Fallen Pastor’s Story, part 17: I needed to Forgive.

Authors: Note: This is not what I planned on writing at this point. I had no peace in my soul and that stopped me from posting what I planned. I sat on what I wrote for over two weeks and only just now deleted it all. And for reason that is beyond me, this takes its place. This is a continuation of my story, as best asI can remember it. However, it is not a linear and chronological history. I pray that the posts I write become “our story.” By that, I mean that you recognize parts of your story as you read mine. My story is not wholly unique. Others share it — or, at least, parts of it. And countless others deny sharing it, but do anyway. Maybe we’ll meet in the middle of the narrative.

If CPR is a picture of renewed life, then coughing up water to breathe is a picture of the act of forgiveness. That sounds backward. It feels backward. I need forgiveness. I don’t need to forgive. I am the guilty party. I  betrayed my Ex, my kids, my supporters, friends, family, staff, and parishioners. Yes, I did. And still I need to forgive.

Alcoholics Anonymous gets this right. Alcoholics make amends in steps eight and nine:

Step 8: Made a list of all we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
Step 9: Made amends to those we had harmed, except when to do so would harm them or others.

Long before they get to those steps, they spend time figuring out who they need to forgive. They do that in steps four and five:

Step 4: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory.
Step 5: Admitted to ourselves, to God, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

Recovering alcoholics discover that the exact nature of their wrongs is holding grudges and withholding forgiveness. They correctly believe that God forgives us the way we forgive others. So, we need to learn to forgive to experience being forgiven. This is consistent with how Jesus taught us to pray, “And forgive our sins as we forgive the sins of those who sin against us.”

I am amazed that the evangelical church that birthed and grew me never spent much time teaching this principle. To know forgiveness, I need to forgive.


When I did my fourth step, I wrote pages and pages of resentments. For instance, I acknowledged resenting the country of France and the French. It is almost funny that France is part of my fourth step. But France isn’t alone on the list. There are many other deep and dark resentments that I didn’t / I don’t want to admit: I have Polaroid images of my mother fingering my pre-pubescent genitalia in inappropriate ways…  And, I remember my Dad leaving me with her for weeks on end while he traveled to serve God, who evidently needed him more than I did. I remember my angry, depressed mother who seemed to hate my brother and me for stopping her from enjoying the life she loved — traveling and ministering beside Dad — beating me with a belt. I remember my brother brutally beating me up every day, throwing me into walls and never getting caught. I remember the betrayal of a first love and then having to listen to her friend’s cutting explanation, “She broke up with you because you were afraid to kiss her.” I remember that same girl writing me a letter whilst I was in exile in England to get away from her, asking me if I heard Journey’s new song, “Separate Ways.” I remember the betrayal of my college fiancee and my brother, as we drove away from her house for the last time, stopping the car so I could throw up because I couldn’t handle the pain …

There are so many more vivid resentments I could name. Alongside them, I have 70 mm Dolby surround sound, 3-D film of every shameful thing I’ve ever done. I remember with too much clarity the things I did that made me want to crawl into a hole and die; the times there was no place to escape. I can remember all the times I let people down, disappointing them. I remember telling lies to appear bigger, smarter, faster, stronger, more, and more lovable than I knew myself to be. I remember getting caught in those lies and shrinking down smaller than I wa before they left my mouth. I remember shrinking as small as I could get and realizing that it wasn’t small enough.

I need to forgive the Country of France, and a bunch of others. But most of all, I needed to forgive myself. There are a few reasons for that:

1. I convinced myself that I was so bad I deserved the bad things that others did to me.

2. The feelings that accompany my shame are more powerful than feelings surrounding wrongs done to me. Though I feel both. Historically, I feel shame more viscerally.

3, As hard as I try, I can’t forgive myself. There is a spiritual power that needs to be broken down for me to forgive myself.

4. Until I forgive myself, I don’t know what it looks like to forgive others.

Forgiveness is a process. It is not a linear event that I pass through and then complete. It keeps circling back like Bill Murray’s character in GroundHog Day. As I go through life, I uncover more that I need to forgive. Like taking up my cross daily, true freedom requires daily forgiving myself and my world.

There is a downside to forgiving yourself, at least there was for me. As I began to forgive myself, I started to get pissed off. When I thought I was a P.O.S. I could excuse people for treating me badly. I didn’t deserve any better than I got. After being forgiven, I started getting angry.

Now, you have to understand, my parents didn’t allow me to feel anger. The only person who could be angry in our house was Mom. The only exception was that Dad would occasionally get mad at her to hold her in line. Mom and Dad proudly boasted that they had “beaten the anger right out of me.” I don’t remember that. I don’t remember anger. I still don’t do it well. My friends told stories about throwing things or having a tantrum, and I’d get jealous because I didn’t know how to do it. My anger came out as passive aggression. While I smiled sweetly at you, I’d stab you in the back and watch you bleed out without you ever knowing it was me who got you. Or, I’d escape into my double life because it was the safest place I could find.

