Behavior and Spiritual Credibility

To be completely honest, I have struggled with this issue for years. Living, as we do, in an era where a constant procession of spiritual leaders of all stripes have been outed as serial abusers of those in their charge, I don’t see how we can avoid dealing with the issue and asking the question:

At what point does the abusive misbehavior of a spiritual leader render their teachings invalid?

Craig Bergland

Suppose we attempted to construct a spectrum of abuse that started with a spiritual leader having an adulterous affair with someone not involved with his ministry in any way and progressing to whatever the most horrific offenses we might imagine. For the purposes of our discussion, let’s say up front that consensual sex between non-married adults is perfectly fine. What transgressions are redeemable and what transgressions invalidate a person’s spiritual teachings? It may help to establish some categories of offense for sorting purposes.

Can we agree that any sexual activity involving minors should preclude that individual being allowed to teach? Would it render their teachings null and void? Catholic priests involved in the pedophilia crisis would fall into this category, but so would Rumi due to his pederasty. Many of Rumi’s supposed love poems to God weren’t written to God at all but to Shams, his adolescent protege. To be honest, that turns my stomach more than a little.

Can we agree that teachers who engage in sexual relations with their students have crossed a line? Buddhism in particular seems to struggle with teachers who can’t keep their hands to themselves, assaulting female students during spiritual interviews. Others overtly create situations wherein sleeping with the teacher is presented as being spiritually advantageous, even when the student is married. Perhaps the most notorious example of this in Buddhism is Chogyam Trungpa, who established an entire lineage replete with sexual misconduct. Only recently has anything been done or said about this, but it has been an open secret for almost fifty years. Despite that truth, there is no shortage of former students of Trungpa who still speak effusively about his teachings. What are we to make of that? In the interest of candor, for me, Trungpa’s behavior does invalidate his teaching.

What about with colleagues or the parish secretary? We talk about imbalance of power as being an important factor in determining if a relationship is appropriate, but I suspect that power is much more complicated. There is power in hierarchies, but there are all sorts of power structures in social and cultural settings that muddy the waters. When Jim Bakker had an affair with church secretary Jessica Hahn, there were surely multiple psychological factors at play. It’s hard to know who was being manipulated more, but I suspect there was mutual manipulation at work. Then again, since Bakker’s teachings were vacuous at best, perhaps he is a bad example.

Complicating all of this is the truth that nobody is perfect. All of us make mistakes on a regular basis. That being said, abuse is a mistake of a different stripe. I am not concerned about clergy who fall in love with the parish secretary. I would be concerned about clergy who fell in love with every parish secretary they ever had. I wouldn’t necessarily be concerned about a spiritual teacher who once fell in love with a student. I would be very concerned about a teacher who slept with many or most of his students. These issues are important because we all share a responsibility in ensuring those seeking to develop their spiritual life can do so free from harassment. They are also important because they speak to the character of the teacher, which has a direct impact on the teacher’s ministry and teachings.

A Conspiracy Network for Jesus

***COMPOSITE***Remember this guy? Back in the glory days of televangelism he was simultaneously most successful, most derided, and most criminal of the lot – and there was a lot of competition for that title. In a crude distortion of the Jesus story these con artists claimed to be hawking, was eventually betrayed by colleagues in the televangelism racket and lost everything, going to prison for his crimes. Along the way he had an affair with his surgically enhanced church secretary, who later sold her wares in a skin mag,

You might have thought that would be the end of him in pseudo religious circles, but you iwaswrongbakkerwould be wrong. After his release from prison we wrote a book called I Was Wrong, and for a moment I was fooled, thinking he might truly be repentant. He so clearly articulated what he had done wrong and how he found himself in the position to defraud his followers. I ever felt sorry for the little bastard. It seems what he was doing was plotting the next phase of his life – conning seniors in the best place to find them in large numbers, Branson, MO. His message, like his character, has deteriorated even further from his days at the original PTL Club. Characterized by right wing politics and threats of a coming apocalypse, he is the ultimate huckster. Selling everything you can pack into a five gallon bucket to help you survive the coming tribulation – including a five gallon bucket with an attachable toilet seat so you can eliminate your five gallons of broccoli with cheese sauce while remaining in your bunker. The only question that remains would be how to tell the slop he sells from a used toilet bucket.

