Working in my office today, I stumbled across a live feed from the U.S. Capitol Building. The deceased Billy Graham, the most well-known preacher in the modern world, was given the privilege have having his body “lie in honor” in the Rotunda. I had already read that Graham’s coffin was handmade by inmates in Louisiana’s notorious Angola prison (some of these craftsmen were serving time for murder). It was an impressive sight as the room packed with dignitaries and world leaders to honor this country preacher from Charlotte, North Carolina.
Billy Graham was criticized by conservative evangelicals for cooperating with Mainline Protestant denominations. He was criticized by some civil rights leaders as being soft on desegregation (while his organization lifts him up as a friend to Martin Luther King, Jr.) Some conservatives labeled his theology as “universalist” while some progressives claim his beliefs were “homophobic.” Yet, there is one thing that Billy Graham is almost universally known for… integrity.
In 1948, a young Billy Graham, whose rise to popularity was being attributed in the press as being due to his good looks and magnetism, met with his team in Modesto, California and came up with a list of rules that they would follow for the rest of their lives. Seventy years later, the “Billy Graham Rule” of avoiding private time with members of the opposite sex has been criticized, especially if adopted by political or business leaders. Yet, Billy Graham passed away with the admiration and respect of millions of Americans.
Contrast that to the life of Charismatic evangelist Tony Alamo. I grew up in Nashville, Tennessee. As a teen, I remember seeing the neon sign of Alamo Western Store on Music Row. This store, which provided outfits for Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson (including the jacket worn on the “Bad” album cover), sold clothes made at Alamo’s religious compound.
Alamo’s church was filled with ex-hippies and former drug users who now professed Christ through Alamo’s ministry. They worked to design this clothing that made this preacher a millionaire. Yet, after the death of Alamo’s wife, Susan, Tony Alamo was obsessed with using his spiritual gifts to raise her from the dead. This went on for months. Years later, stories were being told of Alamo’s physical and sexual abuse of children who were a part of his ministry. In 2009 Alamo was sentenced to 175 years in jail for the sexual trafficking of children.
What makes one young preacher become “America’s preacher” and another a hated felon? That is the subject of the book Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership by Gary L. McIntosh and Samuel D. Rima.1 This book looks at leaders ranging for John F. Kennedy to King Solomon in order to help the reader avoid common pitfalls that can ruin careers, families, and reputations.
McIntosh and Rima characterize five types of dysfunctional leadership personas: the compulsive leader, the narcissistic leader, the paranoid leader, the codependent leader, and the passive-aggressive leader. These archetypes helped illustrate how unhealthy behaviors, left unchecked, can spell disaster for the leader.
At first, glance, Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership might seem like a simple book of cautionary tales. Yet, the authors make it clear that the moral failures of Christian leaders are of critical importance when they write:
The constant flow of failures among Christian leaders today in every denomination threatens the fabric of the church of Jesus Christ. Our credibility is being eroded among the people we have been called to reach because scores of failures among Christian leaders have created a cynicism toward the church within our culture.
Our mission in jeopardy if we cannot stem the tide of fallen leaders. It is crucial that the church address this issue before irreparable harm is done to the cause of Christ in this generation.
What makes one leader a Bill Hybels and another a Jim Bakker? A Rick Warren or a Jimmy Swaggart? According to McIntosh and Rima, it is probably not one choice or event. It is the feeding of a “dark side” that grows and grows until it causes disaster.
1 Gary L. McIntosh and Samuel D. Rima, Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership: How to Become an Effective Leader by Confronting Potential Failures, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2007)
2 McIntosh and Rima, 222.