Two years ago, I drafted a post firing many of the major Black Civil Rights leaders on behalf of all of African America. My wife, discerning and gracious, suggested I not publish it. I keep it in my draft file, and every once in a while I read the "pink slip" hoping to send someone packing on a Friday afternoon, never to return to the office.
Today I learned that Rev. Jesse Jackson said more than the already crude statements regarding Sen. Obama's private parts aired on news channels over the past week. He apparently used the N-word. Now everyone from the ladies on The View to the usual TV pundits are trying to figure out what's going on with Jackson. And I'm dusting off my pink slip marked Jackson.
I don't know what it is, but iconic African-American clergymen in the twilight of their careers have been falling like flies around Barack Obama. First Wright, now Jackson. Men who have served for decades now watch either their reputation or their work burn like wood, hay, and stubble in the flames of indiscretion, immorality, and public outrage. What will the flames of Christ's judgment do?
I remember the first time I heard John Piper pray that the Lord would keep him from falling and would enable him to finish well. It was a lightning bolt through my soul. I had not been praying that way for myself or for others, and I instantly knew I needed to. I can fall. I can ruin myself, my family, and the reputation of my local church, and most of all bring disrepute upon Christ. In an instant, off-mic, leaning to a colleague, I can do almost irreparable harm.
So, Jackson reminds me that mine is a public life as well. Every pastor's life is a public life. And perhaps a case can be made that every Christian life is a public life. And we all can fall to depths that make us shudder when we're sober-minded enough to think about it. We are Christ's, but Satan has asked to sift us like wheat, sin lies crouching at our doors. We'd better watch our lives and our doctrine carefully.
Having said that, I wonder what the term "Reverend" now means in the minds of Christians. When people call me "Rev. Anyabwile" as they sometimes do, what are they thinking? Are they thinking anything at all really? Is "Reverend" a quaint little title we normally assign to kind old men in collars who've served a gray-haired flock for some time, but also a title that happens to land on younger men destined for that same humble little future? Is anything of reverence, respect, holiness, God-fearing, Christ-likeness associated with the word any more?
Not if Jesse Jackson can be justifiably called "Reverend". I'm not singling out Jackson. We could list the Swaggarts, Lyons, Paula Whites and others who for various reasons make the name meaningless either by their lack of reverence or their misplaced energies. After all, Jackson hasn't been involved with a church as an active pastor for some time as far as I can tell. But beyond the recent comments, we might also point to Jackson's adulterous relationship and illegitimate child just a couple years ago. If the title is going to be more than ceremonial, if Jackson and every other pastor would dignify the pastoral office and the title, we must not only pray that we would not fall, but if we should fall we also must "step down," see ourselves as disqualified, hasten to refuse the label, choosing instead to encourage and pray for others who run the race by God's grace without being disqualified and entangled with the affairs of this world.
Jackson's comments are deplorable. There is no compelling way of explaining why anyone associated with the risen Lord Jesus should say such things, much less why His ministers should profane His name that way. Jackson's words deomonstrate a lack of integrity--campaigning for the abolishment of the N-word's use while freely using it "off air." We will be judged by every idle word we speak. And judgment will begin at the household of God, where those who teach will receive the stricter judgment.
Jackson has run his race. He's run out of bounds set by Scripture. He should dignify the pastoral office and the men who give their lives to it by setting aside the title "reverend," for his actions do not warrant the honor.
We all should be watchful, lest we fall. Let's all pray that those who stand to proclaim the gospel of Christ would be kept and sanctified by the truth in the power of God's Spirit. That "Reverend" would mean something deep and beautiful and awesome and Christ-honoring and cross-embracing and holy and profound and gracious and trustworthy. That those who don the title would be wholly committed to Christ, not distracted by politics and studio lights, humbly working as slaves of Christ for the glory of Christ with the joy of Christ.
To paraphrase Mc'Cheyne, the greatest need our people have is the holiness of their pastor. The perishing world needs to see that as well.
4 Suggestions for Post-Election Listening - The Gospel Coalition kindly posted my article, “4 Suggestions for Post-Election Listening.”
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