Guest Opinion: How Should Christians Respond When Leaders Go Astray?

By Anne Paulk

In recent times, we have seen a litany of Christian influencers falling away from biblically grounded Christianity.

Best-selling author and pastor, Joshua Harris, kissed his faith good-bye, telling his followers he’d “undergone a massive shift.” Similarly, Jonathan Steingard, lead singer for the band Hawk Nelson, says he no longer believes in God though he admits he’d like to “leave that door open.”

Others say they believe in God but are rejecting biblically orthodox understandings of gender and sexuality.

Jen Hatmaker and daughter
Jen Hatmaker with her daughter, Sydney, who recently announced she’s lesbian.

High-profile author, Jen Hatmaker, recently celebrated her daughter’s lesbian identity, asserting it’s “maybe even more cruel” to love LGBT people while simultaneously believing homosexuality is wrong.

Most recently, Matthew Paul Turner—best-selling Christian author of “When God Made You” Christian children’s book and former editor of CCM—came out as gay. The husband and father of three said he’s divorcing his wife, adding that he’s “ready to embrace freedom, hope, and God as a gay man.”

How should Christians process news like this?

For faithful believers, this sort of news can bring grief, loss, sadness, and discouragement.

For me, the news hits especially close to home. Seven years ago, my husband, and the father of my three sons, returned to a gay life he had previously renounced and we divorced.

The pain and loss are never far from my heart.

This makes perfect sense when you consider God’s beautiful intent was that husband and wife would become “one flesh.” And as Jesus said in Matthew 19:6, “(W)hat God has joined together, let man not separate.”

But then, and now, I’m reminded of something that happened very early in my walk with the Lord.

When I was a new believer leaving homosexuality at the age of 19, the woman who was mentoring me, Diane, went back into gay relationships. And it forced me to ask myself some hard questions amid sorrow, doubt, and turmoil. Who am I following, Diane or Jesus?

Perhaps you also must do so now. Are you following Matthew Paul Turner, Jen Hatmaker, Jonathan Steingard, Josh Harris—or Jesus?

Jesus knew where he was going and was willing to sacrifice all to fulfill his mission. Matthew Paul Turner seems to be following his feelings, not knowing where he will end up in a few years, at great cost to his wife and children.

Jesus is the only one worthy of following.

Where do I ground my faith?

As a new believer, I attended a couple of churches in Southern California and both my pastors would often say, “Do not just believe me. Check out what Scripture says.”

Those words were wise, and I did check out what these pastors said.

Perhaps you could do the same as you process news about whether God considers homosexuality “good” and compatible with biblical faith?

Here are a few passages that directly address the topic: Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, Leviticus 18, Lev. 20:13, 1 Timothy 1:8-11, Jude 1:7.  

“Love is love,” right? Does it matter whom a person loves romantically? And is any expression of sex acceptable to God?

The Bible has a lot to say about sex and romance. Scripture makes clear that sex outside of male and female covenant marriage is sin. It calls all variations of sexual sin, including sexual affection between two men or two women, immorality.

God does care about our sexual expression. According to Scripture, homosexuality is sin to relinquish, not “freedom” to embrace. But it can be forgiven. How wonderful is our God!

Refocus on Jesus

The hard news is that people can fall and fail. Marriages can dissolve. Leaders can deeply disappoint.

During times like this, I choose to look to the One who never fails, who is perfectly faithful, and is known by the names “Comforter” and “Prince of Peace.”

Jesus knew that people fail and said: “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.” (Matt. 7:24-25)

Jesus’ authority is much greater than any human. He said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” (Matt. 25:35)

We must stop making Christian leaders the most influential people in our lives and must start making Jesus preeminent.  

What now for Matthew Paul Turner & others?

On Social media, I’ve seen many harshly judge Matthew Paul Turner and leaders who reject biblical Christianity. This is neither compassionate, nor biblical, nor Christlike.

About Jesus, the Bible says, “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. . .” (Matthew 12:20)

Matthew Paul Turner and his family
Matthew Paul Turner and his family

I have seen people commit their lives to sin in various ways, including homosexuality. And I know they will experience natural loss from the route they have taken. My hope for them is that they will repent.

