Pastoral Accountability: How to Face Church Scandals

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When an elected official breaks the public trust, people can take steps to vote him out of office. But what if it's your pastor or another religious leader?

That question has helped launch a movement to answer a need for accountability.

Eddie Long Scandal

Increasingly, church leaders are joining the ranks of celebrities and politicians as the subjects of scandalous headlines.

Megachurch Pastor Bishop Eddie Long is among the latest, recently settling a sexual misconduct lawsuit filed by four young men.

Long's confidential settlement has sparked loud calls for answers. Columnist and talk show host Roland Martin is among the most outspoken.

Roland has attended services at Long's New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in the Atlanta area. He has shared the stage with Long at public events and read some of Long's books.

Public Outcry

Martin sat down with CBN News, prior to a recent recording of "Washington Watch," his Sunday morning talk show on the TV One cable network.

"If I can sit here and be critical of the Catholic Church as a former Catholic, as it relates to the widespread sexual abuse in the Catholic church, I should be able to speak out in this issue dealing with Bishop Eddie L. Long," Martin said. "To me, it makes no sense when you have folks who believe in silence."

"The moment you go outside of your church doors, and the moment you extend that ministry beyond New Birth, beyond the doors to the rest of the world, then you have invited folks in," he continued. "Don't invite the praise in, do not invite the worship in, don't invite the tithes and the offerings in, but when it is time to catch hell, you don't want the criticism to come in."

CBN reached out to New Birth for this story but did not get any response from Bishop Long.

"Thanks for your interest. I will let you know if we can accommodate your request in the future. Currently Bishop Long is not available for interviews," Church publicist Art Franklin said.

Facing the Congregation

Bishop Long is certainly not the first popular pastor to find himself caught in the middle of a scandal and a struggle to decide what to say to the media.

But there is one audience no pastor can avoid: the congregation.

Helping pastors and congregations walk and talk through those tough times is part of the mission of the International Communion of Evangelical Churches, a newly-formed union of leaders from more than a thousand churches.

"Our level of integrity has to be uppermost. We must live what we preach," Apostle Kyle Searcy, one of the leading members of ICE., told CBN News.

"We can't stand as a prophetic voice of righteousness if we live unrighteous lives," he said.

The international accountability group plans to routinely interview families of its key leaders, visit their churches, and hold retreats that encourage pastors to be accountable to God and each other.

Rev. Harry Jackson, who serves as the bishop of ICE, spoke with CBN News while presiding over the organization's launch.

"Most leaders don't disclose their struggles because the way many of our communions and organizations are structured, you would be fired because you have a struggle," he shared.

"We are saying, let's talk, let's be open. Let's recognize people need safe places to go," he continued. "And we believe all of that will be preventative from someone rising up really high and then fall really low."

Restoring Fallen Pastors

For preachers who do fall, fellow ministers stand ready to help restore the the fallen. And they are armed with scripture.

"Jesus said, 'Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation,'" Searcy told CBN News. "So, I don't care if you are bishop, a pope, or whatever the title is or how large you get, we need each other to help walk right and do what God has called us to do."

"So our commitment is to that level of humility, so that we can help each other stand strong," he said.

"The body of Christ is too important and too fragile to lose any soldiers," Bishop Eugene Reeves added. "I don't believe any of God's people should be thrown away, especially the leaders. We need to restore them."

"They need to go through restoration, but there is a process," he continued. "Sometimes it's a year. Sometimes it's two years. But whatever it takes to get them restored, that is what we must do."

Healing Church Hurt

As fallen pastors are healed and restored to the pulpit, it is important not to forget those sitting in the pew -- church members who may have been hurt in the crisis.

Angela Corprew-Boyd is a minister who has traveled in the United States and abroad teaching, comforting, and counseling people who have been hurt in the church.

"It happens every day in every church," Corprew-Boyd said regarding the frequency of people being hurt in houses of God.

"That is how common it is and I think sometimes people don't want to discuss it because church is not the place where you are supposed to be hurt. It is the place you go for refuge to be healed," she said.

Corprew-Boyd has also been the victim of church hurt. She turned her pain into a book to help others, Church Hurt: The Wounded Trying to Heal.

"People want to know the truth. And when people know the truth they can deal with it in their own way, but also allow the word of God to address them, right where they are," she said.

"They respect you more when you tell the truth. They respect you more when you are transparent," she continued. "I am a human being, flesh like your flesh. We are all dealing with struggles and issues that we have to allow the word of God to address."

And as the hundreds of church leaders participating in ICE would agree, God's word is the Truth that makes all men free.

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Efrem Graham

Efrem Graham

News Anchor & Reporter

Efrem Graham is an award-winning journalist, who comes to CBN News from the ABC owned and operated station in Toledo, Ohio.  He received his master's degree from the Columbia University Journalism School. He also holds a bachelor's degree in English Literature from the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.  Follow Efrem on Twitter @EfremGraham and "like" him at Facebook.com/EfremGrahamCBN.