Some years ago, Richard Foster published a book with the title, Money, Sex and Power.
I’ve been reflecting on these categories, especially in the face of recent moral failures of some of our church leaders.
The apostle John warns us about “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16, KJV).
These things will pass away along with the world, he continues, because they are “of the world.”
Sexual sin is relatively easy to detect, and also far reaching. People who struggle with sexual sin often start down that path with the thought, “it’s not hurting anybody…no one needs to know.” But when such sin is exposed, the damage to integrity and the loss of trust is profound. People do get hurt. Trust invested for years is suddenly invalidated and will take years to win back. Integrity is a matter of consistent, trustworthy actions in testing situations over a long period of time.
Do the math: heart-trust isn’t won back easily or quickly after sexual offense. And so it stands to reason that sexual sin is the “big sin” often singled out for attention by the church.
But monetary sin is also “of the world.” The easy sin is stealing – though there is a variety of euphemisms we use to avoid calling it what it is. Because we live in a very materialistic society, the acceptable level – or “room” – for monetary sin is broad. Everyone cheats a little, we say.
More subtly, we’re part of a system that has reaped the benefits of decades, even centuries, of global injustice. We have access to food and products from all parts of the world, achieved on the backs of people who may be taken advantage of. So we give a lot of space for one another’s sins in this area. But our temptations concerning money are still “of the world,” and this world is passing away.
One that escapes
The one that probably escapes us most is power sin. Shortly after the U.S. invaded Iraq, ostensibly to deal with terrorism and introduce democracy, it became clear that the stable flow of oil was the real political issue. I had just read an article entitled “Blood for Oil” in a news magazine when I heard that the American vice-president met with Christians in England who prayed for him. I recall asking some friends, “Did they pray for his morality issues?”
The friends responded, “Why, has he had an affair?” My question and their response told me how easily we miss calling abuse of power a sin.
Pastors and church elders are susceptible to moral failure in this area. They can get away with abusing members by calling it “strong leadership.” Members can get away with abusing their leaders by calling it “congregational involvement.” Failure to love, fear mongering, gossip, and slander are all evidence of sin in the area of power.
Power sin generally goes unchecked, undiagnosed, unaddressed. It gets lost in our attention to sexual failure, but the consequences are amazingly far reaching. This is where church splits originate; where leaders burn out, and quit ministry and often the church; where members drift away, and lose heart and faith.
The Quiet Revolution that saw Quebeckers leave their church in droves some decades ago, primarily because of power abuse, is happening in churches across Canada. In 2001, Statistics Canada reported an increase of 122 percent over a decade of those who said they were Christian but hadn’t attended church in the past year. I would assess moral failure related to all three areas as the culprit for this sad statistic.
I don’t have an upbeat conclusion to this article, only a warning. We’re all in the world and the lusts of sex, money, and power apply to each of us. Usually there’s one that stands out as our key temptation.
I know my key temptation. Do you know yours? What am I, what are you, doing about it?