As a general rule, yes I do. People make mistakes. People err in judgment. People, in a moment of anger, rage, or passion do things they wouldn’t normally do. Human beings are flawed, frail, and contradictory. All of us have done things we regret, things we wish we could do over. We hope that those we have hurt or offended will give us another chance. We hope they will allow us the opportunity to show them that we are better than what we did to them.
But, here is what I also know. Change is very hard and most human beings don’t change. True, lasting change requires hard work and lots of personal pain. Evangelicals don’t seem to understand this. They naively think that if a person has a come to Jesus moment that it fundamentally changes who they are. Sadly, we know that this is not the case. For the most part, the sinner-turned-Christian is the same person after Jesus as before. Yes, he may give up this or that “sin” in order to fit into the particular Christian sect he is a part of, but fundamentally he is the same person.
When the person who had the come to Jesus moment reverts back to old behaviors, his fellow Church members are taken aback by his backsliding, his worldliness. They shouldn’t be. All he has done is revert to who he really is. (which may be bad in the Christian church context but may be quite normal outside of the church)
My wife and I have character traits, personality quirks, and habits that annoy the hell of each other. We have known each other for 36 years and this coming year we will celebrate our 35th wedding anniversary. You would think over 3 and a half decades that our character traits, personality quirks, and habits that annoy each other would change. But they haven’t. Oh, we have made some changes around the periphery of who we are, but at the core of who we are we are fundamentally unchanged. The things we “ignored” because we were in love are still there decades later.
What has changed is how we respond to the character traits, personality quirks, and habits of each other. We have learned, on most days, to accept the differences each of us has. On the days we don’t? We fight.
Change is hard and most people don’t change but change is still possible. I look at where I am today, an atheist, and I know that change is possible. Over the past five years how I view the world and what I believe about religion, the afterlife, and politics has dramatically changed. (much to the dismay of those who wish I was the same old Bruce) My counselor has told me that it rare for people my age to make such dramatic changes in their worldview.
Within the Evangelical church there is talk of restoring fallen pastors. Since Evangelicals, in theory at least, believe in grace, they think that no matter what a person does God can forgive them of it and they can have a clean slate. This is why men like Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker, and Ted Haggard are still in the ministry. This is why Paula White and Benny Hinn are still preaching away. This why people like David Hyles, and someday Jack Schaap, get an opportunity to regain some of their lost glory.
Evangelicals love a comeback story. They believe their God is a God of second chances. They wrongly assume the person getting a divine do-over is fundamentally different now than when they “”fell” (most often they actually run) into “sin.”
Humans are sexual beings and our sexual appetites vary from person to person. A man who spends his entire married life having sex with women who are not his wife is not going to change his behavior just because his wife divorces him. His problem is not his wife; it is his sexual appetite.
Countless Evangelical men try to “marry away the gay” and what happens? Sooner or later their true sexual identity boils to the surface and they find themselves having sexual relations with a man. All the praying, fasting, Bible reading, and exorcisms in the world can’t change who they are. Scandal ensues but no one addresses the real scandal, the whole notion that being married to a woman can fix a man’s “gay” problem.
Bruce, what about sexual deviants? Should they be given a second chance? No. Pedophiles can’t be cured. We can debate WHY someone is a pedophile but the evidence is quite clear, once a pedophile always a pedophile. (it is less clear in situations where adults are having sex with teens in their late teens) Once a person is caught sexually abusing a child they should never be given the opportunity to do so again. While I don’t support the death penalty, I have no problem with life in prison without the possibility of parole for child molesters.
The evidence for this is clear to see…look at the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal. Countless priests preyed on children and sexually assaulted them. Moving them to a new parish did not change them. All it did is give them a fresh crop of children to molest.
Years ago a church caught an adult church member showing a teen sexually explicit materials. The church handled the matter internally. The man repented and Jesus wiped the slate clean. Years later it was determined that he could safely be around teens again. Surely, time and Jesus fixed the man?
Sadly, Jesus or time did not change the man and he was caught in a sexual act with a teen in the church basement. He was prosecuted and the church paid a large civil settlement for their complicity in his crime.
Moving a pastor who is a serial adulterer two thousands miles away to a new church will not change the fact that he is still a serial adulterer. In a few cases, I am sure that such a man can stop seeking out women to have sex with, but, in most cases, the adulterous pastor will seek out potential sex partners because that is what he desires. The solution is not to put him in places of authority and responsibility that will give him ready access to trusting women. (and I don’t necessarily thing extramarital sex is wrong. It depends on the agreement a married couple has. My focus here is on pastors, people who have control and authority over others)
It is hard for most of us to admit our weaknesses and character deficiencies. We know them well and most everyone else knows them too, but we don’t like don’t like talking about them. Our character traits, personality quirks, and habits are the elephant in the room that everyone sees but no one talks about. To what degree we can change these things depends on whether or not we are willing to do whatever is necessary to change. For the most part, we won’t change. I know this sounds cynical and defeatist but it is how we really are.
So, we hope for second chances. We hope THIS time it will be different. Maybe it will be….but I wouldn’t count on it. Better to embrace each other with all our character traits, personality quirks, and habits. And when those things harm and hurt others? It is time to remove such people from our lives. Most of us, at one time or the other, have had to cut harmful, destructive, hurtful people from our lives.
What are your thoughts on the questions, do you believe in second chances and do people change?