When is honest too honest?

NOTE: The original version of this post asked a question that several commentors found unfair or inflammatory. Since the word choice in the question was not my intended subject, I’ve deleted it. 

I just read a blog post by a pastor who announced in the middle of the sermon a dark secret about his past. He confessed to being a recovering sex addict. He meant it to be a “you are not alone” kind of moment. The congregation, however, reacted poorly to the announcement, and he found himself in short order being hauled before a committee for some close questioning. The pastor deemed the church to have failed him in this instance. He was removed from his pulpit about a month later over other issues. (Edited to correct a mistake on my part.)

The people commenting on his blog praised his courage and condemned the congregation for their reaction to his revelation about his sex addiction.

But I can’t help but wonder if the pastor bears some responsibility for the bad reaction.

As a preacher I am probably too careful and cautious with my sermons, but it strikes me that part of — to use Fred Craddock’s term — exegeting the congregation is finding the line between challenging them and shocking them. If I think I’m getting close to going somewhere they are not ready to go, I’d want to engage the church leadership on the topic first. If I had a story like this pastor, I’d want to share it with people in the congregation before I announced it from the pulpit.

I share the pastor’s feeling that the church is too silent on the topic of sex addiction and pornography. I absolutely agree the culture swims in sex and the church’s silence is harmful to those who needs its help.

But as a pastoral issue, it is precisely the explosive issues that need the most thoughtful and prayerful and respectful handling.

Isn’t it?


65 thoughts on “When is honest too honest?

  1. And John, when you have been pastor of your own church for 4 years and decide to share something personal from your past and you do so in whatever way YOU think is best for that given time and context, trust me, I want write a blog post criticizing you for your pastoral decision.

    I’ll trust that you did what you thought best, as best you knew how. And if your congregation responds in the way mine did, and you feel sorry for the way the community might perceive that “judgment” by them, I promise I’ll believe you.

  2. Chad, I was really impressed with your forthrightness and your post inspired me to write a post over on my own blog about “being real”.

    I’ve been a regular reader of John’s for awhile and I think he’ll testify that I often give him a lot of push-back and sometimes a hard time. What I know of him is that he thinks about absolutely everything from every angle; that’s why I like writing his blog.

    With respect, it’s my opinion – and only my opinion – that it was in this spirit of analysis rather than criticism that he wrote the post.

    I’ve gone from thinking you were forthright and “real” to believing that it would not be possible to be honest around you either. I hope that’s not true, but that’s the impression I’m getting. Is any of this going to bring healing to anyone?

      1. Now that Chad is alienating people who are inclined to agree with him, maybe he’ll reconsider his perspective.

        Let’s remember that Chad put all the blame on the congregation and has yet to accept any responsibility for the situation.

        Let’s also remember that Chad’s DS publicly stated that an agreement had been made between Chad and his church that Chad would refrain from pushing the hot buttons and that the main reason for Chad being asked to leave the pulpit was Chad’s inability to abide by that agreement. The more Chad writes, the more I agree with his DS.

        If Chad was looking to help others in the congregation, nothing prevented him from starting a SA group. Unfortunately, admissions from the pulpit wind up like Jimmy Swaggart’s where the underlying (even if it isn’t conscious) desire is to get acceptance of the behavior without going through any period of adjustment. This is too much like someone who confesses to a serious crime and asks for our forgiveness but believes that they deserve no punishment. When Dr. King practiced civil disobedience he knew he was likely to spend some time in jail.

        1. Wow. Nothing makes me desire to adjust my perspective more than a complete stranger speculating on things he/she knows nothing about apart from some brief news clippings and doing so under a pseudonym (at least, I hope that’s a fake name).

          Yes, just start up an SAA meeting. But don’t tell the church why you are doing that or why you are attending it for fear of making them feel uncomfortable with the truth about you.
          Brilliant idea.

    1. Pam, so you get the impression that no one can be honest around me because I take exception to John confusing being honest with being an exhibitionist or that I disagree that it is his place (or yours) to question my motives in the context of a sermon in a church I pastored at for 4 years?

      How on earth would I be able to change your opinion of me if I cared to?

