In saying “Goodbye” to a friend recently, he jokingly commented, “I can keep a secret; it’s the friends I tell who can’t’. On that note, we left with a good laugh. We all have secrets, and some of them are good and others, not so good.
A dark secret is where an action is committed by a person, which they hide due to guilt and shame, which, if exposed, would cause a significant breakdown in relationships. It could also cause a loss of employment income. These dark secrets may involve sexual matters, domestic violence, and fraud, among other things. Sometimes they may relate to serious crimes. In ministry over the years, I have had to deal with many dark secrets in people’s lives. A few of them were good friends who, in the past, even tried to deceive me. If you have a dark secret or know of others who have one, the question is, ‘how can you best navigate forward through these turbulent waters?’ We need much wisdom as there are no easy answers though the Bible gives some guidelines. However, there are other things alongside the Bible we may also need to consider.
‘……Friend, your sins are forgiven.’ Luke 5:20.
‘Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.’ 2 Corinthians 7:10.
‘Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted’, Galatians 6:1.
When people of their own accord confess to their dark secret:
- A person owning up to a dark secret of their own accord shows a better attitude than someone confronted before they own up.
- If you have some emotional connection with that person confessing, guard your own heart against anger as that will not help them relate their story. It doesn’t mean you can’t share any disappointment but do it at the right time in the right way. ‘Don’t sin by letting anger control you. Think about it overnight and remain silent’ (Psalm 4:4 NLT).
- Complete repentance is often a process usually taking place over time. Therefore, discern the situation carefully, meet regularly with that person with the problem, or delegate that task of mentoring to the right person.
- A person with a dark secret may need to step down from ministry.
Confronting a person with a dark secret.
- Remember, the kindness of God leads to repentance (Romans 2:4)
- Be careful and prayerful in the situation and seek to listen to God’s voice in discerning the problem and mapping the way forward.
- Make sure you have your facts right before you confront a person. I have not always got that right!
- In a problematic situation, usually talk it over with a trusted small team for wisdom and prayer.
- The Bible provides the proper outline for confronting sin. ‘If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector. Matthew 18:15-17. I have taken a serious sin to a special church member’s meeting twice as it was a sin against the church. However, due to our cultural environment of ‘saving face’, the possibility of legal liability action and members not mature in their attitudes means I am very cautious about this path of action.
- Confront with an attitude of fear and trembling as Scriptures warns us that we too will be judged (James 3:1). I am sometimes awake half the night before a major confrontation.
- Once I confronted a married person in our congregation about sleeping with an unmarried woman. I first approached a solicitor about how to handle this. His suggestion was to go by myself first and talk to him. He then suggested that if this man tried to sue me for defamation, it would only be his word against mine. Today, it is not so easy as they may secretly record the conversation.
- In other situations when we intend to have a serious conversation with someone about a behavioural problem, it is good for them to have the opportunity to bring along a support person.
- A legally constituted church with a closed membership is usually protected by law in matters of discipline. Again, make sure of your facts. keep in mind the offender also has the right to respond to any accusations. On two occasions, I have read out a statement on their behalf, which they agreed to.
- A person may fall into sin and then confess it to the leader. Unfortunately, some leaders may take a light-hearted approach to the transgression. When that happens, evidence has shown that if that leader also falls into the same sin and it becomes exposed, then it is likely that those close to him will also treat it lightly. This light-hearted approach can confuse and polarise the situation among a wider group of people. We need to judge the situation Biblically.
Who needs to know?
- Not everyone needs to know. When it became known that one of our homegroup leaders was abusing his wife, the homegroup was very disappointed in his behaviour. In a confidential way, this group later talked about their disappointment among themselves, which helped them grieve and find a measure of healing.
- If you share the sin too widely, people will have all sorts of ungodly reactions, ranging from vindictiveness (out to get them and punish them), while others respond with ‘cheap grace’. That is, if God forgives us, will He not forgive them? And yet, the issue is not simply forgiveness, but one of true repentance and restoration, which again usually happens over time. If you treat sin lightly, the same dark secret is likely to occur again in that same person or amongst a wider group of people. It’s like a ‘spirit’ can descend upon others. These can happen, for example, in cases of immorality, not dealt with in the right way.
- Remember, not all need to know.
Work on restoration
- The goal of discipline is always restoration (James 5:19,20).
- People who confess to dark secrets need support. Work out who is the best person to give that, always of the same gender.
- After David’s fall with Bathsheba, he lost some of his former glory, but God still graciously used him.He was still a person ‘after God’s own heart’ (! Samuel 13:14).
‘Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.’ Psalm 51:10-12.
Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson
Water under the Bridge by Don Barry