Last week Dale Richardson of Ladson, South Carolina was arrested for allegedly kidnapping four women and raping three of them. (From http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/44219189/ns/us_news-crime_and_courts/t/preacher-accused-raping-women-behind-church/) While some people are confused because they have always seen him as a good person and never saw this coming, he is being held in prison with no bail because he is believed to be a “danger to society.” What is most interesting (and disheartening) about this story, and the reason it is attracting much interest is that Dale Richardson is a pastor of a Baptist church.
Few will argue against the fact that kidnapping and raping is wrong. In no way do I condone the alleged crimes that Richardson is charged with, nor do I diminish his own responsibility in the wrongdoing. My curiosity though begs the question, “What might have led this person to commit this crime?” In the first book we are reading for class, Hurt People Hurt People, by Sandra D. Wilson, the title says it all, and I have to wonder – “Where did this man go wrong?” How has he been hurt and what wound is he carrying that has contributed to his poor and evil choices?
I propose that in part it has to do with shame. Wilson says, “Shame is the soul-deep belief that something is horribly wrong with me that is not wrong with anyone else in the entire world.” She goes on to say, “shame is rooted in the lie that human beings can and should be perfect.” Do we not at least subconsciously expect our leaders to be perfect? What happens to a leader who has his own unseen hurts, who struggles with childish coping mechanisms but cannot admit to anyone that he struggles for fear of being “found out?” He hides in his shame to cover the sin that he secretly battles within.
I believe that we as a church do a terrible disservice to each other as we walk around pretending to have it all together. The pastor who is expected to be perfect is too ashamed (or prideful) to confess to another his struggle with lust, driven to carefully construct a false life of perfection and wholeness when reality would show utter brokenness. This perceived perfection in turn shames the parishioner into posing too because he or she knows that they too have missed the mark but shouldn’t have. And a downward spiral of shameful hiding and disconnected pride ensues, robbing each of real community, humility, and healing. Honesty, forgiveness, and healing are replaced with shame, lying hypocrisy, and an ever-entangling sin leading to tragic examples like the news story above.
Certainly, the blame falls on this pastor who committed the crime. I propose though that instead of only pointing fingers we take time to consider the type of tightly knit “community” that could allow a major internal struggle such as this to go unnoticed. Are we allowing the fear of shame frighten us to put on our hypocritical pious masks or are we boldly confessing our struggles to each other, striving to be a broken but authentic, healing community?