I might be accused of being hyper-sensitive about the subject, and the accusation might even be well-founded, but I am stunned by the recent article in Time magazine which asks the question "Are Mega-Preachers Scandal-Prone?" Now at first blush, if you judge an article by its title, you might wonder what about that assertion impacts me. I don't even have a church, much less a mega-ministry. And I have been known myself to question the integrity of several mega-preachers, generally in private but sometimes in public too.
What raises my ire about the article is the fact that it implies, with the ready assistance of Albert Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, that it is the Pentecostalism of these preachers that introduces the physical and emotional excess that leads to private misbehavior which eventuates in public exposure. Says Mohler, it is "so driven by emotion and by passion" that theological and moral accountability suffer. Thus, though discussing such figures as Swaggart, Bakker, White, and Bynum, who by virtue of their notoriety are hardly typical, the article manages to indict the whole Pentecostal/Charismatic movement.
Now any American religious historian, especially one who studies Pentecostalism as I do, will recognize immediately an argument as old as revivalism in this country. Whenever spiritual fervor has risen to the point where established denominations and authoritative persons cannot contain or control it, the charge of bodily excess and "enthusiasm" has always followed. The charismatic movement is no exception. Even within the history of Pentecostalism, theological debates and disagreements have often led to mudslinging accusations about the personal morality of the theological opponent. After Charles Parham's ouster from the Azusa Mission in 1907, he forever after accused Azusa-style Pentecostals of practicing "free love" and other acts of immorality, usually meaning illicit sex. His opponents, in turn, accused him of sodomy. None of this is new, but that doesn't make it accurate.
Let me expand on the point that Anthea Butler made in the same article, but that Time failed to emphasize, namely, that Pentecostals are no more scandal prone than other denominations. In fact, even the scandalous behavior noted in the article itself is commonplace, not only among Christian clergy but within society at large. Adultery and fiscal mismanagement, domestic violence, and divorce are not "mega-preacher things." The difference in these cases is that the preachers have a national following both before the allegations and after.
As a minister with Pentecostal heritage, but with a wide variety of experience and affiliation among Christian denominations, I am spending a lot of time lately trying to help non-Pentecostals have some accurate perspective on the Pentecostal movement. Time's reiteration of the worn-out thesis that too much emotional content makes religion dangerous and unaccountable does not help.
At the end of the day, being Pentecostal/Charismatic or anointed or in ministry, does not determine whether you will stay married, be faithful, or steal money. But being famous does mean that if you get caught, you'll have a scandal on top of everything else.