Does anyone remember the comedian, Mike Warnke? Back when I was in high school, I collected everything that guy ever wrote or recorded. I was a huge fan, and probably one of the most disappointed of his fans when his lies all came crashing down around him.
Mike Warnke first came to fame as an evangelist and comedian. He purported to have been a high-ranking member in the satanic church, and wrote a book called The Satan Seller in 1973 that described his rise in the ranks of satanism, becoming a high priest for the organization. He touted various accomplishments such as being a soldier in the Vietnam war, being involved in ritualistic kidnappings and rape, and other weird confessions, that I actually never really believed were completely true.
If you have never heard one of Mr. Warnke’s stand-up performances, I would encourage you to do so. The man seriously can tell a story like nobody’s business. Higher Education was my personal favorite.
But, as so often happens with Christian personalities when they are launched in to fame and fortune, the skeletons in Mr. Warnke’s closet came dancing out, and almost every story he’d told turned out to be a lie. His dates didn’t match, and it was obvious from military records that some of the achievements he’d falsely laid claim to were just self-serving lies. Added to the facts that he changed wives like he changed his underwear, Mr. Warnke’s reputation was completely destroyed, and his credibility would never rise like a phoenix again from the ashes of his lies. His stories were picked apart, and in 1991, 20/20 ran a story exposing all of his lies and exaggerations, with proof, and Mr. Warnke’s ministry was completely abolished.
The only reason I write about Mike Warnke today is that I see something rather sad, but common, in what has happened to this guy. As a storyteller myself, I can completely understand his motivations to “fix” up a story just a little bit, to make it more interesting or effective. It seems to me that all he would have had to do was to add the words, “Imagine if I were a satanic priest..”, thus indicating to the listener that what they were hearing was his imagination..The content would still have been funny and thought-provoking, and no lies would have had to be defended later on.
But Mike didn’t do that, and even when his lies were exposed, instead of humbly acknowledging that the moments of fame and fortune had gotten away from him, he did the very worst thing a Christian can do. He accused everyone and everything else around him, but himself. Somehow, we were supposed to believe against overwhelming proof that his stories were the truth, and everyone else around him was lying.
To me, there is maybe only a trace amount of disappointment felt for a person who has fallen prey to a sneaky attack from satan, but I can’t say that I even care all that much. I think God does His best work with our worst weaknesses, and I have always thought that Mike would have served the Lord twice as beneficially had he owned up to getting carried away, admitted he’d lied, and then let his life showcase just how merciful our God is to us. How many more people would have benefited from that than whether this guy was some sort of satanic priest or not?
The sad thing is that Mike Warnke instead has spent the last twenty years trying to jump-start his dead evangelist career again, but largely without any success. To this day, there seems to be no true honest embracing of his own frailties and shortcomings, and without that, there is no real repentance, at least not to the eyes of the public who he had lied to. I’m sure God and Mike have worked this out between themselves, but I only tell this story to say this: there is no shame in admitting that you’ve fallen short and sinned against God. We all have, in varying degrees, but as God doesn’t bother to rank our sins, all of our sins are equally appalling to Him. The shame comes when we aren’t able to be honest with ourselves and others about our shortcomings and failings.
To me, God’s best and most useful tool in our lives are our sins that we have repented of and found mercy for. Maybe the reason we instinctively try so desperately to hide those sins is because satan knows that there is a lot of power in sharing a common weakness. We should share the depth of our involvement in sin and the accompanying depth of mercy God has shown us when rescuing us, and just watch how your witness becomes so much more powerful! A drug addict is more inclined to listen to and receive a message of healing from a person who has experienced that same struggle, than to hear some bland message from someone who has never been a slave to anything.
Just for fun, I thought I’d get your thoughts on this Mike Warnke thing. My opinion about Mike’s ministry is that he should start out fresh and just confess his frailties and let God use him in a different way now. A way that I believe would be more effective in the Kingdom of God — mercy and forgiveness. What do you think?