, and given the counsel and direction that enables me to rise from my fallen place.
When the people in my congregation, or other priests and deacons, come to me in the confessional, they are not coming to a man with a polygraph ready to record and reveal their sins for the entire world to see. They come to a man who is a fellow struggler, to a person whose nature is also fallen and to one who understands they are sinners. You see, it takes one to know one.
There in the hushed quietness of the moment, sometimes punctuated with tears and sobs, the two sinners seek a holy God and brokenly confess sins, receive help and rise from the wreckage of the moment to begin anew in this relationship with the One who is not counting our sins against us.
I cannot be the one to throw stones at the fallen pastor whose sins were so publicly made known. I cannot be the one to despise him or to judge him. I am too flawed, too fallible, too "human." I pray that God will give him and his family the thing that I, myself, need most—mercy. And I will ask that those who find me flawed beyond their liking and approval simply pray for me, a sinner.
David Epps is founding pastor of Christ the King Charismatic Episcopal Church in Sharpsburg, Ga.
From the Blogosphere
Online readers react to Pastor Epps' letter.
I fully agree with Pastor Epps' statement. If you've ever read anything by Doug Weiss, you know that most of his "solutions" for sin have to do with formulas and placing certain laws on yourself or other carnal methods of behavior modification. This is what happens when you mix psychology with Christianity.
Why not? We all know we have sinned and fallen short. The polygraph doesn't say you are trying to be something you're not. But the accountability will help. I use the partner service offered on xxxchurch.com. It helps, and I think twice before I log onto an inappropriate Web site. Whatever it takes!
I have worked for companies that require regular polygraphs. The person giving the polygraph can control much of the results, and several times the tests were wrong. I don't trust polygraphs. I trust the Holy Spirit.
Advocating polygraphs screams: "the church has lost its spiritual discernment, and we need to depend on man's wisdom to root out scandal." It's time to fast, pray and ask for the gift of discernment.
Christians today often wave high standards with a condemning air while passing ourselves off to be something we are not—superior. We need to let the world around us know this: "We (the church) need God too. We ain't better, but we know Someone who is perfect."