What I should have told Bob Coy 29 years ago

Back in 1985, when I was an ambitious young church planter in South Florida trying desperately to make a name for myself, I met another young church planter who had just arrived from Las Vegas. I liked the guy right away, and we quickly became friends. His name was Bob Coy.

For a period of several months (I don’t remember exactly how long) Bob would come to my office, a storefront in a decrepit strip mall in North Lauderdale, on Tuesday afternoons, and we would take a walk around a nearby lake, talking the whole time. I enjoyed those walks immensely. I liked advising Bob, and he seemed to value my advice. Naturally, I never told him about my porn problem.

I never told anyone about my porn problem back then. Convinced that a confession would puncture my shiny reputation, I battled that particular temptation alone.

Predictably, porn took me places I never intended to go. I was on my way to a joint Christmas Eve service with Bob’s congregation, in fact, when I found myself picking up my first prostitute. The emotional aftermath of that illicit sexual encounter was awful. Really awful. I didn’t tell Bob about it, though. A few months and several prostitutes later, I quit the ministry in despair. My church folded soon thereafter.

Bob’s church, meanwhile, was thriving. As the years passed, I watched with a mixture of envy and pride as the church he planted outgrew venue after venue. I had failed to become a spiritual superstar, but Bob, it seemed, was succeeding spectacularly. His congregation of dozens became hundreds, then thousands, and soon his church was the largest in South Florida.

Whenever I visited Bob’s church over the years, I would stop by to say hello to my friend, and he was always gracious. Those visits ended in 1998, when my wife and I moved to Tennessee. A few months later, after Allie caught me looking at porn online, I finally admitted the insanity of my behavior and reluctantly entered recovery for sex addiction.

That wrenching experience turned out to be the best thing that had ever happened to me. Accepting the full reality of my weakness and finally asking others for help brought freedom from the obsession that had ruled my life since adolescence. The journey of recovery resuscitated my moribund faith, and our marriage miraculously survived.

When I finally went public with my story in 2007, I mailed a copy of my book, Samson and the Pirate Monks, to Bob, along with a handwritten note apologizing for not telling him the truth earlier. I don’t know whether he ever received the book. If he did and simply chose not to respond to me, I don’t blame him. In his position, I would probably have done the same thing.

There are certain struggles the prevailing church culture does not permit a pastor to admit. That’s why I quit the ministry when I did. I knew I couldn’t stop what I was doing on my own, and I didn’t dare ask anyone for help. I left the ministry on my own terms because I could hear the hangman coming. And it was relatively easy for me to walk away back then, because the stakes were still small; I was young and could find employment elsewhere. The church I’d started didn’t even own a building. For Bob, on the other hand, the stakes became enormous. Heck, his church now has 1,000 employees.

Two days ago, I was driving home from a men’s conference when my wife telephoned with the news that Bob had just been fired from his church for “moral failings.” I went online when I got home and found that lurid whispers were already lighting up the blogosphere. My heart sank.

Since the news broke, my inbox has been pounded with messages and inquiries about the unfolding story, and I have watched with dread and fascination as speculation has rolled across the Internet and into the mainstream media. Last night somebody sent me a story link from a major newspaper in London. London!

I’m bracing for more bad news. Juicy details are bound to emerge, and when they do they will doubtless reinforce what has become a well-worn storyline. High-profile American preacher exposed as morally corrupt. As the storm intensifies, I fully expect large numbers of outraged Christians to join the cry to “hang ‘im high!” For the record, we don’t know what Bob’s “moral failure” is—those details have not been made public.

I am sad for my friend, and relieved at the same time. I’m also feeling a little guilty.

I’m sad about the pain that Bob and his family and his church are enduring today.  I’m relieved because the necessary crisis has finally arrived.  Bob may still be hiding some of the details—few of us make a full confession right away—but the dam has broken. The pressure of leading a double life is finally, mercifully, over, and if he can just make it through the next few weeks, he will be able to breathe again.

I know the issue is Bob’s sin, but I still can’t help feeling a measure of responsibility. I keep wondering what might have happened if I had only summoned the nerve, 29 years ago, to share my struggle with my good friend. Could we have started together on the healing road back then, as peers and brothers, and spared ourselves decades of private torment? If I had only dropped my pretenses, would Bob have shared any secrets with me? Perhaps he would have. And that makes me think that my apology to Bob was not enough. I also owe an apology to his wife, his kids, and his whole church.

We never know what hidden benefits revealing our secrets to others will have. This is what the Samson Society is all about: men getting together with other men to get real about their struggles—sexual or otherwise. There’s a tremendous liberty that comes when you can bring your real self and say the real truth to someone else. In my journey of recovery, Christian men have done just that for me. And over the years I’ve found that I can give the same gift to another guy, telling him my story. And even if his battle is different from mine, something about my story will usually resonate with his, and many times, when I finish sharing, he will look at me and say, “Well, you know, I’ve never told anybody this, but…” And he will get a taste of freedom too.

Update (4/30/14): It has since been publicly revealed by a pastor at Bob Coy’s church that “Our pastor, he committed adultery with more than one woman. Our pastor, he committed sexual immorality—habitually—through pornography.”

Nate-LarkinNate Larkin is the founder of the Samson Society, a fellowship of Christian men who are serious about authenticity, community, humility, and recovery. He is the author of Samson and the Pirate Monks.