Rebecca Prater’s column is intriguing. Would the same criteria apply to a minister, a professor in a seminary, a leader of a denominational agency?
I know some “fallen” ministers who do have a faith relationship despite obvious moral brokenness in their own lives; whose gifts are still good enough as preacher, teacher, theologian, organizer and administrator to serve God’s kingdom; and whose labor in word and delivery can effectively point to and exalt God.
To my knowledge, people who fit all three of these criteria have been asked to leave moderate seminary faculties, moderate church pulpits and moderate leadership positions because they had fallen morally. Was it appropriate that these people leave such positions? Usually, the answer is yes.
I suspect a relational dynamic factors into a person’s “fallenness,” and that it affects our sensibilities much more than Prater’s stated criteria. We know, we interact, we share the life fabric of our professors, ministers and leaders. We don’t interact with the flesh and blood of composers, nor did we interact with David or Solomon. Even they lost their leadership effectiveness with their contemporaries. It took time for their words to regain their power and effect.
We might use the writer or composer’s material because we are separated from the person. But the soloist, preacher and teacher are different because their humanity brushes ours more nearly. Bill Clinton made some profound and inspired remarks during his presidency. But it will be a few years before Clinton will be quoted frequently.
Ethical issues are much more relevant given our proximity to the artists. Most artists’ work, whether in music or spoken word, is for a time unusable as a result of moral failure. Ultimately, it may find meaning in the church’s life.
The epistle states, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, and are called according to our Lord’s purpose.” Sometimes this happens posthumously. David’s words and Solomon’s wisdom were cherished centuries later. However, in the nearness of the moment, their abilities as worship leaders, national unifiers and deliverers of God’s word were irreparably damaged.
One’s humanity does cost one’s leadership in the current moment; trust violated is always costly. It should be so. Time, distance and God’s redemptive work among the people provide a sense of relevance and humanity that sometimes later saves the work of artists, whether their medium be music or proclamation. It doesn’t alter the power of moral failure to damage and destroy one’s work in the moment.
Moral failure costs the power and effectiveness of an artist here and now. Our words and art are not divorced from our action. Broken trust damages the authenticity of anyone’s work.
Will the artist’s work be useable again at some point in the future? Often it is. Sometimes it is lost; comparable art will be valued more because of the moral uprightness of a comparable artist. All of us who create or use art in God’s name do well to remember this, for one’s life speaks as loudly as one’s words.
Larry Coleman is senior minister of Churchland Baptist Church in Chesapeake, Va.
Read Prater’s April 5 column, “Using Songs in Spite of the Songwriters.”