Whether you are a Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal, the recent events surrounding presidential candidate Herman Cain should be a reminder to all of us that it is not enough to avoid doing bad things; we should work hard to avoid putting ourselves in a situation where we can be plausibly accused of unethical or inappropriate actions.
I do not know whether Cain is being honest in his claims of innocence or if his accusers are correct that he acted inappropriately. In the heat of a political campaign, the discussion seems to line up along partisan lines, and there is a lot more heat than light.
But I do know that if Mr. Cain had not been in a car along with a woman other than his wife, he would never be in this situation. No matter how innocent his actions may or may not have been, the reality is that he allowed himself to be put in a situation where he could later be accused of something illicit, and there is no way to prove his guilt or innocence.
As pastors and church leaders, this is a lesson we must take to heart. I recall years ago, as a young minister, I had the chance to visit First Evangelical Free Church of Fullerton, California, where Chuck Swindoll was the pastor. That day he was preaching on sexual purity, and I still remember his testimony about the commitment he made as a young pastor – to never be in the car alone with a woman who was not his wife. Since then he had established that as policy for every ministerial staff member of his church. It was the first time I had heard a pastor talk about such a policy, but since then I’ve heard several other pastors talk about similar commitments they have made.
Why is such a policy so important to pastors and church leaders? Because when you are in ministry – or any kind of leadership, for that matter – you have a giant target painted on your back. There are those who would like nothing better than to bring you down, tar you with ethical smears, and disrupt what God is doing in your life and your church. Given that reality, it is simply wise to avoid putting yourself in a situation where your moral purity can be so easily questioned. Whether or not Mr. Cain did or did not act inappropriately, that question is now in the public square, and his reputation has been tainted in the minds of many. As a pastor, such an accusation can sideline your ministry.
I will never forget the story told by my pastor when I was a teenager. Years before in a previous church, he had become involved in a hot political battle in the community over legalizing alcohol sales. One evening he received a call from a man who was threatening suicide; the man was at the church and asked to meet the pastor in his office. This pastor agreed, but on the way to the church, he stopped and picked up another leader, one of the deacons, to accompany him.
When they got to the church, the pastor unlocked the door to the church office and entered, only to find two people already there. One was a woman who quickly tossed off her coat to reveal she was undressed; the other was a photographer. The pastor was being set up, and the plan was to catch him with an incriminating photo that would be used to discredit his moral leadership in the community. But the plan was foiled by the presence of that second person, the deacon who stood alongside his pastor.
You’ll likely never face a situation like that, but you will be in situations where you will need to use wisdom and avoid putting yourself in situations which could prove compromising in some way. Is that fair? No. Is it wise? Yes.