But, now, after learning I could forgive myself, I was feeling it. In the furrow of my sin, people felt free to wrong me. My Bishop lied to cover his butt with his wife after my Ex retold the story to them. He said he hadn’t realized in ’97 that I’d had intercourse with prostitutes, even though I went specifically to him and others to confess that sin. He knew his lie wasn’t important. My sin superceded it. So he got away with telling it.

Shadow preacherThe leadership of the church in which I grew up decided it was wholly appropriate to not only read a list of my sins from the pulpit to shame me but to demand I write an explicit letter to my prayer and financial supporters outlining those same sins to them as well. Conveniently forgetting the rest of the New Testament, they intentionally shamed me because of their interpretation of the pastoral epistles. Later, they performed an exorcism on my brother and sister-in-law’s home because I stayed there a month. When it became clear that if there were demons in the home, they undoubtedly came from my brother, no apology was ever offered or considered. The pastor discovered he could get away with saying pretty much whatever he wanted to say to and about me, and so he did. It was reported to me that he made sure a local seminary refused me admission to their counseling program. I no longer had any grounds to disagree with or stand up to him. People in the church started and repeated fantastic rumors. A missionary friend saw me in Costco and asked if I really made my Dad move out of his house so that I could live there.

The leadership of my house church community thought they knew what they were doing, and in their arrogance demanded that everything be done their way. They chose my counselor and then didn’t like things he said and so demanded that I stop seeing him and find a Christian counselor (assuming he’d agree with them). Finally, when they disagreed with both my sponsor and new Christian therapist and discovered that I would not obey them, they asked me to leave the church altogether. So I did. I became an Episcopalian.

I knew that I needed to forgive these men and women for my sake rather than theirs. I didn’t want to, though. My hatred of them felt deserved. It felt good, and it held me captive. I was unwilling to give up my right to revenge. Judging them gave me solace in my despair. Even when you are at the bottom of the barrel it helps to have people that are easy marks for contempt.

Finally, after years (and that is not an exaggeration) of prayer for willingness to take action I asked my former Bishop to meet. We had coffee, and I told him that I forgave him. He asked me what he had done, and I said it was unimportant and bringing it to light again would probably create further damage between us. I knew I needed to let it go. I needed to give up any fantasy of revenge. I had to give up the right to judge he and his wife in the same way I had given up the right to judge myself.

However, I was still unwilling to forgive the pastor who read out my sins, blocked my admission to the seminary, didn’t stop rumors, and said hateful things about and to me that were untrue. Then one day, I walked into a pastors’ prayer meeting, and he was the only one there. As I walked across the room and sat down next to him, praying as I walked. I found that I held no ill will for him. I didn’t need to harm him. He was an old man, and God had my back. I didn’t need to judge him at all.

I wish I could tell you that once I gave up the right to revenge or to judge him –or anyone else, for that matter — all my hatred went away. It didn’t. There are still moments when I want revenge on that old pastor. I have to pray them away. There are still moments that I judge the hell out of the old bishop and his wife. That fact isn’t helped by her ongoing judgment of me and continued belief that she was correct in her assessments and actions, so I continually return to my knees and ask for willingness to forgive, and then I pray a simple prayer of surrender:

“Lord, I surrender my right to be angry with ________. Save me from being angry with them. Please give them _________ (whatever I want for myself right now). May I find in you, whatever my anger is giving me. Your will not mine be done.”

I pray that prayer until I mean it, which means I repeat it a lot. Some folk aren’t easy to love! But by praying, I take the Lord seriously, seeking the welfare of my enemies. And as I obey, the Holy Spirit slowly transforms and resurrects my heart.

“Listening” to the energy in my body as I wrote these words, I am very aware that I have more work to do. Though my resentments’ power weakens the more I pray to forgive, my resentments can still keep me awake. Their power and my powerlessness require me to rely on the Holy Spirit. He has to be actively involved because my resentments are too much for me. The good news is that he is willing to get his hands dirty with me.

Just so you know, because this post brought back a lot of emotion, I will be praying the above-cited prayer a lot in the next few days. If you haven’t already, I’d encourage you to join me in it — for your resentments, not mine.prayer-on-my-knees4

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So you are worried that you are listed in the Ashley Madison Data Base