foodbakkerNow the Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission have ordered his to stop selling his latest nonsense that claims to have killed previous versions of the corona virus and so surely will kill this one – complete with a book and DVD, of course. He has forty-eight hours to comply or the fines will begin, no doubt accompanied by his claims of being persecuted. He is the lowest of the low, preying on the very people Jesus told us to protect. Of course, it’s never been about Jesus, has it? Neither for Jim Bakker nor his like in the evangelical, televangelist racket, it has always been about the money.

Have you noticed that televangelists almost never criticize each other? Whether is was harrard_meth_bigJimmy Swaggert masturbating into the panties of a twenty dollar prostitute while he told her how dirty she was, Robert Tilton opening envelopes sent to him with prayer requests and a check but removing only the check, Eddie Long grooming young men to be his sex partners while railing against homosexuality, Ted Haggard blowing his prostitute cum meth dealer, or any of the dozens of other disgusting crimes committed by these frauds, they almost to a person refused to criticize one another. Why?

swaggertThe only reason I can think that a preacher would not be critical of another preacher caught in scandal would be that they all know things about one another that they don’t want revealed. Even a cursory investigation into a few of these people reveals practices that would make Caligula blush. It seems that nearly all of them are profoundly wounded individuals who have spent so much time preaching against the very behaviors that compulsively drive them and have hidden those behaviors behind a code of silence that now compels them to protect one another by maintaining the cover up. The result is that anyone still electing to wade into those waters does so at their own peril – likely at the cost of their bank account.

Jennifer Lopez, Shakira, and Bigotry

Shakira-J.-Lo-Blow-Minds-at-Super-Bowl-Halftime-ShowOh, the outrage! Jennifer Lopez and Shakira have asses! Son of a bitch! What am I going to tell my teenagers – they don’t know about asses! Not only that, they had the audacity to shake their asses! Jennifer Lopez climbed a stripper pole? How do I explain that to my kids? These women were both dancing as if they were from some sort of Hispanic culture – we can’t have that! Where are Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers when you need them? We can’t have these brown people running around doing the things they do, or the next thing you know our teenagers will be humping like rabbits (n.b., they already are)!

Patriots Rams Super Bowl FootballThis reminds me of last year when Adam Levine made me uncomfortable by taking off his shirt and moving his hips like a male stripper! Jesus Christ! My kids didn’t know that men had hips! My teenage boys weren’t even sure how they walked, but now I am going to have to explain it to them. Then there was the fact that I went through two Hitachi magic wands trying to get over what I saw!

Okay, ladies, let me help you out. First, there was nothing inappropriate about what either Jennifer Lopez or Shakira were doing. They were dancing, expressing themselves, and just because it wasn’t boring doesn’t mean it was wrong. As for the pole, you can take a class at the local gym or dance studio to learn pole dancing. It’s not reserved for strip clubs any longer, and hasn’t been for some time. Furthermore, if your teenagers have been to homecoming or prom, they jlohumpspolehave already been having sexual contact in the backseat of the family SUV – or have you forgotten your youth?

Here’s the real deal. I have a question for you. Why is it you are fine with your teens playing video games in which they kill other people but are upset with them watching two women old enough to be their mothers shake their asses? I will tell you why. It’s not likely because you are a prude, although your reaction proves you are a prude. It’s because somewhere in your past, in a place you don’t want to look at, you have been sexually traumatized and this is triggering you. The problem is neither Shakira nor JLo, nor both or them all lathered up. The problem is that you need to get yourself to a therapist post haste, and no amount of outrage is going to change that truth.