If there is breath, there is hope for repentance (turning back to God). So, I pray that the amazing, redemptive love of God will win their hearts in a deep way and that they will turn to Him. You can join me in praying for Matthew Paul Turner.

You can also join me in praying for Turner’s wife and his children, who will suffer the loss of having parents raise them in one household.

Ripping and tearing of children’s hearts is so horrible and an unavoidable outcome of this sad situation. My sons and I know this pain and loss personally. What sounds happy on the surface of a social media announcement likely has unexpressed, deep areas of grief.

Some of you grew up in a home with divorced parents and know what this pain is like. Perhaps that can help you pray more effectively for the comfort and healing of these young lives?

Has Hope Left the Building?

Hope—if it primarily resides in a Christian leader, pastor, or another human—has indeed left the building. But if you place your hope in Someone who never fails, you will not be disappointed.

There is always hope for those who have strayed into sin—that is, if they acknowledge that what they are doing is indeed sin and are willing to leave it behind. As 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

But there’s also hope and incredible blessing for those who resist sin.

Even though I have been hurt deeply by my husband’s decision, God has been so near. And I have felt as if my heavenly Father has held my hand and drawn me especially near to his heart.

He has blessed my paths and established me in countless ways. He has given me wisdom and blessing beyond what I could have anticipated. How tender, trustworthy, and honorable is the Lord. He truly is the God who “rewards those who earnestly seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6)

Anne Paulk of Restored Hope Anne Paulk is Executive Director of Restored Hope Network, a coalition of Christian ministries helping individuals with unwanted same sex attraction. She also is the author of “Restoring Sexual Identity: Hope for Women Who Struggle with Same-Sex Attraction” and co-author of “Love Won Out.”

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discussion

42 thoughts on “Guest Opinion: How Should Christians Respond When Leaders Go Astray?”

  1. As far as the gentleman who no longer believes in God, I am supposing that means that he believes there is no God. My answer to that would be the god he believed in was not GOD and he should now study the bible after praying. The true God will reveal himself to him. As far as the writer whos daughter is a lesbian , shes has nothing to celebrate somewhere along the way her daughter was stolen by demonic principals, pray for daughter show her where she was deceived and made ashamed of bad choices , tell her to confess and move on. If she is a chosen she will respond. If your pastor goes astray follow biblical principals , go to him by yourself, then with a witness ,if after that he does not respond turn him over to the other side.

    1. By all means, let’s get back to the words of Jesus. Here is everything Jesus said against LGBT people during his storied life in the Bible (________________________________). Please, follow His example.

      1. Good idea, Jerry, let’s get back to the words of Jesus.
        His words on marriage: “Know you not that He created them male and female?” (Matthew 19:4)
        His words on obedience: “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and do not what i say?” (Luke 6:46)
        His words on disobedience: “Remember from whence thou are fallen, and repent.” (Revelation 2:5)

  2. Anne your advice is wise and true. It is sad that so many people can be hurt by the weaknesses of celebrity Christians but the pain has to be more excruciating for their families and close friends. It seems that surrendering to sin is an epidemic. Your advice to pray is timely and yet eternal. Thank you.

  3. Easy Biblical Answer. Follow Jesus and not people. Stop equating Christianity with dramatic shows and big headed charismatic smooth talking Preachers.

  4. The fact that our culture has so many Christian “celebrities” has always concerned me. Are they celebrities because they are Christians, or Christians because they are celebrities? They can’t be vulnerable because everyone criticizes them on social media for their faults, and they are never out of the limelight. Who do they consult when they have doubts? Who pastors them? We take everything they say as expert advice for our lifestyles and beliefs, and then leave the faith ourselves because we have been disillusioned. I’m not saying that the folks listed in the article aren’t responsible for their choices, but I think believers in general need to stop hanging on their every word and get back to Scripture. There is always the possibility that they were never really believers to begin with. They picked up a church “habit”, were found to be talented in some area, and were never asked to share their testimony of how they came to faith. It’s easy to leave something that you never had, and be pulled back into the world, if there is no foundation to fall back on.