If you are reading this and you haven’t heard, Ashley Madison, the online dating site for singles and married people, guaranteeing you an affair if you are married was hacked. Every email ever used to sign up (AM never verified the email addresses) was released by the hackers. There were quite literally over 30 million emails in the released database, along with billing info, sexual preferences, etc… It is quite an embarrassment for way too many women and men.ashley Madison
There is something incredibly freeing about being a disgraced pastor who struggled in his recovery.  It feels to me as no one would be surprised to find  me in the Ashley Madison database. I have no fear of getting caught, and I don’t have to look over my shoulder. My name is expected to be in that database by anyone who knows my story. Even after the dissolution of my first marriage, my trip to rehab, and months and years in recovery I struggled with sexual sobriety. Not everyone is so “lucky.” Please remember, my current shalom cost my family, friends, students, church, supporters and me more than words can adequately convey.
I’ve purposely not posted anything about this to date. I wanted to wait. I wish I could have waited longer. I am only writing now because I think many are more concerned with “getting caught” than guilt over their actions. They are fearful of what might happen, rather than distressed over their choices. Additionally, I read two pieces urging Christ followers and Christian leaders to do things that I fear will do more harm than good.
Ed Stetzer wrote, in an article for Christianity Today, “Confess to your spouse….Confess to someone else…. If you are a pastor, confess to your church.” confession2Much of the article is right on, and yet the advice I quoted here is at best out of order and at worst, sadly mistaken. In an earlier post, I wrote about the danger of “blanket confessions.” If people, and particularly leaders follow his advice, I fear they will cause a lot of unnecessary pain and turmoil. I am not saying that confession will not have to be made. It might. But let me offer a different path..
If you are on that list:
  1. Talk to God about it (on your knees) Your physical posture is connected to your spiritual posture. Spend an extended time crying out to God. If you journal — then journal (honestly as if no one will ever have a chance to read it). Take time to tell God your fears, your guilt, your shame, your weakness and your failures.prayer-on-my-knees4
    • In the midst of this awareness, pray for your ability to accept the fact that you are not unique, that you are human and that you have limitations and weaknesses. List the weaknesses you see if you need to. If you need to bitch and moan to God about making you as screwed up as you currently feel yourself to be, then take the time to do it. This is a long process, but coming to a place of acceptance of our own limitations is really important if we are going to find healing.
    • Pray for those that, if they found out, you have damaged. Take time to consider how you have damaged them; and how you have violated relationship with them. Consider your spouse, your kids, your parents, your siblings, your church family, your supporters and prayer partners, and your friends who you’ve lied to.
    • AFTER you’ve done this work (sometimes it is while you are doing the work of acceptance) Confess to God your wrong doing — your attempts to be God (perfect), Your desire to be seen as something other than you are, the violation of relationships that you have committed (not loving as you ought).
  2. Take an inventory of what you actually did. Those of us that have been to the Ashley Madison site know that they lure you in with promises. You sign up and find out quickly that simply signing up does you no good. You have to pay to have any hope of having an affair, meeting someone, or even chatting with someone. At this point many people simply realize the scam and duck out. Some like me, pay to go further down into the muck. Once you are in you can chat with people on the internal email link. You can cruise all the data on others that are in the system and try to make connections. None of this means that you will. I never got that far on this site. Others may have. Once you meet, you have to decide if you are going to follow through. The person may not, and often isn’t who they portray themselves to be and so you back out then. Others go further and physically commit adultery. All of us that went to the site are clearly adulterers are still adulterers. But then again, most people are. This is not permission to minimize. Please don’t do that. If you are going to the Ashley Madison site something is really, really wrong, and you need help. Something is broken inside. By not getting help you will only increase the problem
  3. Get help:There are 12 step groups across America to help people controlled by their lust and their libido: Sexaholics Anonymous, Sex Addicts Anonymous, Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, Sexual Compulsives Anonymous to name a few. The Church has tried to copy many of these: Pure Desire, For Men Only, Prodigals International, and Celebrate Recovery. If you are a pastor, I strongly recommend  going to one of the big ones on the first list rather than the Church copycats. The reasons for this will have to be given in another post. For a full list and the idiosyncrasies of each program see Gracefall’s Resource Page.
  4. Look for a sex addiction therapist. Then go see them. Or call us.
  5. It is possible that you are not an addict. You may simply have abused sex much like some non-alcoholics abuse alcohol. It is not likely, however. The group you choose, and your therapist can help you make this determination. Remember that the only one that can say you are an addict is you.
  6. Recovery tells us that the keys to recovery are Honesty, openness, and willingness. Listen to your sponsor and your peer group. Quit running your own show. Only then can you begin to move forward. They will guide you to the whens, hows, and wheres of confession.
  7. Once you have completed the above, prayerfully consider what and when to tell your spouse. If necessary get guidance to help you tell your Church leadership and empowerment to tell the congregation. (Please note, that it is rare that a congregational announcement ever be given. Normally this only happens healthily if there are victims in the Church body.)
  8. Remember you are not alone. There are countless thousands of us that are walking a recovery path with you and before you. We go to meetings to find out that we are not alone and find experience, walk togetherstrength and hope. Please don’t give up. Please don’t add to your stupid, impulsive actions and exponentially add to the damage you have already done. You have not tried and will not try anything that many of us have already tried. You can learn from our mistakes. Please do so. Know that people like me will love you no matter what, not for who you want to be seen as, but for who you really are.