One of my favorite features of the old site was “Little-Known Bible Verses“, a regular series highlighting frequently overlooked passages from scripture that are immoral, bizarre, or contradict well-established parts of Christian belief. In the past, I’ve discussed verses saying, among other things, that true Christians should greet each other with a kiss (try that one at your church!), that they should be communists who reject private property, that they’ll be able to do better miracles than Jesus, and that their clergy must be married (sorry, Catholics!). Today, I want to discuss another little-known verse in that same vein.
This passage comes from Titus, one of the lesser-known New Testament epistles, purportedly written by Paul. (Most modern critical scholars don’t accept that attribution as genuine, but since the book has been accepted by the Christian community for centuries and integrated into the New Testament canon, it hardly matters at this point.) It gives the following list as qualifications for being a church elder:
“The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you. An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient.“
—Titus 1:5-6 (NIV)
Now isn’t that interesting? Paul says that, for a Christian to be a church leader, he must have children who are devoted Christians and not setting a bad example for others. It’s not hard to understand the thought process: If a preacher can’t successfully inculcate the teachings of Christianity in his own family, it’s questionable whether he could be an effective teacher of others. But doesn’t this disqualify a lot of self-appointed Christian leaders who have children who are non-Christian, or who are gay (since most Christians today see these as equivalent)?
For example, take this post (which is how I originally found out about this Bible verse) about the inerrantist pastor John Piper, who found himself in this very situation: his son had fallen away from the church. Piper conveniently obtained an “interpretation” ruling that he didn’t have to resign because the Bible really meant something other than what it said.
Or as another example, what about Fred Phelps and his hate-spewing cult? As we saw for ourselves at the Reason Rally, he has an apostate son, Nate Phelps. If Fred Phelps is so devoted to absolutely obeying the Bible, shouldn’t he have immediately stepped down as the leader of Westboro Baptist as soon as he found out his son was no longer a believer? This is somewhat irrelevant now, since Fred Phelps is growing old and doesn’t actively direct most of his church’s pickets any more – but it clearly didn’t bother him when he did.
Or what about T.D. Jakes, the pastor of the non-denominational megachurch The Potter’s House, whose son was arrested in 2009 in a public-park sex sting? Jakes said in a public statement that “As parents, we occasionally feel that our children do not live up to our highest and best ideals”. This admission seems to fit perfectly with the wording of the verse from Titus, which logically should have disqualified Jakes from continuing to serve as the pastor of a church.
Although he’s now deceased, another case is Herbert W. Armstrong, founder of the Worldwide Church of God and one of the 20th century’s more prominent apocalyptic preachers. Armstrong had such an acrimonious split within his family that he excommunicated his own son, Garner Ted Armstrong, and forbade members of his church from speaking to him. And yet, again, the elder Armstrong continued in his position of leadership for years thereafter.
Moving farther afield, there’s also Randall Terry, the religious right activist who has a gay son (whom he has disowned), and Alan Keyes, the religious right presidential candidate who has a gay daughter (whom he has disowned). While neither of them are church “elders” in the literal sense, they’re both figureheads of political movements that revolve around literalist religion, and again, neither seem to consider their gay children to disqualify them from that work.
I’m sure there are many other examples of “preachers’ kids” whose non-Christian lifestyles haven’t led their parents to renounce their calling, as the Bible prescribes. What others can you name?
Other posts in this series: Little-Known Bible Verses