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.
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 things in the area of sex, domestic violence and fraud, among other things. Sometimes they may relate to serious crimes. In ministry, I have had to deal with many dark secrets in people’s lives over the years. 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, how can you best navigate forward through these turbulent waters? We need much wisdom as there are no slick answers though the Bible gives some guidelines. There are, however, other things alongside the Bible we may also need to take into consideration.
“……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 Cor 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’. Gal 6:1
When people of their own accord confess to their dark secret.
- A personal owning up to a dark secret of their own accord is good compared to 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. (Psalm 4:4 NLT)
- Full repentance is often a process taking place over some time. Discern the situation carefully and meet regularly with them or at least delegate that task of mentoring to the right person.
- A person may need to step down from ministry, at least for a period of time, depending on the gravity of the situation.
Confronting a person with a dark secret.
- Remember, the kindness of God leads to repentance, (Rom 2:4)
- Be careful and prayerful in the situation and seek to listen to God’s voice in discerning the problem.
- Make sure you have your facts right before you act.
- In a problematic situation, usually talk it over with a small team for wisdom and prayer.
- The Bible provides the right outline for confronting sin, Matt 18:15-17.
- 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 for half the night before a major confrontation.
- Before I confronted a highly educated 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, then it would only be his word against mine, which means there is no legal case to answer.
- On some occasions an Elder and I have encouraged the one we are going to confront, to bring along a friend for support. Sometime people initially deny their sin, but go on to confess their wrongdoing. We can then offer grace and support. Our congregation felt safe that we cared enough to confront when necessary.
- A legally constituted church with a closed membership is usually safe to communicate some issues of discipline in a meeting. Again, make sure of your facts and keep in mind the offender also has the right to respond to any accusations. On one occasion I read out a statement on their behalf.
- A person may fall into sin then confess it to the leader who may take a lighthearted approach. Evidence has shown that if the leader also falls into that same sin and has a dark secret which then becomes exposed, then it is likely that those close to him will also treat it lightly. This lighthearted approach can confuse and polarise the situation among a wide group of people. We need to judge the situation Biblically.
Who needs to know?
- Not everyone needs to know. When it came to light that one of our homegroup leaders was violently abusing his wife at times, their homegroup was very disappointed in his behaviour but also that the leader never confessed and made himself accountable to anyone. This group’s sharing among themselves helped them grieve and heal.
- If you share the sin too widely, people will have all sorts of ungodly reactions, ranging from vindictiveness (that is 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 one of forgiveness, but one of true repentance and restoration, which usually happens over some time. If you treat sin lightly, the same dark secret is likely to occur again in that person.
- Only those who need to know, 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. Discuss the best person and way to give that.
- Only have people generally of the same sex working closely with that person.
- After David’s fall with Bathsheba, he lost some of his former glory, but God still graciously used that man who was still a person after God’s own heart (! Sam 13:14).
How wonderful to free of dark secrets!
Crucial conversations by Kerry Patterson
Water under the Bridge by Don Barry