Word has just broken that Nathan Sutherland, the 36 year-old, married father of four, licensed practical nurse who has been arrested for impregnating a long-incapacitated woman at an Arizona care facility, was/is a “Christian rapper.”
Although he has not yet been tried and convicted, DNA testing has apparently positively matched him with the baby. So the travesty of this immoral act is compounded by the fact that Sutherland has promoted himself as a follower of Jesus Christ. In addition to the pain and suffering inflicted on the victim, her parents and this innocent newborn, who knows how much damage has been done to the name and cause of Christ, whom Sutherland has claimed to follow and represent?
While no human being is without sin, such moral and spiritual callousness should never mark those who take the name Christian, and profess to be new creatures in Christ, filled with the Holy Spirit. Sadly, the mark of our age seems to be a Church marked by corruption and hypocrisy rather than virtue and nobility. We embrace the message of forgiveness and mercy, but want nothing to do with transformation and holiness.
This same reality struck me two weeks ago when I caught an Uber from DFW airport to a meeting about 20 miles away. As we pulled away from the curb, I asked my vivacious driver, Norma, about her life and work. After sharing for a few minutes, she turned the question back on me. So, I told her about my ministry focused on sharing the gospel with the Arabic-speaking world. This prompted a further question: “So, are you a minister?”
“Yes,” I answered.
“Okay,” she said. “We are now going to have a church service in my car! I have some questions. I need some help with forgiveness. How do you forgive someone who has hurt you badly — I mean really badly?”
I resisted the urge to ask for details, but it soon became clear she had been in a relationship with a guy who took advantage of her, and then burned her. On top of that, he claimed to be a Christian, and told her that she was required to forgive him and then forget the whole thing had happened, so that she would never mention the transgression in the future to him or anyone else. Worst of all, she told me, he was her pastor. The “forgive and forget” subterfuge was his way of manipulating her with Scripture in order to silence her so he could continue to prey on other unsuspecting women in his congregation. He told her that as a pastor chosen by the hand of God, no church member had the right to publicly criticize him or his ministry and that her role was to support him, not accuse him.
As her story unfolded, I became more and more incensed — that a false shepherd could hide behind the veneer of respectability and holiness, all the while perpetrating evil and mishandling the Scriptures to justify it. Fortunately, there was enough time during the trip for me to share about when it is right to forgive but not forget (when the perpetrator shows no signs of repentance), and how Jesus counsels believers to confront offenders (first privately and then publicly, if they refuse to seek forgiveness and amend their behavior — see Matthew 18:15-17). Finally, I shared with Norma that far from being exempted from ordinary standards of morality, those who teach God’s Word are held to greater strictness of judgment before God (see James 3:1).
When we arrived at my destination, Norma asked me not to leave the car for a minute so she could write down the Scripture passages we had talked about and look them over later. “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” she said. “I knew inside something wasn’t right about what he was telling me I had to do.”
“If you have any more questions or troubles, just call me,” I told her as I handed her my card. She hasn’t yet, and perhaps never will, but I trust that God will guide her through His Word and protect her and other vulnerable sheep from the predatory acts of those who claim to be shepherds, but prove to be masquerading wolves.
Not only do they do great harm to the lost and vulnerable, they also sully the reputation and glory of the Good Shepherd, under whose name they commit their wanton evil. It is up to us as Christians to learn the Scriptures well and live by them as our personal standards of life, and then to gently but firmly reprimand those in our midst who refuse to walk in the righteousness of Christ. At the same time, we must pray for a fresh outpouring of the Spirit to renew us as the people of God. Only such a divine work can transform hearts and wills to make us a community that truly desires holiness rather than one that traffics in hypocrisy.