    1. Linn
      An excellent and thoughtful response. You stopped short of commenting on the term “accept Jesus” as the first step when in Christ’s first sermon He said to “repent”. It appears that many have adopted a desire to be a Christian but have never realized or been convicted that their heart is desperately wicked and that they need to owe up to that and repent….admit that they secretly love themselves and their sin.

      John in writing his epistle stated that “they went out from us because they were not of us”, an evaluation that makes no room for those who choose to depart are not now to be considered Christian. The water coming from the well cannot be sweet and bitter at the same time. No use beating around the bush about a lifestyle of the type mentioned here. Just as the divorce has been months in coming, this is no minor slip up, no trivial matter when someone who has been in a leadership position chooses to take the path now chosen, the violations are numerous, not singular. The choice is now immorality, the choice now is to now break the covenant relationship with the wife of your youth, leave the children without a father who has decided not to “bring them up in the fear of the Lord” but live a life for sexual pleasure. It’s amazing how many embrace the Word of God and act and live as if the first couple of chapters in Proverbs didn’t exist…”foot steps leading to the road to hell”…as if demons don’t exist
      I observe that we are reaping the years of cheap grace preaching, of do anything to get someone to join the bandwagon of Christianity and think that this is New Testament Christianity

  5. Excellent article. I so often forget to pray for those who are straying, and I must now take time to pray for those this article mentions, and some friends of my own.

  6. Excellent writing Ann about your difficult journey post your divorce from John. You have so much to offer the Body of Christ because you have found hope and a strong measure of personal redemption. As the Scripture says, “I may be knocked down but I’m not knocked out.

  7. Ann,

    I’m sure this does, indeed hit close to home. I’m sure your circumstances have been deeply painful.

    You say, “The husband and father of three said he’s divorcing his wife”

    No, that is not what he said. Ann, what an ungracious, unfair, and inaccurate characterization. This is what he said:

    –“After much thought, prayer, and counseling, Jessica and I have made the decision to end our marriage….

    –“…I would not be able to say that without Jessica’s undying grace and support. I fell in love with her 17 years ago and still love her deeply.

    –“Despite her own grief and pain, she has loved and encouraged me to be fully me. Many of the steps I’ve taken recently wouldn’t have happened without Jessica walking beside me, helping me through every fear. Jessica is and will always be my hero.

    –“…Our utmost desire is to move forward in love and compassion for each other and put the well-being of our kids first.
    .
    .
    It was wrong to mischaracterize him and not make it clear that in their own self-disclosure they made the decision together, fully in touch with the gravity of it.

    They approached the situation as circumspectly & as carefully as they could, feeling the grief. He makes it clear how much he loves and respects Jessica, and that their partnership continues, in a different form but a partnership nonetheless.

    Her own self-disclosure affirms these things.

    I am not advocating that marriage partners who find themselves in these circumstances should end their marriage — neither are the Turners, I imagine.

    In your disagreement about their decision, they deserve to be portrayed by you respectfully and according to their own words, not by how you may be projecting on them.

    1. Their words mean nothing. If they disregard the warning of God that He hates divorce, they can say anything they want to justify their perversion. Lying words…They are not Christian, but rather people described in 2 Peter 2:22 A dog returns to its vomit, and A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud!

      1. “THEY” are not Christian? So now we are expanding our judgment and condemnation of Matthew’s soul to hell to include Jessica? Sigh. This is when “Christian communities” frustrate me.

      2. You embody why LGBTQ know it is a complete ruse when christians tell them “God loves you”.

        “if God loves me so much, why do God’s people having nothing but disdain for me?”

        1. “if God loves me so much, why do God’s people having nothing but disdain for me?”

          EXACTLY!!!

          The Gospel of John, chapter 7, gives the story of the woman caught in adultery. The clear message of that portion of Jesus’ teachings is that each should look to his own failings first, before judging the failings of others.

          It is the readiness of many Christians to attack others DESPITE THE EXAMPLE OF JESUS protecting the woman from stoning, which is a major turn-off. It does indeed make a lie out of the claim that God loves them.

          By their fruits you shall know them. (Matt 7:16)

    2. Ermmm, it’s his sodomite lusts that forced the issue, so the author’s description is far from ungracious and unfair. Amazing that you’d strain at such a gnat. Pedantic much?

