After 28 years of fruitful ministry, primarily as a pastor, I reached the low point in my life in November 2006 when I publicly confessed to immorality and immediately resigned from the church I had started with my wife, Gayle, in our home 22 years earlier. I also resigned as president of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), a position I had been elected to in 2003.
These resignations, however, paled in significance compared to the hurt and shame I brought on Gayle and our five children. Worse still, was the reproach I brought to the name of the Lord Jesus Christ whom I had served for most of my life.
After initially lying to try to cover my sin (impossible, according to Mark 4:22), I confessed it in complete detail to my wife. I had already confessed it to the Lord and knew he had forgiven me because He promises to; but I did not know if Gayle would, nor did I expect her to. Amazingly, she forgave me and thus began the difficult and painful process of healing and restoration. My five children also chose to forgive me and to walk through this embarrassing and shameful process with Gayle and me.
Next I confessed to church leaders and a group of overseers. (I had chosen this group of overseers according to our church bylaws to determine whether I should be disciplined or fired in situations such as I had found myself). I offered my resignation to them immediately.
I then asked them to help me. They arranged for Gayle and me to spend several weeks in Arizona, undergoing intensive evaluation and therapy, including a specialized trauma resolution therapy. Upon our return home to Colorado, we were presented with contracts by the overseers and the group of “restorers” they had chosen, which we signed in order to show our willingness to cooperate. These men had the difficult job of dealing with a very personal matter involving a very public figure.
This process was challenging, and at times even hurtful; but I believe these men did the best they knew to do in the limelight of public scrutiny, to try to bring healing to all who had been affected by my behavior. We moved to Arizona, where I continued to work on healing my relationship with Gayle and our children. I also began selling insurance as a means of providing for my family. We remained there for over a year.
In December 2007, I believe God spoke to my heart and called me back to Colorado Springs, the place He had called me to as a 28-year old preacher. We moved back home six months later and were reunited with our family, and with friends who had prayed faithfully for us.
While I had created this mess and had much healing to do, I had devastated Gayle and she was trying to heal as well. Part of her healing process was to share why she had decided to remain married to the man who had betrayed and embarrassed her so publicly. In January 2010 she wrote a warm and gracious book titled “Why I Stayed”, which quickly became a New York Times bestseller and has helped countless people who have struggled with similar issues in their marriages and families.
For four years I have dealt with ridicule, rejection, and shame, as have those who have affiliated with me. Yet, I blame only myself. I do not blame anyone who has rejected me and those who have chosen to stay in relationship with me. I understand that they cannot see how they could ever trust me again; for I brought these consequences upon myself. Through it all, the Lord has taught me to forgive even those who can’t or won’t forgive me. I recognize that only time, my actions and the Holy Spirit will allow people to trust me once again; for trust must be earned, and once lost, is never easily regained.
In June 2010, Gayle and I launched St. James Church in Colorado Springs. We did this in part because we desperately longed for fellowship with other believers, and because we wanted to give hope to those like us, who felt alone, rejected, unloved and wanted to study God’s Word together. Others have chosen to join us in this endeavor.
Finally, I recognize there are differing views and beliefs as to whether or not a pastor who has fallen morally, as I did, should ever be restored to the position of pastor (and even those who would say it is acceptable, don’t agree on how much time should pass before being restored), and I accept that. Ultimately, I will have to be accountable to God and the people of St. James Church for my decision to return to pastoring. In the meantime, Gayle and I want to keep reaching out to others with the love of Christ and the truths and promises found in His Word.
We will be forever thankful for those who have forgiven us, prayed for us and loved us, even when I was unworthy and difficult to love. God’s grace and mercy are more real to me today than at any time in my entire life and I’m thankful to Him for keeping me as His child and continuing to mold me and make me into the person he wants me to be.