Observations on Life, Faith, Media & Technology

This one hits close to home

This past Saturday night, I was browsing through news feeds (it’s an addiction, I admit it) when I saw a story on the AP wire that caught my attention.  The headline read "Evangelistic Ministry Suspends Founder Over Admitted Admitted Affair."  I thought, "Oh, no, here we go again" as I clicked on the link to read the story.  The first paragraph froze me in my tracks and I said "Oh, no!" with enough pain and volume to send my wife over to ask what prompted that outburst.

The opening line read, "The founding pastor of The Church at Brook Hills has been suspended from his evangelistic ministry.. after he admitted having an extramarital affair."

Rickousley_sm Rick Ousley is a friend of mine.  This doesn’t sound at all like the Rick Ousley that I knew.  We haven’t had much face to face contact over the last few years, but I have had the privilege of ministering with him on many occasions in Virginia in the 1980s and early 90s.  In 1990 Rick founded The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham which grew to over 4,000 by the time he stepped down as pastor amid health problems in June, 2005.  After a life-threatening aneurysm in the spring of 2005, Rick resigned to spend time with his family.  In announcing his resignation, Rick said, "“For too long, my family has gotten leftovers from me, because I’ve been so caught up in the task at hand.”

Rick admitted in a written statement that in the fall of 2005, ironically not long after he left the pastorate to devote himself to his family, he "committed a moral and spiritual indiscretion with a woman not my wife."

A ministry colleague who is journeying with the Ousleys through these rough waters has said that while many of the things alleged in the press are not true, the core of the allegations are true.  And heartbreaking for all concerned.  For Rick.  For Joyce and his daughters.  For the church family at Brook Hills  And for the countless people, like myself, who have been touched, encouraged, blessed and uplifted by the man and his ministry.

It’s easy to dismiss a Ted Haggard, Jimmy Swaggart or Robert Tilton as a fake, a fraud and a phony.  For one thing, they came across that way before the fall.  But, the main thing is I don’t know them.  I met Swaggart and Bakker at NRB in the mid-eighties, but my brief encounter with them left me with a lower opinion of them than I had before I met them.

But not the Rick Ousley I knew.  I have laughed with him, prayed with him and cried with him. We talked about our families and in particular about raising daughters.  My daughter was only four when Rick told us over dinner that he had always told his daughters that their first date would be with their Dad.  He would show them how a gentleman would treat them and then instruct them to never settle for anything less from any of the boys they dated.  I remember standing in the church parking lot for over an hour listening to him talk about the vision God had given him to start The Church at Brook Hills. 

The Rick Ousley I knew loved the Lord, and had a burning passion to see people come to know Christ.  The Rick Ousley I knew loved his wife Joyce dearly.  The Rick I knew was crazy about his daughters and earnestly desired to see them have a close walk with the Lord and to embrace purity in their dating relationships.

It is hard to square the Rick Ousley I knew with the guy that was in the news this past week.

I am reminded of King David.  God Himself called David "a man after my own heart."  He unified the Kingdom of Israel and brought the nation to new heights spiritually and politically.  Then he neglected his duties as King – staying home while sending others to fight his battles for him – and began a chain of events that resulted in him not only committing adultery, but then committing murder to cover up the adultery.

How did David go from a man after God’s heart to an adulterer and murderer?  Slowly.  One compromise after another.  The same way Rick Ousley did. 

In addition to the heartbreak I feel for Rick, his family and his friends, there is an element in this story that is a sobering reminder of our human frailties and weaknesses.  While many will self-righteously denounce Rick and other ministers who fail morally, in our heart of hearts we fear, and we know that it could easily be us facing the shame and disgrace Rick is facing. 

There is a reason that God’s word tells us to restore the fallen "gently and humbly."  Galatians 6:1 says, "Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself."

You see, if such a thing could happen to King David, and if it could happen to Rick Ousley, the inescapable conclusion is that this could happen to you or to me if we ever allow ourselves to start down that road.  We all have feet of clay.  That is why we need accountability in our lives.  That is why we need to never allow the devil to get so much as a toehold in our lives. 

When an admired leader in the faith community falls, we all suffer.  There are thousands of people whose lives have been touched by Rick’s ministry that are now struggling to process this news and, sadly, many are reevaluating not only his words but his ministry in light of what he has done.

But the real carnage is not in the church.  It’s in the home.

My heart breaks for Rick and his family.  The Rick Ousley I know is less concerned with the public embarrassment than he is with the fact that he has forever damaged his relationship with Joyce and his daughters.  I can’t begin to imagine facing my son or daughter and having to tell them that I had violated everything that I worked so hard to instill in them for their entire lives.  I can’t imagine knowing that my wife would never fully, completely trust me ever again.  She could forgive, but she could never completely forget.

Rick has a long road ahead of him.  I am encouraged to hear that Joyce is standing with him in spite of the hurt.  Those of us who love and admire Rick will be lifting him and them up in prayer in the weeks and months ahead.

The Rick Ousley I know deserves our love, support and prayers.

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