Question: What Contributes to the Moral “Train-wrecks”?


I would love to hear your response to this.  What contributes to the moral train-wrecks?

  • Minister has an affair.
  • Longtime Christian wife/mother decides to leave her husband and children.
  • Church leader reveals a fifteen-year addiction to pornography.
  • Longtime Christian is sent to prison after numerous incidents of theft.  He explains that the motivation for his theft was the desire to have nice things.
  • Church member swindles several other church members in a business deal.
  • Married woman (in her 40s), who is a longtime children’s Bible class teacher, becomes involved with a man ten years younger.

Do these behaviors describe most Christian people?  No.  Not at all.  Yet, I don’t want to ignore these very real examples.

Yes, I know that all Christians sin and that believers are not exempt from stumbling into all kinds of sinful behavior.  However, I think it might be helpful to ask what are some of the factors that contribute to these moral train-wrecks.  What contributes to these behaviors?


Could these be contributing factors?

  • A lack of accountability.
  • Being more enamored with a desire to feel a certain way than with Jesus.
  • Lust.
  • A desire for power.
  • Making stupid, foolish decisions that might make one more vulnerable.
  • Arrogance (I’m above all of these temptations).
  • Seeking pleasure or relief during times of defeat, failure, loss, pain, etc.
  • Being vulnerable during a time in which you have isolated yourself from others.
  • Pride.

No doubt there are many other behaviors that might be contributing factors.


What have you observed?  What are some other contributing factors to moral train-wrecks?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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26 thoughts on “Question: What Contributes to the Moral “Train-wrecks”?

  1. I think for Christians there is often a detachment from God, a growing distant from him. Cold spiritual life, lack of prayer, lack of time in the Word. That may factor in with the other things you mentioned, but I think it needs to be looked at as well.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  2. Great post.

    I would add to the list "Pedestal building and idolization by the congregation – and thus separation from the support network that exists between equals."

    • Peter,
      I like this! "Pedestal building and idolization by the congregation" You are so right in that it does separate them from a mutual support network that could exist between equals.

      (Would be interesting, Peter, to explore sometime what the church gets out of building a pedestal and idolizing the minister. We do this for some reason. Why? What do we hope to get out of doing this? Also, would be interesting to explore why some ministers enjoy and even expect pedestal building and idolization. What do they hope to get out of this?

      • It's the world's system.

        My guess is that it is Satan constantly working on us to try to convince us to replace God with an idol. We always want to be looking up to something or someone, when we should be looking up at God.

        What do we get out of it? Nothing. At least, nothing but trouble!

        Why do some ministers enjoy or even expect it?

        1) Tradition – it's what they know and have been taught to expect
        2) For some it's just an ego trip
        3) They don't realize it's happening. They are either blind to it or close their eyes to it.

        Those are my guesses anyway!

        • Peter,
          I suspect you are right regarding the temptation toward idolatry. Perhaps it appeals to our pride. Or, perhaps it appeals to our fear that if we were to trust God, he might not come through. Regardless, idolatry seems to remain a very real temptation for us.

  3. Another one to add to the list might be no margin or boundaries in the leader's life. The need to be validated by being indispensible (rooted in the pride you already mentioned) doesn't lend itself to the healthy space and time necessary to properly recharge the leader's soul. Eventually, depletion kicks in and too often, a train wreck follows.

    • Michelle– Very good. When I wrote this post, I completely neglected to consider a lack of margin/boundaries. You express this very well. A lack of healthy space and time will create an environment that is ripe for a train-wreck.

  4. Maybe the relationship wasn't that strong to begin with. So…like the seed falling on ground that is not deep or rooted in a strong foundation (the rock called Jesus), when temptations come, they are swept away by their own desires. God says that He will give us the desires of our hearts, (which is always going to be better than my own). But…it's not too late, they can be forgiven and restored if they repent. God is just and fair and loves us. Repent, turn around, go the other way and there He will be. __Have a super blessed day, Peg__

    • Peg–
      Could very well be true! As you say, perhaps the relationship wasn't that strong to begin with. (That might caution us about assuming what is not reality)

  5. Isolation, driven by pride or arrogance or fear or frantic busy-ness, is at the root of many of these train wrecks, I think.

    Free-will plays a part, of course. I'm saying that because I often get in trouble when I mention the community's responsibility to embody the tough, challenging, embracing, furious and inexhaustible love of Christ.

    No matter how well we do, some people will fall, but we ARE our brother's keeper, and we need to do a better job of sacrificing ourselves to incarnate the kingdom.

    Not everyone who wants nice things is greedy; a lot of them are weak and embarrassed because of the ornate wealth on display in so many church assemblies.

    I'm addicted to porn (my adoptive dad accidentally introduced me to it when I was 10). It is a constant battle, and I know how dark and tempting a closed-door office with high-speed internet access can be.

    There's a complex interplay between free-will and assault from the kingdom of Satan that is being manifested in these moral train-wrecks.

    OH! That's the other thing I wanted to mention!

    Sheer ignorance that we are at war is another prime cause of moral train wrecks. So many people want either happy-clappy religion or "seek the old paths" ritualism where the only real evil is denominationalism. Satan is on the prowl, and most Christians barely even know he exists anymore. Then evil happens to them, in them, around them, and they blame God because they forgot (or were never told) that there's a war going on.

  6. Nick,

    You make some great points. What you say re isolation is very important and as you say is probably at the root of many train-wrecks. A lack of community as well as a lack of real friendships probably contributes to this isolation.

    I love the way you phrase that last paragraph– "Sheer ignorance that we are at war…" That is so true and I think that far too often we raise children who are totally unprepared to deal with what the enemy will be throwing their way.

