It’s always nice to hear from people about how your writing affected them. So when Ray contacted me with his story, I was honored to share it with you. Grace is a beautiful thing and I love to see it given freely. If you’d like to guest post, be sure to check out the guidelines here.
To make a short introduction, I’m a sinner.
I was once a Southern Baptist pastor with a seminary education. I took great pride in that. I also tended to be very judgmental. Everything fit so nicely into black and white categories for me.
For instance, I had an unmarried couple in the church one time who got pregnant. I am ashamed to say I didn’t practice much compassion in those days. I demanded over and over again they get married or they be removed from the fellowship. It caused great stress upon the mother and I kept that stance even until the baby was born. After the child was born, they went to another pastor to perform a small service. In my anger over their sin, I never found joy in the birth of their child.
I knew the old saying that was repeated to me in the halls of church, my Baptist university and seminary, “Hate the sin, but love the sinner.” But, for me, with my judgmental attitude, separating the two was next to impossible. If I saw sin in someone’s life, I found it very hard to like them.
When I saw adultery, alcoholism, homosexuality, or hypocrisy, my blood boiled. Not just against the sin, but against the person. Why? Because I couldn’t understand why they wanted to be like that. Oh, and forget the fact that my own attitude was complete hypocrisy. You know what they say about pride.
Six years into my pastorate, my parents divorced when my dad committed adultery. I hated him for it. He died a year later in an accident. My mom came to live in the same community as me and my family and attended my church. She was my best friend, my prayer warrior. A year later, she died in a car accident. I was grieving terribly.
I had also been having martial issues for a while. Within a few months, I was engaged in an affair of my own with my wife’s best friend. We were caught and I was kicked out of the church. We were divorced and I was suddenly on my own.
Now, I was the adulterer, the fallen pastor. The person I would have hated. And I did hate myself. For a long time.
One day, I was prompted by God to read John 8, the story of the woman caught in adultery. As a pastor, I hated that story. Why? Because I didn’t understand it. As a pastor, I’d read where they brought a woman caught in adultery to Jesus and they said, “The Law of Moses demands we stone her.” And as my former pastor self, I’d say, “Well, stone her then. What’s the problem?”
As a fallen pastor I read it again. Christ ignored the crowd and became the only friend this woman had in the world. He didn’t ignore the law, but he showed compassion. As the only one there with the right to judge, he sent the crowd away. It was grace that I was missing. Compassion for others. It was love that Christ gave me that day, forgiving my adultery and saying, “Ray, you’re no better than anyone else. It’s not your job to judge. It’s your job to love and show compassion. It’s my job to change them.”
Since that day, I started a blog and have reached a lot of people. I wrote a book to help fallen pastors and those around them. I’ve been humbled by it. I thought I’d l had crossed every bridge.
My wife and I got an email from a woman who had been in a relationship with her pastor. We talked with her for a while and Allison was chatting with her online. At some point we suddenly realized they were a same-sex couple. I felt the old Baptist preacher creep up in me for a second. My mouth was open for a moment.
Then I felt awash with God’s grace.
I said to Allison, “Know what? We’re here to help fallen pastors and those around them. Period. All included. She’s hurting and needs help. They aren’t excluded from the grace of Christ.” I was suddenly reminded of what one of my Mennonite friends always told me, “All ground is level at the foot of the cross.”
That woman and her pastor are no different from me. And the second I think so, I fail again. That night, I felt the need to send Alise this Facebook message:
I’ve got to be terribly honest with you. I had a life change tonight. Let me explain.
I’ve grown up Southern Baptist. You can imagine I’ve had strong anti-homosexuality feelings. It’s been in the name of, “we don’t hate the sinner, we hate the sin.”
Yeah, right. But that’s not how most people in churches view it.
I had an experience tonight that changed me forever. You know I’m the fallen pastor guy. Well, I had a woman contact me who had been in a relationship with a pastor. They got caught. The pastor left and went to another church. She was telling me how broken and horrible it all was. It sounded so familiar to me.
She said the pastor she was in a relationship with was being treated harshly as well. I forwarded the email to my wife and they hit it off.
Bombshell moment – they were a same sex couple. Four years ago, I would have turned my back on them. I would have thought, “you have a lot more problems than adultery. You’re homosexual.”
Not tonight. The woman wanted to talk to my wife and I said, “you know what? She needs love, support and compassion like anyone else. That’s what Christ calls us to. Four years ago I would have judged her. But my job isn’t to judge. Christ calls us to come alongside people and love.”
Alise, I’ve been shown grace. How could I have withheld it from anyone after what grace I’ve been shown?
I feel awful about my former attitude. How could have I withhold grace from anyone? Even if I believe someone to be in sin, they deserve the love of Christ as well as all my love and attention.
I’m no better than anyone else. No more righteous. No greater. God forgive my blindness.
I pray that God would continue to humble me like this and open my eyes to people who have fallen and need compassion. May the flame of His mercy and grace never burn out in my soul.
Ray Carroll is the author of “Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Fallen World.” He blogs at www.fallenpastor.com.