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Books on a ShelfRecently, Chicago megachurch Harvest Bible Chapel announced that they were firing long-time pastor and founder James MacDonald. Not soon after, LifeWay Books pulled MacDonald’s books and writings from their website. MacDonald’s firing came after a financial scandal and controversial behavior, including calling into a local radio station to spread salacious rumors about his critics. But MacDonald isn’t the first pastor and religious author to publically fall from grace. Indeed, there's a shocking number of disgraced authors.

In 2006, then-President of the National Association of Evangelicals Ted Haggard was forced to resign from his church after an affair with a male prostitute and allegations of crystal meth use. Christian media personality Jim Bakker was accused of drugging and raping his secretary, then buying her silence. He was also charged with accounting fraud and sentenced to prison. Tony Alamo was a popular pastor in the 1970s who was charged with sexual abuse, pedophilia and much more in 2009. He was sentenced to 175 years in prison. It’s clear that being a religious leader does not mean your private actions are Christlike.

Humans have “feet of clay.” Some of these disgraced evangelists wrote books about Christianity and have ministered to thousands, if not millions, before their fall from grace. They’ve exerted significant influence over the direction of Evangelical Christianity itself. How do readers deal with that fallout? How can a person look back at a ministry objectively? And what do you do with books that are in your library?

Martin Luther - a Protestant Great With Faults of His Own

This is not a new phenomenon. Martin Luther is considered one of the most important men in Christianity. He is responsible for “Ninety-Five Theses,” which disputed indulgences and other practices in the Catholic Church that went against the Bible. He is highly regarded as the father of Lutheranism and caused the split in the church that changed history.

What most people forget about Luther is that he was highly anti-Semitic. In Luther’s early years, he wanted to convert Jews to Christianity, but as he aged, he came to despise Jews and wrote a treatise called, “On the Jews and Their Lies.” This treatise encouraged the destruction of synagogues and the burning of Jewish prayer books. Many historians agree this treatise influenced Germany’s views on Jews in the 20th century, and emboldened 20th century anti-Semites, giving them a respected historical and religious figure to cite for their prejudiced views.

It’s tough to reconcile the fact that the same man who transformed religion for Christians also may have influenced the Nazis and their atrocities toward the Jews. Modern Lutherans have denounced his abhorrent views and do not excuse his poor language. Rather, they have instead resolved to have a full picture of an imperfect man.

Does an Author’s Immorality Negate Their Works?

Writers and their morals are inextricably connected. In fact, many publishers today have a morality clause in their contracts that let them cancel a contract if the author’s outside conduct causes controversy. But separating art from the artist is something personal for everyone, and there’s no right way to go about it. Some may find an author’s conduct immoral and refuse to purchase their books. Others can appreciate the message, even if the person behind the pen behaves poorly. Both are perfectly valid points of view.

For religious authors, though, it may be a bit different. Those who preach morality should be able to uphold their own standards. It is entirely within one’s right to write off a religious author who preaches, say, marital purity, and is caught having an affair.

As readers, we have to remember that authors are not perfect. Whether Christian or not, people will make mistakes. The person that leads a church may not be the person we think they are. We have to be prepared to judge an author’s words versus their actions, and decide how to proceed if they act in a way we disapprove of.

We should all exercise wisdom in choosing the books and authors we support.

Category: Society

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