    3. Scottie, I agree with you, and your plea for respect and a merciful attitude toward Matthew Paul Turner and his family. And I agree with your challenge that they should be treated with respect for their story, even if some here believe that he is falling into sin.

      It is the response of some Christians — those who are ready to heap condemnation on Turner or others in difficult situations — that becomes a turn-off to Christianity in general.

      How it is that many Christians, seeing a person struggle and disagreeing with their ultimate decision, are willing to dismiss them and insult them and consign them to hell?? This, surely is NOT a witness to the One Who turned away from the 99 to rescue the 1.

      The challenge for those who remain in the church is this: WE are not told when or how Jesus will rescue the one. Or even if He will rescue the one on our terms. And so we have to adopt an attitude of hope don’t we?

      How is judgement a correct response??

      1. a person who actually thinks and reasons. how refreshing.

        i appreciate your comment.
        —————

        “How it is that many Christians, seeing a person struggle and disagreeing with their ultimate decision, are willing to dismiss them and insult them and consign them to hell?? ”

        –my best answer: they’re dix who enjoy being dix while playing christian dress-up, following a religion of christian programming determined in boardrooms.
        ——————

        “The challenge for those who remain in the church is this: WE are not told when or how Jesus will rescue the one. Or even if He will rescue the one on our terms. And so we have to adopt an attitude of hope don’t we?

        How is judgement a correct response??”

        –in this context, who are the ones that need to be rescued? rescued from what?

        if it’s MPT who Jesus needs to rescue, it is a problematic premise: he grew up in a fundamentalist environment. even in less fundamentalist christian environments, you are only permitted to exist if you are hetero. you are only allowed in the club if you are in a hetero marriage with children. what choice did he have??

        if anything, he needs to be rescued from a non-thinking bigoted religious community who has no answers for the least of these except “well, i guess it just sucks to be you.”

        indeed, how is judgement a correct response? especially when judgement is only reserved for people who are not in the sexual majority, and is withheld from so many other truly egregious things like dishonesty, lying, cover-ups to protect careers & power & money, plagiarism… well, i could go on and on.

  8. Powerful and moving testimony to the Christo-centric basis of our faith. Our faith is in the Lord Jesus, not anyone else. I have been a believer now for 66 years. There have been too many times when I have not been everything He would have me to be. However, there has not been a single moment when He has not been everything He promised He would be and more!

  9. Paul Lundquist

    Many thanks, Ms. Paulk. Your words are direct, uncluttered, clear, compassionate, and Scriptural. You speak for many wounded hearts.

    We share the same grief. After 20 years of marriage my first wife abruptly announced that she was leaving me and divorcing me against my will. I was left as the single dad of two teenage boys while she went on to pursue a lesbian lifestyle. She and I had met while we were both in training with Wycliffe Bible Translators. We served as linguist/translators with an indigenous group. When that work concluded she encouraged me to go into pastoral ministry. But she transitioned from one who would have given her life to make the Scriptures available to a Bible-less people to one who held the Christian faith in contempt. I will never understand it, and no words suffice to express the heartache.

    Meanwhile the missionary friend who conducted our wedding ceremony also left his wife and kids to pursue a gay lifestyle. And another dear friend, the pastor of our church in the first two years of our marriage, did the same.

    You and I both know how such people are received into a community that celebrates them as authentic. I see such individuals giving TED talks to receptive audiences, and featured in favorable interviews on NPR. Broken spouses are given no voice. And those of us who maintain that people should honor their marriage vows no matter what their orientation are dismissed as backward and homophobic.

    My own story ends more happily than most. Eleven years ago I met and married a godly widow, the sweetest person in the whole world, and no one who knows Lisa disputes that assessment of her. I will pray for your renewed joy too, whether through marriage to a good man or through grace to thrive in singlehood. Whatever comes, I thank God for your testimony and steadfastness, and for the clarity of thought that the Holy Spirit has granted you in perceiving the truth of Scripture and the wonders of Christ..