    I appreciate your frankness, Nick about your struggle with porn. As you well know, there are many, many people with this same addiction. Thanks for expressing this.

  7. It's all about our selfish desire to satisfy the flesh. We replace the fruits of the spirit for the works of the flesh.

  8. As the other comments show, there are clearly many, many factors at play here. However, I'd like to point out one factor (or rather two very closely linked factors) which I believe often plays a big part by its absence – which is to say it would play a big part in reducing the risk of these moral train wrecks if it were there.

    I'm talking about living church as a genuine relational community, rather than as an institution, religion, place where we go on Sundays, club, niche, social group, badge, or whetever else it most often becomes. The fact that many (dare I say most?) churches do not operate and are not lived in this way leads to a total lack of reality/authenticity – it feeds a spirit of maintaining appearances, looking good on the outside at all costs while underneath all manner of dark and dangerous things are allowed to fester and run unchecked. If church was about genuine relationship – about being real with one another about our failures and weaknesses as well as our "victories" (strange how I feel the need to put that in quotes…), with no pedestal-building or trying to impress by out-spiritualising one another – I believe many leaders and others would be a lot less likely to end up in a place where temptation is given the opportunity to seed and give birth to first sin, then destruction.

    ust wish I could find a church like that…


    • Hi Rob,
      You make such an important statement in your comment:

      "…The fact that many (dare I say most?) churches do not operate and are not lived in this way leads to a total lack of reality/authenticity – it feeds a spirit of maintaining appearances, looking good on the outside at all costs while underneath all manner of dark and dangerous things are allowed to fester and run unchecked."

      I think this is huge. When we are not experiencing real community, that is where there is reality and authenticity, such an void has a way of feeding our less than noble motives and sometime our downright evil motives.

  9. Jim, I I believe many of us have forgotten that we are at war for our souls here. The devil shoots one of the tempation darts and either, we don't recongize it for what it is (i.e. affairs have stages), or we just don't put up any resistance because we aren't paying close enough attention to the battle going on. For many men, the thought of going to a pornographic site comes to mind, as does the flashing thought of "I shouldn't do that;" and we don't engage in the thought process to talk ourselves out of sin so we follow the "sinful nature." We don't have enough defenders on the wall at the attack point, you might say.

  10. So many great thoughts and comments here.

    One observation I have from my own life is this: the things that I refuse to face in myself have great power over me. It's critical that I pursue knowledge of myself as much as I pursue knowledge of God (meaning relational knowledge, not merely cognitive).

    When I started facing the stuff in my life that I didn't want to admit was there, it began to lose its ability to hold me captive. Simple honesty can be life-changing.

    • Brian– You said it so well. In what you said, you speak to the power behind repentance. True repentance is about a willingness to open up the reality of one's life to the word and light of God. As you say so well, such honesty before God has a way of diminishing the power of our sin.

  11. Jim, Interesting that you should ask this question given the name of your blog–God Hungry. Charles Handy, a UK mgt expert turned philosopher also decries moral train wrecks in his book, The Hungry Spirit (Arrow Bks, London 1998). Handy quotes distinguished philosopher Zygmunt Bauman’s essay, “Alone Again: Ethics After Certainty”: “In such a world, it is wise and prudent not to make long-term plans or invest in the distant future; not to get tied down too firmly to any particular place, group or cause, even to an image of oneself, because one might find oneself not just un-anchored and drifting but without an anchor altogether.” Handy then comments on Bauman’s assessment: “We now belong to, or are committed to, nothing besides ourselves. Even the family can often turn out to be a relationship of convenience, to be discontinued if it doesn’t suit” (pp. 71–72). Handy continues, “Without some commonly accepted agreement on the purpose of life, and on the proper balance between what we can expect and what is expected from us, society becomes a battleground. . . There is, I believe, a hunger for something else which might be more enduring and more worthwhile” (p. 73). Yet Handy—in humanist vein—balks at the idea of absolute values. Earlier in his book, he states that we must make up our own minds: “Our hearts revolt at the thought that our purposes should be so preordained in one way or another,” he says. Per these "brilliant" philosophers: Why do moral train wrecks happen? Lack of or neglect in consulting a moral compass (absolute moral values) for one's life. Inconsistent insanity in their conclusions: a dogged, almost blind rejection of any and all moral compasses. Go figger. [NOTE: Most of this comment is drawn from an essay by David Lloyd,

  12. Your examples are good. I think the examples of moral train wrecks I see most often (in college age kids) are usually due to some combination of either fear, or selfishness, or both. It's amazing what an afraid young adult can justify, especially those who are selfish. What's even more amazing, most of these kids don't see that they're afraid, or believe that their actions are selfish.

  13. Charlie,
    What a powerful quote! Wow. What a description of this culture. I want to read more of him.

    Love these lines that you write in your close. Very good! (Thanks Charlie)

    "…Why do moral train wrecks happen? Lack of or neglect in consulting a moral compass (absolute moral values) for one's life. Inconsistent insanity in their conclusions: a dogged, almost blind rejection of any and all moral compasses…."

  14. Great question Jim, I really enjoy visiting your site.

    James 1:13-15 explains what takes place when we give in to temptation. I believe much of our “train wrecks” come from not “putting on” the full armor of God. Eph. 6:11-13

    Hebrews 12:2 instructs us to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and 2 Cor.10:5 teaches us we are to take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. I recently heard a great explanation for “taking every thought captive.” Imagine putting every thought in a bubble outside of your mind, if those thoughts are not in obedience to Christ, keep them captive…and do not let them enter into your mind.

    Please don’t think I am being “preacher Janice”, 🙂 I have said many times, I lived many years at the bottom of the heap, train wrecked, and it is only by God’s grace and mercy that I’m still alive today. We are told to train ourselves to be godly. 1 Tim 4:7