Two days after I posted the story about my sister Roberta and Jim Cymbala on October 16, 2016, which was pick up by Pulpit and Pen and Polemics Report, I received a phone call from Jim Cymbala. He said that Roberta Langella no longer had any place in his books or DVDs and that he was working with Zondervan to remove the Langella name from all Brooklyn Tabernacle books and media as requested by me. We had a meeting on November 14, 2016 where he presented a document that suggested Zondervan is currently working on removing Roberta’s story from all future publications. Although the document is not official, I am trusting that this time, eight years later, they finally get it right and remove Roberta’s story. Pastor Cymbala is unwilling to make a public statement as to why Roberta’s story is being removed. I believe he owes it to the thousands and thousands of people who purchased his books and DVDs. And for that reason, my posts will remain public so that all might know the true story behind the story. Pastor Cymbala still refuses to offer any form of condolences to the Langella family regarding the death of Roberta.
I would also like to make a public apology to Jim Cymbala. In my original post, I stated that the motive behind Jim Cymbala’s use of Roberta’s story was money. I also stated that Jim Cymbala made hundreds of thousands of dollars off of the books and DVD’s that included Roberta’s story. Jim Cymbala corrected me at the meeting and said that he never received a dime from any of the books, DVD’s, or choir albums that were produced by the Brooklyn Tabernacle, and that all of the money went directly to the church. He also corrected me and said that the number was not hundreds of thousands but $3 Million Dollars. He stated that all of the money from books, DVDs, and choir albums go directly to the church and he and his wife do not receive a dime.
Brooklyn Tabernacle Sanctuary
Let me just make one thing clear. My issue was never about the money, but about the gross negligence of a pastor who ignored multiple emails about Roberta’s spiritual and emotional condition and continued to use her story in books and DVDs. I have also updated my original post to include two emails that I found in Roberta’s email account after the story was posted.
Those emails clearly show that Jim Cymbala was well aware of Roberta’s struggles. The bottom line is that Roberta was in trouble. From the time that Roberta was released from the hospital in 2004, up until 2006, Roberta struggled spiritually.
Jim Cymbala failed as a pastor to care for the soul of Roberta. He ignored the fact that Roberta just confessed in an email that she was addicted to painkillers (which eventually led to her death) and was smoking crack. Jim Cymbala willingly published a story that he knew was not 100% true. In the book You Were Made For More, Jim Cymbala said that Roberta overcame temptation when she found out her ex-boyfriend was smoking crack. But he fails to say that Roberta came back a few days later and got high. The story is told in such a way that it deceives the reader. It’s not the whole truth.
In our meeting, Jim Cymbala refused to acknowledge any guilt regarding the use of Roberta’s story. He repeatedly stated that sin is only found in motive and that his motive was never to hurt Roberta. I believe him. I don’t think he intended to hurt Roberta, nevertheless, he did. He argued that if someone is working on a ladder and a hammer falls and hits someone on the head, it still hurts, but the man on the ladder is not guilty of sin because it was unintentional. I argue that a drunk driver, whose motive was to go home but who accidentally kills someone, is still guilty of vehicular homicide even if it was unintentional.
Now granted, in the Old Testament God made provision for accidental deaths.
“as when someone goes into the forest with his neighbor to cut wood, and his hand swings the axe to cut down a tree, and the head slips from the handle and strikes his neighbor so that he dies—he may flee to one of these cities and live,” (Deuteronomy 19:5).
Accidents happen. Hammers fall off of ladders. And axeheads fly off the handle. But we are not talking about an accident here. We are talking about the duties of a pastor. They are called to care for the souls and spiritual welfare of the sheep. This is a far cry from hammers and axeheads.
And theologically, his is a very weak argument because the Bible clearly speaks of unintentional sin. Although the motive was not evil, the Bible still calls it sin.
“If one person sins unintentionally, he shall offer a female goat a year old for a sin offering. And the priest shall make atonement before the LORD for the person who makes a mistake, when he sins unintentionally, to make atonement for him, and he shall be forgiven.” (Numbers 15:27-28 ESV)
“The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “If anyone commits a breach of faith and sins unintentionally in any of the holy things of the LORD, he shall bring to the LORD as his compensation, a ram without blemish out of the flock, valued in silver shekels, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, for a guilt offering. He shall also make restitution for what he has done amiss in the holy thing and shall add a fifth to it and give it to the priest. And the priest shall make atonement for him with the ram of the guilt offering, and he shall be forgiven.” (Leviticus 5:14-16 ESV)
Now the New Testament tells us that, “In everything, treat others as you would want them to treat you, for this fulfills the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 7:12). And also, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Romans 13:10).
So, if my actions, whether intentional or unintentional hurts another and does wrong to a neighbor, I am no longer walking in love or treating that person the way I want to be treated. This is missing the mark that is prescribed in the Word of God, and it is called sin. That is why Jesus said, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother” (Matthew 18:15). Which seems to imply that the offending brother was unaware of his sin.
Pastor Cymbala stated repeatedly, “If I have ever done anything against you to hurt you please forgive me”. Unfortunately, I could not accept his apology because he was not acknowledging his sin against my sister Roberta. “If I have hurt you” is never a good way to make an apology. It implies that the guilty party is unaware of his sin and therefore how can one apologize if he does not know what he is apologizing for? I think it’s pretty clear as to what the offense is and there is absolutely no room for “if”.
Jim Cymbala ignored three emails; one from Roberta, and two from me. These emails clearly showed the emotional and spiritual condition of Roberta. And as her pastor, who is called the shepherd the flock, Jim Cymbala was negligent in his duties as an under-shepherd in giving pastoral care to Roberta. Instead, he continued to prop-up Roberta and put her in the spotlight, using her testimony even though the story being told was not true. He also refused to acknowledge any guilt or responsibility for his actions. He seemed more concerned about protecting his image and the polished image of the Brooklyn Tabernacle than he was about the fact that Roberta committed suicide, which he still has not acknowledged or offered any form of condolences to the family. In fact, in the meeting, I leaned over and said to him, “Jim, not once have you acknowledged the fact that Roberta committed suicide and not once have you offered any form of condolences to me or my family”. His only response was “What do you want from me, I already said if I hurt you or Roberta in any way, forgive me”. He just could not bring himself around to saying “I am so sorry for Roberta’s death”.
This is a great lesson for those who are called to preach the Gospel and shepherd the flock. The people whom God brings to you are souls to be cared for, not trophies to be displayed. When pragmatism becomes the driving force behind the ministry, it doesn’t matter if the testimonies are not 100% accurate, the only thing that really matters is numbers. How many people can we reach with this story?
According to 1 Timothy 3:15, the church is “pillar and buttress of the truth”. We must never compromise or lie when it comes to the Gospel. The truth is the only refuge for this lost and dying world.
Finally, if you expect the people in your church to submit to you as a leader, please make sure that you are keeping watch over their souls. Remember, you will be held accountable to God for the way you handled the souls of those He has placed in your care. And it does not matter what your intentions are. If you abuse and hurt someone unintentionally, God will not turn a blind eye.
“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”