  10. Simply said, the commandment is to LOVE your neighbor (spouse, leader, etc.) as yourself and not to HOPE in your neighbor (spouse, leader, etc.) as yourself. Our hope must be reserved for Christ alone!

  11. Levieta Haulk

    Christians are called to be a light. We are to exhort one another. So when a leader of the church fails, we are to lift them up in prayer. We are to offer our counseling and help in the time of spiritual needs. We all fall short according to the Bible. So let’s be the light and keep our spiritual dignity.

  12. It would be theologically helpful to remove the element of “celebrity” from the analogy and instead perform a thought experiment: “How would I react as an orthodox Bible affirming Christian if my child came to tell me of these decisions? How would I react if my son told me he was gay or my daughter informed me that her marriage was irretrievably broken and had to end?” I suspect our response would be far more nuanced. On the continuum between judgment and mercy, we would probably place ourselves much closer to mercy. We would hopefully maintain the position that regardless of the consequences, we still love and affirm our child while noting that we can’t get to personally endorsing the decision or behavior. In any event, we would go on loving our children regardless of circumstances.
    As it happens, I’ve seen this personal dynamic at work in several close Evangelical friends whose children have announced that they were either gay or renounced Christianity entirely. In every case I’m familiar with, they affirmed their child in love, noted they respectfully disagreed, but also promised they would never let it affect their relationships. And in every case, they have managed to work it out in daily life while each party retained their personal integrity. The alternative, a complete family rupture, was unthinkable to them.
    When we add the term “celebrity” to this thought experiment, we also add the vast distance between us as individual believers and the celebrity, a distance that removes any possibility of personal communication and understanding..And we add the unique demands of church leadership. It is seldom possible for a person living in recognized sin to continue in any kind of leadership role in the Christian church, whether as pastor, teacher or writer, and their best path is usually one into quiet reflection and repentance in the pews, not in the pulpit. Leaders always stand on the narrow point of a high pyramid. It’s easy to fall off and very tough to climb back up.

  13. Was hoping this would be an article detailing evangelicalism’s decline into American nationalism and Trumpism at the highest levels, but alas, it is written by a known proponent of conversion therapy and unsurprisingly cancels those whose don’t fit her model of “faith”. So in a way it is a case study on what evangelicalism is today.

    1. Anne does not advocate “conversion therapy.” That simply is a pejorative term used to disparage ministries that proclaim the gospel truth that God can and will free His followers from any sin that enslaves them. I get so tired of these ad hominem attacks on godly ministries.

      1. What an absurd claim. Anne clearly advocated conversion therapy in the article above. Sigh.

        It’s sad and indicative that in the article above, Anne takes ZERO responsibility for the suffering she has experienced following divorce, when she married a gay man. If she’s encouraging other gay people to marry heterosexually, she’s simply setting up other couples for similar future suffering which is so preventable. This seems simply cruel to me.

        Sigh.

    2. Ashley, I sure hope you’re right. Considering the doctrinally sound and compassionate, clear tone of her article, it would be encouraging to think Anne Paulk’s life and message are a case study on what evangelicalism is today.

  14. Maybe you should watch a documentary called “Intersex and Faith.” Perhaps when you realize that God did not make humans just male and female (there are other sexes in between male and female) then maybe you’ll realize you are the one spreading lies and are wrong about scripture. The word homosexuality didn’t even appear in the bible until the 1900’s. Watch the documentary, or just stick to your uninformed ways. Jesus never spoke of the homosexual. The church ignores the existence of the hermaphrodite (intersex) and all of it’s different iterations. Sexuaity is a spectrum. Stop imposing your binary gospel on humans. You cause great pain and suffering and fuel the fire of bigotry and hate.

    1. True intersex occurs in .018 percent of the population–less than two one-hundredths of a percent. Some LGBTQ activists cite research done by Anne Fausto-Sterling of Brown University, which concluded that 1 percent of the human population is intersex–still a very small number. But this study included people most clinicians do not consider to be intersex, such as those with Klinefelter’s syndrome and Turner syndrome. (Those with Klinefelter’s syndrome, for example, are clearly men but have an additional X chromosome.)

