Should Pastors Confess Sins Publicly? Should We Forgive and Forget?


Should pastors confess sins publicly? Or should we all just “forgive and forget”?

Yesterday, on Facebook, I posted about the senior pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship Church in Dallas, who announced that he is stepping aside due to “sin” he committed years ago.

Many people have added their thoughts in the comments—many diverse views. I’ve had a lot of people say “we need to forgive and forget,” “his sin is between him and God” and “stop judging.” (Among other things.)

I don’t think we realize how problematic some of these response are. Before we continue, let me share what I wrote on Facebook and then pick up from there.


This past Sunday, Tony Evans, the senior pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship Church in Dallas, announced that he is stepping aside due to “sin” he committed years ago.

I’ve been reading some articles and checking out the comments on Threads, IG, and here.

Some of the standout comments have been along the lines of “At least he confessed and is stepping aside. Most leaders won’t do anything like that.”

I think we’re missing something. Not confessing and not stepping aside is exactly what he’s been doing since the (unnamed) “sin.” It’s been years. Not exactly stellar behavior.

I don’t know his reason for making this announcement now, but external pressure often compels church leaders to make public announcements.

Aye, people “sin.” But I doubt Tony Evans is stepping aside because years ago, he got a little frustrated and was impatient with someone.

I doubt he’s going away to a time of “spiritual recovery and healing” because he made a rolling stop at a Stop sign. It has the signs of something other than human-type missteps.

I know there’s a lot more to consider, but here’s the bottom line for me:

Until Christians acknowledge the problem with Christian celebrity culture (where we put people on pedestals and then protect them,) we will continue with the same cycle and get the same results – pedestal, idolize, protect – while everyone else rightfully questions Christians and their beliefs.

Mending at the systems level is not a personal “spiritual recovery and healing.” Change at that level requires identifying and excising the problem from its root.


Let’s talk about some of the troubling themes I’m seeing in some of the comments:

“Do Not Judge..” In Whose Defense?

Some commenters said it was judgemental to discuss his public announcement. Their view is in reference to Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:1 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged..”

Interestingly, this verse is used mainly whenever the discussion revolves around the behavior of a popular public figure. Christians love to say, “do not judge” when it’s their favorite person behaving not-so-wonderfully.

I’ve never witnessed the phrase “do not judge,” used to defend the regular churchgoer, victims of abuse, neglect, or betrayal, or the defenseless. The phrase is often pulled out in defense of the person with power.

And that was the point I was making. Until Christians acknowledge the problem with Christian celebrity culture (where we put people on pedestals and then protect them), we will continue seeing the same problematic cycles. Also Read Dear Conservative Christians, Maybe The World Isn’t Trying to Emasculate Men 

What Does “Do Not Judge” Actually Mean?

Let’s talk about the “do not judge” text because I think we misunderstand the meaning and context.

In this verse (Matthew 7:1), Jesus is talking about unfair or rash judgment. He’s not talking about never having an opinion or conclusion. He’s saying not to rush with our decisions or draw unfair opinions or conclusions about others.

If Jesus had been referring to never having discernment or opinions or never publicly expressing them, His life and the lives of early church leaders would have looked very different.

He was quite open with his views about the religious leaders of the day. He used strong descriptive words, like “hypocrites,” “brood of vipers,” “snakes,”  and “greed(y) and self-indulgen(t)” to express and make a point. Read More 15 Things We Think God is Obsessed With (But He Isn’t)

Peter was publicly corrected by Paul when he (Peter) was wishy-washy in his behavior. Peter ate with the Gentiles until the Jews showed up, after which he didn’t eat with them but instead withdrew. (Galatians 2:11-21)

Paul did not think Peter was being “straightforward about the truth of the gospel.” And others were following his behavior. So Paul called him out publicly. Because public behavior calls for public correction. Because the first witnesses/hearers need to hear the truth too/have a witness to their experience.

Should Pastors Confess Sins Publicly?

Frequently, Christians are the last to accept that public conduct invites public discourse.

