Tony Evans steps down, yet another controversy for celebrity pastors in USA

Evangelical pastor and radio host Tony Evans cited an unnamed "sin" as he stepped down as senior pastor at Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas, the latest controversy for high-profile pastors in America.

Evans will be "temporarily stepping away from his senior pastor’s duties," Shari L. Carroll, a spokesperson for the church, said in a Friday email to USA TODAY. On Sunday, the pastor said in a statement on the church's website that he has "committed no crime," but "did not use righteous judgment in actions."

It's a familiar pattern in American Christianity – popular pastors spread their faith, invite scrutiny and often face fallout for their indiscretions, according to Deborah Whitehead, a religious studies professor at the University of Colorado Boulder.

"One of the perils of celebrity is that you have this high profile status and a lot of the fame and fortune that comes with that and as well as additional publicity for your mistakes," Whitehead said. "It can definitely generate controversy around the faith."

Fraud, private jets and a Lamborghini: 10 televangelists who have faced controversy

Pastors have a long history of celebrity in the United States – a trend that can be seen as early as the 1700s. That's when preacher George Whitefield became what some historians consider "America's first celebrity," Whitehead said.

In the 1980's and decades following, there was a surge of televangelist pastors who were popular until they faced controversy. Many evangelical pastors were involved in scandal at the time, including disgraced pastors Jimmy Swaggart and Ted Haggard.

"There's a long history there of seeing these very public figures be hypocritical in some respects and have to go through these very public scandals and sometimes imprisonment," Whitehead said. "It's had an impact on the way Christianity and especially Evangelical Protestantism is viewed – but also religion more broadly as an object of potential suspicion."

What happened with Tony Evans?

Evans founded Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas in 1976, which has grown from 10 people in a home to over 10,000 members.

So has Evans's fame. Evans' radio program, "The Alternative with Dr. Tony Evans," airs on more than 1,000 stations worldwide. He's well known for serving as the chaplain for the Dallas Cowboys and the Dallas Mavericks. And he's written several faith-based books.

Evans is known for being a trailblazer in the Black faith community, Whitehead said.

Evangelical Texas pastor Tony Evans Steps down from church due to unnamed 'sin'

On Sunday, Evans released a statement.

"When we fall short of that standard due to sin, we are required to repent and restore our relationship with God," Evans wrote. "A number of years ago, I fell short of that standard. I am, therefore, required to apply the same biblical standard of repentance and restoration to myself that I have applied to others."

The decision wasn't sudden, according to church leaders who said he made his decision after "tremendous prayer and multiple meetings" with church elders.

In recent years several other famous pastors have also made news for controversies, allegations and polarizing comments:

Two controversies for Hillsong Church leaders

In early 2022, megachurch pastor and Hillsong co-founder Brian Houston resigned from the Christian megachurch after he was accused of having inappropriate conduct with two women and an internal investigation proved the allegations true.

Two years earlier, Carl Lentz, the Hillsong Church pastor, was fired by church leaders after an extramarital affair. Lentz famously ministered to Justin Bieber and other celebrities.

In "The Secret of Hillsong" docuseries, Lentz also denied allegations of sexual abuse and abuse of power.

“I am responsible for allowing an inappropriate relationship to develop in my house with someone that worked for us,” he said in the series. “Any notion of abuse is categorically false. There were mutual adult decisions made by two people who lied profusely, mainly to my wife.”

Lentz later joined a Midwest megachurch in Tulsa as a strategist in 2023.

Embattled former minister to the stars: Carl Lentz goes from Hillsong to Tulsa megachurch

Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle

Mark Driscoll, a former pastor and co-founder of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, was accused of bullying, overseeing mismanagement of church funds and other complaints from members in 2014, according to The Seattle Times. Driscoll resigned from Mars Hill Church and the church was dissolved. (A judge cleared Driscoll from a civil racketeering lawsuit in 2016, according to The Christian Post.)

Driscoll has since been the subject of another lawsuit for his work at the church.

In April, he was removed from a stage at the religious Stronger Men's Conference in Springfield, Missouri, after he compared the conference's opening sword-swallowing act to a strip club for women who have the Jezebel spirit.

"Before the word of God was opened, there was a platform, it was a high place," said Driscoll, according to videos posted online. "On it was a pole ... the same thing that's used in a strip club for women who have the jezebel spirit to seduce men."

Driscoll is now the senior and founding pastor of Trinity Church in Scottsdale, Arizona.

'Jezebel spirit' Pastor kicked off stage at Christian conference in Missouri

Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham, drew criticism for homophobic comments

Franklin Graham, the son of famous preacher Billy Graham, faced heat after he made a homophobic comment about former Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg. Graham is the president and chief executive officer of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

On CNN, Buttigieg said "God does not have a political party" to which Graham responded: "As a Christian I believe the Bible which defines homosexuality as sin, something to be repentant of, not something to be flaunted, praised or politicized."

Contributing: Joshua Botte, Emily DeLetter; Julia Gomez and Erin Jensen; USA TODAY

Contact Kayla Jimenez at Follow her on X at @kaylajjimenez.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Tony Evans stepping down is another controversy for celebrity pastors