As news of another megachurch pastor’s indiscretions makes headlines, not only in The New York Times, but in outlets such as Vanity Fair, People and even Page Six, it’s a reminder that when leaders abuse their power, they do so at the expense of their families, congregations, and in the case of Carl Lentz, global evangelical influence.
Lentz’s rise to ecclesiastical power came in 2010 when he was appointed lead pastor of Hillsong NYC. In that time, he warmed under the spotlight found on the speaking circuit, hung with celebrity friends — from recording artists to reality TV stars to NBA players — and boasted an Instagram following hovering above half a million people. He was the cool pastor with a leather jacket, hip glasses and even a feature in GQ magazine.
Some might ask, why would a man who seemingly had it all wander from his marriage vows and pose as a sports agent in a Brooklyn park to chat up a woman while he sat alone? Why would he, in the age of Google and iCloud, expect to get away with an affair without his world crumbling?
Like King David, Lentz had it made. Yet, at the height of his career (or “calling,” as we say in the church) he assumed a position of invincibility and acted recklessly.
Feasibly, a case can be made that power corrupts, and studies prove it. The more power you have, the likelier you are to become more aggressive, impulsive and selfish, and even assume that women want you.
Dacher Keltner, professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkley, explained in an article for the Harvard Business Review: “Powerful men, studies show, overestimate the sexual interest of others and erroneously believe that the women around them are more attracted to them than is actually the case. Powerful men also sexualize their work, looking for opportunities for sexual trysts and affairs, and along the way leer inappropriately, stand too close, and touch for too long on a daily basis, thus crossing the lines of decorum — and worse.”
“In the church, men who abuse their power tend to shed the virtues that led them to a place of power in the first place.”
Arguably, the more power a man has, the more likely he is to abuse that power as his empathy for others decreases, especially if the system in which he rules allows for such misconduct and dismisses those who speak truth to power.
Most notably in the church, men who abuse their power tend to shed the virtues that led them to a place of power in the first place. This would mean that to maintain a position of humility while seated in a place of power, pastors must pursue accountability, radical kindness, operate with a teachable spirit, selflessly serve others, maintain boundaries and intentionally practice empathy.
Men in power would be wise to heed the words of the Apostle Paul in Colossians when he wrote, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” It’s the only way to save themselves from the pitfalls of power.
Tiffany Bluhm is the author of the forthcoming book Prey Tell and the books She Dreams and Never Alone and their companion Bible studies. She is cohost of the podcast Why Tho, a show answering the existential and nonsensical questions we ask ourselves, and speaks at conferences and events around the world. As a minority, immigrant woman with an interracial family, Bluhm is passionate about inviting all to the table of faith, equality, justice and dignity. She lives in the Pacific Northwest.