If your work is in the public domain, if you’re in a leadership position, then you are accountable for your actions while in that position of leadership. We have a huge problem with that.

Again, nobody is asking for public confession/discussion of every misstep. We all have those—human-level missteps like feeling frustrated and being too hard on someone (and hopefully working that out with the person we were harsh with).)

I don’t think the senior pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship Church stepped aside because of a tiny human miss-step. He’s not going away to a time of “spiritual recovery and healing” because he made a rolling stop at a Stop sign.

At this point, it’s also important to point out that all sins are not equal. Some people have said “we’re all sinners and shouldn’t judge others.” That is sin-leveling.

“Sin-leveling” is the belief that all sins are equal in their matter, impact, and consequences. It’s saying failing to observe a traffic signal and committing murder are exactly the same things. They are not.

One is worse than the other in terms of its matter, impact, and consequences (And if caught for example, one might get away with a ticket or warning with the former but not with the latter.) I’m not saying Tony Evans committed a crime – in fact the Statement on the church’s website said he didn’t. I’m pointing out the folly of putting all “sin’ and missteps in the one bucket.

Public Confession of Sin: Where Accountability Begins

When we say that a pastor doesn’t need to publicly admit anything and that it’s between himself and God, even when the wrongdoing (which is unknown) is so severe that he needed to step away from a leadership position, we’re essentially holding him to a different standard than everyone else.

should pastors confess sins publicly

1 Cor 5:9-13 and Ephesians 5:3‭-‬13 are about engaging in our communities in a way that is “straightforward about the truth of the gospel.” The author lists patterns that should not be found among believers and further offers remedial actions. You can also read it this way: sins are named, believers are called to specific actions depending on whether there’s repentance.

If you hold a public office, it’s not enough to say, “I did a thing years ago, and now I’m telling you about it, and I’m moving on.” Your office requires transparency and accountability. Transparency requires naming “sins.”

Without that level of transparency, real accountability becomes impossible. Mystery and secrecy does not healthy restoration process look like.

And yes, if your influence goes beyond your church—if you have books, sermons, and videos reaching people around the world—you owe those people an explanation as well.

If they were important enough to “reach with the gospel” via books and programs, they are important enough to stay accountable to. Let’s not retreat when reaching out is no longer personally beneficial.

Should Pastors Confess Sins Publicly: Forgive and Forget?

I saw a couple of comments about “forgiving,” “forgetting,” and “letting it go.”

First, Tony Evans didn’t ask for forgiveness. Even if he did, he would need to name what he’s asking people to forgive him for because forgiveness is not a blank check.

People often confuse public discourse with unforgiveness, anger, or bitterness. We’ve been taught to revere our leaders so much that they are untouchable. You can’t talk about them without fellow Christians yelling that you’re doing something wrong.

Sadly, these same Christians don’t have a problem telling those impacted by clergy misbehavior, secrecy, deceit or coverup to keep quiet.

But no problem has ever been addressed by burying it. We need to keep having these conversations. And we need to rethink belief systems that are based on fear, coercion, guilt, and control.

Bottom line:

What is happening is that Tony Evans said a very public thing that left more questions than answers.

The elders at his church have handled it in a way (according to the statement) that is still shrouded in mystery than truth. That’s what people have a problem with, at this point in time.

A pastors behavior is not exempt from public discussion. I mean, people talk about his teachings and their impact all the time. Why is it a problem then to discuss elements that do not seem to align with the teachings of Christ?  

All this has nothing to do with Tony Evans as a person and his personal relationship with his Creator—absolutely nothing. It’s about transparency and accountability for the office he (and others like him hold.) Read More Why Pastors Need Accountability Too

Tired of religious refrains being used to justify your hurting reality? 

Have you been told to take your place in the valley of desolation? Are you injured by wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing? Are you walking through life with a broken, disjointed soul? Courage: Reflections and Liberation For the Hurting Soul is for women healing from harming theology and bad marriage advice.  “The journey towards healing your soul.” Amazon Review ORDER AMAZON I PDF

Courage: Reflections and Liberation for the Hurting Soul

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