• John G. Stackhouse, Jr.

One of These Things Is Not Supposed to Be Like the Others

Having spent considerable effort demonstrating that American evangelicals are not as bad as some people (including prominent American evangelicals) say we are, I read with dismay some recent evidence that we have passed a cultural milestone somewhere along the way–and the news isn’t good.

The Atlantic recently featured a small story about people whose job it is to analyze financial data and go after frauds in the housing market–notably people who have lied on their mortgage applications and are now begging for lenient treatment as the bills come due.

Among the occupations mentioned as frequently showing up among the liars is, alas, pastors:

Pastors—dozens of them—… doctored bank statements, bought houses they couldn’t pay for, and then filed for bankruptcy. “The nice thing about pastors is that their church shares information when asked,” [investigator Frank] Alpan says. “Pastors are always an easy [fraud] claim.”

Well, hurrah for the churches who cooperate with the authorities, but the bad news about pastors gets worse as it’s not just a few, or even “dozens,” of bad apples here:

Alpan scowls as he plows through the files. The infinite variety, as well as the sheer tonnage, of bad behavior has clearly affected him. Among the thousands of fraudulent loans he has audited, the only common denominator is deceit. “It’s not just lawyers and pastors and CEOs who lie and scheme. It’s nurses and schoolteachers, too,” he says.

Get that? “It’s not just lawyers and pastors and CEOs”–you know, the usual suspects, the sorts of people you expect to be up to no good–but also good people such as “nurses and schoolteachers.” But how did “pastors” get detached from the latter category and placed in the former?

We all know how, and roughly when: more than a generation of sexual and financial scandal, Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox, around the world–that’s how and when. And now “pastors” are lumped in with “lawyers and…CEOs” among those one just expects to be misbehaving.

Then the punchline from Mr. Alpan, right out of the Book of Romans: “Everybody’s guilty; no one’s up to any good.”

Well, that’s right enough. And grounds for none of us non-pastors (or non-lawyers or non-CEO’s) to feel even the slightest moral superiority to the classes of our fellow sinners mentioned here. One of these things are not like the others–and yet all of us really are just like the others. Alas.