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Pastor Scandals: When Do You Forgive?

Angered by the behavior of pastors involved in recent scandals, a Missouri seminary professor wrote a scathing open letter last week attacking them. Lerone A. Martin, assistant professor of American religious history at Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis, said he’s irritated by congregants who stick by unrepentant, unaccountable pastors with the rationale that “God’s forgiven them, why shouldn’t I?” Martin referred specifically to Bishop Eddie Long of New Birth Missionary Bapist who recently settled an accusation of using his position to pressure four men into sexual relationships and whose supporters are urging congregants of late to “stand by their pastor.”

Martin’s letter in the Religion Dispatches harshly responded to Long’s handling of his situation: “Long’s move from adamant public denial to private settlement left no way for onlookers…to obtain an account of exactly what happened…(and) as to whether their shepherd indeed has an ongoing problem.” Martin aligned people leaving Long’s church with parents pulling their children from a school because of similar issues in a schoolteacher with access to their children. In the letter, Martin asked Long’s supporters, “Would you send your kids back to a summer camp where one of the key officials was shrouded…in sexual abuse? Would you continue to unquestionably financially and otherwise support a non-profit organization where the power structure was clouded in a questionable history of inappropriate sexual contact with children?”

What do you think? When should congregations forgive pastors who remain embroiled in issues, and what should that forgiveness entail? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.