      So, 99.8 percent of the population are clearly binary–either male or female. The other .02 percent have an unfortunate condition, which interestingly is mentioned in the Bible (Matt 19:12). Yet Scripture doesn’t mention “eunuchs by birth” and conclude that sexuality is a spectrum. Instead, Jesus mentions these folks in a discussion where he affirms male-female marriage and argues against divorce.

      These are straw man arguments.

      1. Holy FSM. if it’s .018%, that’s 1.4million humans. and if it’s 1 percent, that’s 78million huamns. In any case, not a small. number.

        You, Julie, a binary (as you put it) person who bases your theology of gender on the work of the leader of the world’s largest professional paedophile organisation, characterise them as “have an unfortunate condition”.

        I wonder if they would similarly characterise you. I reckon many of them wouldn’t be quite so blunt or cruel, at least not publicly. But I could be wrong.

      2. well, i did the math. statistically there are 14 people in my relatively small town. i don’t consider that negligible.

        the concept of a “sucks to be you gospel” seems relevant here.

        these are the least of these.

        this is the state of evangelicalism:

        christians who wear the idolized Members Only Jackets of married-with-children with all its benefits flaunt it in their face and then ignore them and say, “well, i guess it just sucks to be you.”

        at this point, these 14 people in my town have every reason to believe God, too, is saying “well, i guess it just sucks to be you.”

        1. To put a finer point on it, the idea that any human being is negligible is unacceptable. so, just what is evangelicalism’s answer for these 14 people in my town?

          What have the brokers-for-God decided is God’s will for them?

  15. “…When Leaders Go Astray?’

    Seems Jesus has a unique take on “Leaders” for **His Disciples.**
    “ONE”

    Jesus taught His Disciples NOT to be called “Leader.”
    For “ONE” is your “Leader,” that is, Christ.
    And, His Disciples must have believed Jesus, Because, In the Bible…
    NOT one of His Disciples called another Disciple “Leader.”
    NOT one of His Disciples called them self “Leader.”

    Mat 23:10-12 NASB
    Do NOT be called leaders;
    for “ONE” is your Leader, that is, Christ.
    But the greatest among you shall be your “Servant”.
    Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled;
    and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.

    Humble – a modest or low estimate of one’s own importance.
    Know many? any? who take the postion of Leader…
    Who are Humble?
    Having a modest or low estimate of their own importance?

  16. Jesus also said…
    John 5:41 – I receive *NOT* honour from men.
    John 5:44 – How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another,
    and seek not the honour that cometh from God only?

    When someone aknowledges you as a “Leader?”
    Or church leader? Or spirirtual leader? Or christian leader?

    Are you, “Receiving Honor” from men?

    Jesus also said…
    John 7:18 – He that speaketh of himself seeketh his own glory…
    John 8:50 – And I seek not mine own glory…

    When you let people know, you’re a “leader?”
    Or church leader? Or spirirtual leader? Or christian leader?

    Is that, “seeking your own glory?”

    Why do you want to be known as a “leader?”
    Why do you want people to follow you?
    And NOT follow Jesus?
    ——-

    Isa 3:12 KJV
    …O my people, *they which lead thee* cause thee to err,
    and destroy the way of thy paths.

    Isa 9:16 KJV
    For *the leaders* of this people cause them to err;
    and they that are led of them are destroyed.

  17. I am thankful for many who share their pain and sorrow here. It does give a partial picture of the deep struggles in the Christian community. We can be grateful that people can discuss different topics openly and honestly here, and share God’s mercy and correction in the process.

    Just read July 27 devotional from by Oswald Chambers: Intellectual darkness comes through ignorance; spiritual darkness comes because of something I do not intend to obey.

    This applies to all areas of sin, all degrees of sin. It has taken me many years to realize the power of “holiness” in a life that’s lived from a pure heart. The holiness of our Savior and Redeemer Jesus enables us to trust Him deeply, and live by the power of His Holy Spirit, one day at a time. We may not reach the beauty of Jesus overnight, but my heart should be toward Him all along the way.

  18. Meaning no disrespect, for I know the path is difficult, but since you are public with your testimony, may I ask a simple question. Have you forgiven your ex-husband? What does that look like in real practice?

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