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Does a ministry have a duty to tell of a moral failure?

Updated: Feb 1

A while ago, some dear friends asked my former wife and I if we would attend their church, New Destiny Christian Church, in Orlando, Florida. We attended the 8,000+ member church founded by the Pastor Zachery Tims. The service was great and we went about our vacation, enjoying Disneyworld, the surrounding Orlando area, and local beaches. The following week, someone who knew we had attended Pastor Tims church notified me that he had died suddenly while on a speaking trip to NY. I immediately went to the Charisma Magazine website to check whether that was “fact or fiction.” The subsequent article, which was released over a year-and-a-half later, is included in the footnotes.[1] The original article confirmed that Rev. Tims was found unresponsive on his hotel room floor and a white powdery substance was found in his shorts, leading some to conclude that he died of a drug overdose. The information was later sealed, as a result of his mother, Madeline Tims, who fought to keep the conclusion of the autopsy hidden to the public. The court upheld her appeal and the truth of the toxicology report and autopsy are sealed to this day. I felt then, how unfair it was to the church family that they might never know the truth relating to their Pastor’s death. They would be left to speculate but might not ever know the facts.



As a Licensed Clinician, I am obligated by state law to abide by the “Duty to Warn.”[2] The law originally stems from the California Supreme Court’s decision in Tarasoff v. Regents of the University of California. The case involved a psychotherapy client at U.C. Berkeley, who threatened to kill his girlfriend, Tonya Tarasoff. She was out of the country and the therapist, did in fact notify the police, who did nothing. Later, Ms. Tarasoff returned from Europe, whereupon the boyfriend killed her. The parents sued on the grounds that the University and the therapist had a “Duty to Warn” their daughter of the impending danger. The Supreme Court found on behalf of the family that the therapist and University had an obligation to warn the intended victim, as well as to notify the police officials. In much the same way that “Duty to Warn” affects my role as a counselor, I am intrigued by the “Duty to Tell” that might exist as an ethical responsibility that ministries have to their congregations.


In analyzing the role of “Duty to Tell” the impetus is on whether the congregation has a right to know versus the privacy and confidentiality of the offending party. Regarding Zachery Tims death, many in the congregation were left wondering, which does not facilitate closure or emotional healing.


My concern, with Zachery Tims is that the news of his extra-marital affairs and drug abuse were shielded from the congregation and when his wife divorced him, he was allowed to keep his ministry. He was never confronted by his sin and as a result, he was able to continue in it, eventually leading to his untimely death at 42. Had his affair and addiction come out earlier and had not been covered up to protect his flock, Rev. Tims might still be alive today.


Regarding this premise that sinful activity should be confronted, a wonderful truth is found in the Christian Ethics book. [4] The book emphasized this, that “Sexual immorality received apostolic and ecclesiastical condemnation.” The author used the Pauline exhortation in I Corinthians 5, as his reference point. The follow up to that is Paul’s harsh rebuke in II Corinthians 12:21, that he would deal with it, if that church was not willing to. As Pastor’s and church leaders, we must be willing to deal with sin, even when it is sin that closely affects us.


Part of the reason, that adultery is not readily confronted in the church, even among church leaders, is the stigma associated with the issue of divorce, in the church. Although, divorce rates are equal at 50% for those inside and outside the church, there is still the shame attributed to divorce. According to Mark Dungor, in his book he says, “Dr. Waite concluded, “Staying married is not just for the children’s sake….results like these suggest the benefits of divorce have been oversold.”


“It may look as if you will gain ground by eliminating some stresses of a bad marriage, but divorce creates more stresses than people bargain for: the ugliness of a breakup between partners; the reactions of children; potential disappointments and aggravations about custody issues, child support, and visitation orders; new financial or health stresses for one or both parents; plus the brand new relationships or marriage that also fail to make one happy.”[5] The sad aspect of not confronting adultery in the church is that it leaves an open festering wound in the Body of Christ. By the church, sweeping the issues of sin, under the carpet, it leaves one to wonder why the church is not more emaciated, than it already is.

Many times, the church is not prepared to deal with its sinfulness, akin to the story of the “Emperor’s New Clothes.” [6] Everyone knows we are naked, but we refuse to see it for ourselves. Unfortunately, this is all too common in the Body of Christ. Churches that face and manage conflict are healthier, by and large.


The Body of Christ is much like an individual, in that respect. According to John Eldredge, “Only when we enter our wound will we discover our true glory. As Bly says, “Where a man’s wound is, that is where his genius will be.” There are two reasons for this. First, because the wound was given in the place of your true strength, as an effort to take you out…And therefore, second, it is out of your brokenness that you discover what you have to offer the community.”[7] I found that to be true for me. That as I walked through the painful process of healing, along with my church body, we were all able to get better closure and process our emotional pain, in a more constructive fashion.


Churches who hide sin, like Zachery Tims church, continue to face ongoing issues. New Destiny Christian Church is still entrenched in a continuing lawsuit with Rev. Tims ex-wife and his mother embroiled over the autopsy, Pastoral successor and many other legal battles. It does not surprise me since they have never been able to get closure or effectively process their grief that this congregation continues to struggle.



BIBLIOGRAPHY

1. Charisma Magazine, Article “Zachery Tims’ Substance Abuse Was ‘Lifestyle,’ Ex-Wife Says”, February 2, 2013, by Gina Meeks.

2. Scheel, Kevin, Getting Ready to Test: A Manual for Drug and Alcohol Credentialing Examinations. 7th. Edition, DLC Publishing, Apple Valley, MN. 1995. Section 3, Chapter 5: Ethics

3. Geisler, Norman L. Christian Ethics, Contemporary Issues & Options, 2nd. Edition, Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, MI. 2010. Page 270.

4. Geisler, Norman L. Christian Ethics, Contemporary Issues & Options, 2nd. Edition, Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, MI. 2010. Page 271.

5. Gungor, Mark, Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage, Unlocking the secrets to life, love, and marriage. Atria Paperback, New York, NY. 2008. Page 257.

6. Anderson, Hans Christian, The Emperor’s New Clothes, Published by C.A. Reitzel, Fairy Tale Collection. 1837.

7. Eldredge, John, Wild at Heart, Discovering the Secret of a Man’s Soul, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN. 2001. Pages 137-138.

[1] Charisma Magazine, Article “Zachery Tims’ Substance Abuse Was ‘Lifestyle,’ Ex-Wife Says,” February 2, 2013, by Gina Meeks. [2] Scheel, Kevin, Getting Ready to Test: A Manual for Drug and Alcohol Credentialing Examinations. 7th. Edition, DLC Publishing, Apple Valley, MN. 1995. Section 3, Chapter 5: Ethics [3] Geisler, Norman L. Christian Ethics, Contemporary Issues & Options, 2nd. Edition, Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, MI. 2010. Page 270. [4] Geisler, Norman L. Christian Ethics, Contemporary Issues & Options, 2nd. Edition, Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, MI. 2010. Page 271. [5] Gungor, Mark, Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage, Unlocking the secrets to life, love, and marriage. Atria Paperback, New York, NY. 2008. Page 257. [6] Anderson, Hans Christian, The Emperor’s New Clothes, Published by C.A. Reitzel, Fairy Tale Collection. 1837. [7] Eldredge, John, Wild at Heart, Discovering the Secret of a Man’s Soul, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN. 2001. Pages 137-138.

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