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How Spiritual Leaders Get Through What They're Going Through: Lie or Leave

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If you are a card-carrying human being, chances are that you share the same fear as all other humans: the fear of losing love, respect and connection to others. And if you are human, in order to avoid or prevent the pain, trauma and perceived devastation of the loss, you will do anything to avoid your greatest fear from being visited on you. In order to feel loved, be respected and stay connected, we humans have a tendency to lie. We lie about who we are, what we want, what we need, what we have done or will do. Perhaps lie is too strong a word. Let me say that what we do is withhold the truth. Rather than stand in the truth of our authentic identity, we act as if. We become who we think we should be in order to sustain the respect and admiration of others. This is commonly known as living within the boundaries of society. It requires that we create and live within the confines of a persona that makes other people comfortable with who we are and what they need us to be. If you need evidence, just reflect on how you behaved with the person you first dated, and how you behaved once you had spent a few nights together.

True or false, right or wrong, good or bad, the average human being will at some point live some degree of inauthenticity. Whether at work, at home or in public, we have been trained to believe that who we are at the core of our being is often unacceptable. As a result, we work diligently to live up to - and sometimes down to - what others have made us out to be, whether or not it is an accurate reflection of who we are. Should we be bold enough to attempt to tell them that we are not, we cannot and we have no desire to be who they require, they get mad and threaten to withdraw or withhold their love. That's when we panic! Once panic sets in, our choices seem limited: knuckle under to the expectations or walk away. Misery results when we knuckle under. It is difficult to live being someone you are not. It is even more difficult to tell the truth when you are taught that who you really are is unacceptable. Heartache and anger are often the outgrowth of walking away. If we can't be authentic with you, we can choose to be authentic without you. This approach almost always leads to spending a great deal of time in anger. There are other choices; however, once fear, panic or anger sets in, they become difficult to identify.

We humans also love to put other humans on pedestals. Perhaps our pedestal placements give us some semblance of control. If we lift you up, we can tear you down when or if it suits us. The challenge is, while we are telling you who you should be and expecting you to live in alignment with those standards and expectations, we forget two important things. First, you are human. As such, you are subject to bouts of insanity, lapses of memory, sudden unexplained disruptive or inappropriate emotional outbursts and just plain old bad behavior. It's a part of being human. We don't like that about ourselves, but it is a part of our reality. The second thing we forget about being human is that if you want to have authentic, fulfilling and lasting relationships with other humans, you must give yourself and them the space and permission to tell the truth. You must be willing to hear, acknowledge and accept the truth about individual needs and desires. This does not mean you must agree with what others choose for themselves. It means you must be open and willing to accept that everyone has the right to determine what is appropriate in his or her life. If you refuse or avoid hearing, knowing and accepting the truth, or if you judge it once you hear or know it, you set into motion a series of events that can only have a disastrous outcome. Rather than standing in and for the truth, we encourage people to withhold, and thus invite them betray our trust. A withholding is like an emotional cancer that eats away at the very essence of the very thing we all desire - connection. Rather than risk judgment and abandonment, a human being will withhold her truth, live inauthentically and convince herself that it is the right thing to do. If or when the truth is revealed, rather than accept the role we have played in the withholding, we attack. We often witness this frantic dance of inauthenticity, withholding, judgment and attack in the church - the very communities of people who come together in search of connection and love.

I have been in deep contemplation about the allegations hurled at Bishop Eddie Long. I am not at first concerned with whether or not he has done what he is accused of doing. That is his business and his Creator's business. My job is to love, in good times and in bad. I have learned the hard way to mind my business, without judging who people are and what they do. I am more troubled by the lack of space being provided for the truth to unfold. Humans cannot seem to wait for or honor the truth. Instead, we make it up based on who we believe people should or should not be. My heart goes out to the young men who have lodged the allegations of inauthentic living against the bishop. If they are telling the truth, they are being demonized for it. Their motives are being questioned, and their humanness is being put on trial in the court of public opinion. As it relates to them, there doesn't seem to be any space for the probability of truth. Should we allow it to be so, it would mean that the bishop has betrayed us and we must judge and attack him.

My heart is also tender for Bishop Long. Having been in a position of leadership, I know the sting of the arrows that are thrown at you. I know what it feels like to be judged while having your connection to, and admiration of, a community threatened. But, what if? What if this bishop or any bishop, cardinal, priest or pastor has a truth that has been withheld? What if the natural human fear of being rejected, abandoned and unloved motivated him to live within the confines of external expectations? What if this bishop or any other person within a church community is a good human being whose human needs and desires are considered unacceptable in the eyes of other human beings, specifically those in the church? Where does that person go to tell the truth? Is there space in the minds and hearts of his peers, or community to hear, accept and release judgment about what his truth may be? Could be. Maybe. Maybe not. Who knows?

Sexual misconduct scandals are not news within the confines of the church. There is an obvious incongruence between what our religious faiths require of us and what we can deliver as human beings. Yet for some reason we are still horrified when the problem rears its head. We continue to feel betrayed by the truth. And we feel righteous judging those who demonstrate a truth that is different from the one we require or expect. This is the epitome of bad human behavior. I do believe that all leaders must be held accountable. Religious and political leaders, the leaders appointed and anointed in our families, communities and government must be reminded that they will be held accountable for their physical, mental, emotional and spiritual humanness. If you put yourself out there in a leadership role -- if you get up on the pedestal -- it means you are accepting the responsibilities and expectations that go along with the position. It means that you are willing to be challenged, judged and exposed about everything you stand up for, who you lay down with and the stories you tell yourself and others about who you are and what you do. Spiritual and religious leaders not only have the arduous task of living within the confines of the truth that humans do not want to know, they must also live the promoted truth of the theological doctrine to which they subscribe. If and when the inherent judgments and rigidity of a theology does not take into consideration the frailties of humanness, a leader can in the midst of a scandalous allegation, true or not, find him or herself abandoned by trusted allies. Spiritual leaders must be willing and able to bend and mold themselves to meet the expectations of that which they hold dear: the religious doctrines to which they pledge their allegiance. Some can do it very well. Others, not so.

I'm still not clear or settled about the real issue in Bishop Long's case. Is it that a trusted spiritual leader has engaged in sexual misconduct? Or is it that he has been accused? Is it that a religious leader is accused of violating the tenets of his faith? Or is it that he may have human frailties that are deemed unacceptable? Is it that the bishop is not who we thought he was? Or is it that we did not give him the space to tell the truth? Is it that a beloved Christian spiritual leader could possibly be gay? Or is it that he possibly withheld the truth about it? Is it that we want to know the truth? Or is it that we love a good scandal? What if this bishop or countless numbers of Catholic priests had announced a different sexual preference or proclivity? Would we have welcomed them into spiritual fellowship? Or would we have judged, attacked and shunned them? And what about the young men? If Bishop Long is telling the truth, then it means the young men have learned that they can somehow profit from telling a lie. Where did they learn that? How many others have done the same and gotten away with it? How, if ever, will the bishop recover? It was once accepted that the truth is powerful. We now live in a time when the accusation can be more powerful, damaging and acceptable than the truth. And what if some people really are gay or lesbian and have the desire to belong to and seek fellowship in a certain spiritual community? Can they tell the truth about who they are? Would they be accepted? Or would they be encouraged to lie about their identity or be forced to leave their church? Regardless of what happens, there can be no winner in this situation. Many lives will be shattered by the seeds of doubt that have already sprouted roots and will continue to grow. How sad it is that we are more willing to love people for who they are not than to love and accept them for who they are.

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