Culture At Large

Dark times for the Painter of Light?

Andy Rau

Thomas Kinkade, the outspoken Christian artist and self-proclaimed "Painter of Light," is facing some troubling accusations of ethical misdeeds:

In litigation and interviews with the Los Angeles Times, some former gallery owners depict Kinkade, 48, as a ruthless businessman who drove them to financial ruin at the same time he was fattening his business associates' bank accounts and feathering his nest with tens of millions of dollars....

It's not just Kinkade's business practices that have been called into question. Former gallery owners, ex-employees and others say his personal behavior also belies the wholesome image on which he's built his empire.

Kinkade denies the charges of shady business practices and inappropriate personal behavior, and until the charges work their way through arbitration and the courts, it's not fair to assume that he's guilty. That said, the picture painted by his accusers is a bleak one. (And whenever I hear a prominent Christian defending himself against charges of misbehavior by reminding us that he "never claimed to be perfect," I always brace myself for the worst.)

At this point, I think the general public and the Christian community has enough experience with disgraced moral leaders to react sensibly to the accusations. But reading through the LA Times article above, I could not help but note a lack of any mention of Christian accountability in Kinkade's life and business. Whether or not the charges are true, isn't it spiritually dangerous for any Christian--especially a Christian celebrity involved in such a massive business--to exist outside the fellowship and accountability of a church community? I'm not suggesting that the church should control Kinkade's business and life; just that financial transparency (is there an ECFA-like organization for Christian businesses?) and personal accountability to a pastor or other church leader would go a long ways towards steering clear of evil, or the appearance thereof.

Here's what bothers me the most about this story: according to court testimonies, Kinkade's questionable personal conduct dates back to the late 1990s. Given the many people who witnessed his misbehavior, were there any efforts to approach Kinkade about those problems? Is there a body of believers who should have stepped in at some point in the last decade to correct, discipline, and encourage Kinkade? If any such accountability structure exists, it's not mentioned in the article.

I guess we'll just have to wait and see what the courts decide. But if scandal tarnishes Kinkade's life and reputation, I hope that the church at least did what it could to support and hold accountable a brother in Christ.

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