It happens often—too often—in the Christian world. Another celebrity preacher, celebrity author, celebrity speaker, is exposed as a hypocrite, as one who takes advantage of position and prominence to pursue not heavenly rewards, but fleshly lusts, fading treasures, or fleeting power. When yet another one is exposed, it is like a huge boulder is dropped into an otherwise still pond. There is a great splash, a great disturbance, a great series of ripples that flow outward, until the whole body of water has been disturbed.
At the very center, in the place of greatest disruption, greatest danger, and greatest pain, are the people who were harmed most seriously and most directly—victims who were taken advantage of, marks who were defrauded, followers who were trampled underfoot. Unless family members served as accessories to the crimes or misdeeds, they too are victims of the celebrity’s lust, greed, or god complex. It is these people who feel the greatest wave of disbelieving pain and sorrow, who are most harmed, most hurt, most damaged, most worthy of our sincere sympathy.
But, tragically, the harm does not end with them, for the ripples flow always outward. Though the force of the waves may lessen as they go, they are still plenty strong enough to rock and even upset the faith of those who encounter them. Here we find people who looked up to that celebrity, those who read the books and listened to the sermons, whose minds were shaped, whose hearts were formed. Can they have confidence in what they believe to be true when they learned it from that person? Can their faith be genuine when it depended so substantially on the teaching of someone who has now been proven false? How do they tell their children why they will no longer watch those sermons or listen to that podcast?
But even then the ripples have not yet fully dissipated, for they radiate out to those who may never have encountered the celeb, yet who are members of the church universal and who know that their witness is now marred by that distant person’s hypocrisy. They know their unbelieving friends and family members now have reason to doubt their faithfulness because of that celebrity’s well-publicized unfaithfulness. Ministries and radio stations scour their archives to remove messages that were once deemed powerful but are now deemed hypocritical. Even far across the world the owners of little bookstores are forced to take a loss on titles that will no longer sell. The ripples continue until they have made their way across the whole pond to splash at last against the shore.
Sin is never simple. Sin is never harmless. Sin is always selfish, always an occasion of harm not only to the sinner but to the whole church. And the sin of those who have been elevated to positions of prominence is particularly destructive, for the higher their platform the greater the force of their collapse, the wider their reach the more visible their downfall. And surely this puts the call on every well-known pastor, every high-demand conference speaker, every bestselling author, to see their popularity as sacred, to see their integrity as essential, to know the importance of battling hard against the first stirrings of the least sin. For they must know that the destruction that would come with their fall would be far greater than all the good they ever did in their rise.