      1. I keep forgetting that ad hominem is okay if you are on the righteous side. That is my real name, which you would know if you bothered to Google it first rather than shooting off your mouth AGAIN. “At least I hope it’s a fake name” is an example of someone who is actually interested in dialogue as opposed to being praised as a martyr to the people who just won’t understand? Yes, very mature behavior.

        What do we have wrong? Weren’t you asked to relinquish the pulpit? Didn’t you make an agreement to restrain yourself in the pulpit that you weren’t able to obey???

        Maybe you think this was a successful pastorate but the rest of us would disagree with you. As you recount your adventures, you take take less and less responsibility what has happened. People (mostly anonymous by the way) who are being supportive have become enablers for your dysfunctional behavior.

        It would be one thing to say, “Hey, this is what I tried, but it didn’t work out as I hoped. What should I do differently next time?” Instead, your attitude comes across as, “Agree with me that my congregation is unenlightened and failed *ME*! They did not deserve the benefits of my brilliance and gifts as a divinity student!!” Do you have any idea how arrogant you sound???

        If you’ve got a job lined up in Tennessee, then put your efforts into that. Plant a church and prove us wrong.

        1. Welcome to the “armchair critics” corner, Creed. I hope you brought popcorn.

          So if I google your name will I discover that you are one of the dutiful Methodist atta-boys?
          I don’t blame you for being angry at anyone who would dare hold up a mirror at our institution.

        2. “dutiful Methodist atta-boys”?

          Keep up the constructive dialogue. Stay classy, Chad!

          Again, the facts are harsh and you don’t want to face them. You continue to prove John right the more you and your enablers post to simply try to shout down anyone with the temerity to say that maybe you made some mistakes.

        3. Chad,

          I don’t blame you for being angry at anyone who would dare hold up a mirror at our institution.

          How is language like this helpful?

          There are a lot of problems with our Church; it is after all made up of sinful people hopeless without Christ.

          Looking at issues in the church IS helpful, but I fear that’s not really the intent here.

          Our church is struggling, few would question that, and it will only turn around if God is with it (which I believe) and His people sincerely support it and work for it.

          I don’t know you (which I fear may disqualify my opinion in your eyes), but I think taking some time away from the affirmation and criticism of the internet would do you well. Return to the people who have helped form your faith and seek healing. Allow yourself to heal from this, too.

      2. How on earth would I be able to change your opinion

        By taking on board that I said I admired you.

        And considering the possibility that maybe John was just trying to think things through, as he has said. (Which is, by the way, totally consistent with the behavior I’ve seen from him for the last two years or so that I’ve been reading his blog.)

        And by considering the possibility that he wasn’t trying to attack you. You’ve criticized a number of people for assuming what your motivations are but you’re making a big assumption about his motivation here too.

        of me if I cared to?

        If you don’t care to listen, then of course you don’t have to.

        1. Pam, I appreciate the affirmation. And, I was just telling my daughter yesterday that I enjoy getting comments from folks like you who give me some push back.

          I know I don’t have all the answers.

  3. This whole conversation is disgusting.

    This is why I don’t wear the label “Cristian” anymore.

    To answer your question John, its simple…

    “There should be no line.”

  4. I admit I made a mistake. I went against my own rule for myself: Don’t engage with strangers over what they think they know about something they know nothing about, nor care to really know about.

    You have your one sentence press release, Creed. You know it all.

    take care

  5. John, thanks for playing host to this train wreck.

    I am quite simply speechless. Chad, I am praying for you as I have been.

    After seeing the harsh manner of your reaction to those who disagree with you, I pray the reason behind it is that you are still dealing with a lot of pain that comes from a negative encounter with Itinerant Pastoral Ministry. I encourage others to be kind and merciful to you as well.

    Open dialogue is what attracted me to you to begin with. Open dialogue with those who have questions or especially those who disagree with you takes maturity and emotional stability. I will pray for that as well.

    I’m genuinely sorry that you have been hurt by The United Methodist Church. However I fear that this “conversation” and the relentless attacks on all things Methodist, even to simply “slam” someone who disagrees with you as a “dutiful Methodist atta-boy–minimize the effect you can have on actually making a difference. (By the way, you really did slam the person just for their name and have yet to apologize or retract that–that’s bullyish behavior)

    Being an “outlaw preacher” is more than simply railing against the establishment–it is about loving people. I say with all love and respect, is it possible that your anger is masking your love here? I fear that the impression left here is that if this was your reaction to being questioned in your church, then they don’t look nearly so bad as they did when the news agencies jumped all over you for your fifteen minutes of fame.

    You have MUCH that is good to say and your impressions of how the church needs to evolve can be a major contribution to The Body of Christ; however, for that voice to truly find the ability to change those within the structure of the church–rather than simply those who are already in exile–I pray that this will not be typical of the reaction to those who simply question or disagree with you.

    You CAN make a difference

    1. WAIT, please know the comment about 15 minutes of fame was not intended as a slam on you (I just re-read my own words)–rather a warning.
      Right now, you have just arrived on the scene, but can make a lasting difference IF you remember:
      If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 1 Cor 13:1
      Blessings to you

  6. John: it sounds like you’ve edited this post, at least partly in response to the comments. I respect your willingness to take feedback seriously. Also, if I understand midwesterndiva’s address to you correctly, I think it’s pretty amazing that your daughter is able to disagree with you openly. I think that says a lot about your own openness and willingness to engage different opinions. Very cool.

    Here’s a couple comments I posted on Chad’s FB page in response to your blog post: “FWIW: I give John Meunier credit for at least understanding what you were trying to achieve and for making a positive suggestion instead of simply offering negative criticism. FWIW2: I think you could have followed the spirit and letter of his advice and still wound up with the same negative results. The institutional church just isn’t ready for grace and truth. Law works better. :)”

    I know these are difficult days for the UMC, but you guys handle your differences WAY better than Baptists! 🙂 (I’m a Baptist.)

  7. I was in church leadership for many years. I spent a lot of energy “editing” myself, so as to not share anything in a sinful manner. Leaders in religious organizations tend to feel pressure to be a “good example” and not cause others (those who are presumed to be spiritually weaker) to stumble.

    The result was I kept my mouth shut many times, because I wasn’t sure I had the right heart, or was in the right space . . . or had the right wording, to communicate in a way that wouldn’t possibly cause someone to “stumble”.

    The result of this was that neither I, nor others, had the opportunity to share and work through whatever my issues/sins were . . . and/or whatever communication issues I might have also had.

    Since I was not truly open about the deep stuff, neither were others.

    I realized the healthiest thing to do was to just speak the truth I was feeling prompted to speak, do it in as Godly a way as possible, and be open to whatever learning opportunities . . . and loving opportunities . . . that resulted from my honesty.

    I hear and understand your question. In my opinion, there are very few situations where you can be too honest. Truth sets us free. It really does. Exposing the darkest stuff; frees others who also have dark stuff hidden (which is many, if not most of us).

    Graphic details would be in the category of too honest, in most situations. General statements (as in AA) should usually suffice.

  8. In the light of a new morning, I want to apologize for my tone in last night’s comments. Had I had any sense, I would have recognized two things: 1. It’s always good to stop and consider another person’s point of view for a bit before fighting against it (if at all) and 2. This had absolutely nothing to do with me except maybe, in the farther reaches of the periphery wherein I have been a member of a congregation at some point. And I’d add another: Chad Holtz does not need ME to defend him. He’s perfectly capable and certainly the most qualified to clear up any misconceptions about his past as I am only a Facebook “friend” after all.

    I have a tendency to root for the underdog and my experience with church told me, the moment I read Chad’s blog post on May 25th that even within the church he’d be the underdog and would meet mass resistance for varying reasons.

    And while it’s find to root for the underdog, even in those situations, it’s all for naught if I’m not doing so with humility and openness.

    So I apologize, on many counts, for being a buttinsky.

    Chad, I love you as a brother of Christ and John, I love you as a brother in Christ.

    Grace and peace and Love.

    1. Tana, I really do welcome everyone to the comments. I don’t consider you a buttinsky at all.

      I certainly have written and thought things that need to be corrected or more carefully expressed in the past. Comments help me learn from those mistakes.

      Grace and peace to you.

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