[Editor’s note: This article was originally posted at the end of November at www.cpyu.org. While Matt Lauer is no longer at the top of our news feeds, hardly a day goes by without another well-known individual being called out for sexual misconduct. These are points worth reflecting on regardless of the specific name in the headlines.]
Trending. . . Matt Lauer. . . at number one on my news feed. As of this morning, one of the voices that’s been sharing the growing cascade of #metoo stories over the last few weeks is now the subject of those stories himself. I watched as visibly rattled co-workers Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb explained Lauer’s absence on this morning’s Today Show.
How did you react when you heard the story? What thoughts went through your mind?
At times like this, I’ve learned that it might actually be a wiser move to focus on my own thoughts/reaction than on the story and its subject. And I’m not at all proud of the fact that the learning curve on this skill took much more time for me than it should have. And, I’m still tempted to default to focus on guys like Matt Lauer than on myself. That’s a blatant confession.
Upon seeing the news pop up in my feed this morning, I experienced a bit of jolt. Matt Lauer??? Come on. But that jolt very quickly morphed into the thought of “sad but not surprised” . . . a consequence of years and years of watching culture, pondering the reality of human depravity, and looking more deeply into my own broken and messed-up heart. This isn’t the last one of these stories we’re going to hear. . . not at all.
What is that you do with news like this? I think that there’s great value in self-evaluating how each of us evaluates and responds to these kinds of stories. In other words, before getting on with the rest of our day, it’s a good thing to theologize about, to learn from, and to think about how to process these stories with our own selves and with the kids we know and love.
I’ve been working on doing that this morning. In fact, I’ve put other tasks aside for the simple reason that my mind’s been racing. Here are some of my initial, typically-incomplete, and hopefully-helpful thoughts. . .
First, if your initial reaction is a smug, self-assured, disapproving finger wag in the direction of Matt Lauer and others like him. . . well, that’s quite telling. I’m ashamed to admit that in years past I was more prone to head immediately down this Pharisaical avenue than I am now. . . I hope. It’s easy to default into self-righteous finger-wagging when the subject of the story is someone who doesn’t share your views on faith and life, and who is one who sometimes pushes back hard on your views of faith and life. Let’s be honest here. . . if you’re a person of Christian faith you are tempted and even beyond tempted to rejoice in the downfall of folks who think, believe, and behave differently. But when that happens, we really aren’t thinking, believing, and behaving differently. Our actions prove that. Nor are we bringing honor and glory to the One who saved us when we had absolutely no hope at all of saving ourselves.
Second, if you politicize this and other stories like it, then you are making a horrible, horrible mistake.The reality is that this isn’t a political issue. It’s a human nature issue. It’s not an issue for either just conservatives or liberals. It’s evidence of a universal struggle. Sexual brokenness, temptation, and sin in thought, word, and deed is no respecter of persons, faith commitments, or political views. Whenever someone uses the issue as political or ideological ammo. . . no matter who they are. . . well shame on them. And shame on me if I cave into that temptation.
Third, this is a time to remember this rock-solid truth: “There but for the grace of God go I.” While my own human depravity should never be used as an excuse to write-off or justify the sin of others (or God-forbid, my own sin), I must also never forget that if I’m honest with myself, “there but for the grace of God go I.” And while I must reckon with the ever-present enemy of my own depravity and the one who “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour,” I must always “stay alert” and watching out for this enemy who would love nothing more than to take me down. And, we all need to be reminded that even he might not be successful in taking us down through sexual sin, any self-righteous gloating over the fact is an indicator that he is very sneaky in other ways. . . like taking us down through pride.
And finally, today’s story and others like it offer us great opportunities to teach our kids in ways that will equip them for a sober-minded life which makes them continually aware of the enemy within. It was timely that even before seeing the story on Matt Lauer this morning, I prayed these words from today’s entry in Scotty Smith’s Everyday Prayers book: “Protect us from the evil one, and rescue us from ourselves.”
One good sin never deserves another. That’s why we need to spend so much time looking inward at ourselves. Today’s story is not one that should teach us about Matt Lauer. Why? Because in so many ways Matt Lauer is each one of us. Because of that, this is an opportunity to learn even more about ourselves and to teach our kids the increasingly-forgotten skill of doing the same.
Article by Walt Mueller, founder and President of the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding. Learn more at www.cpyu.org.
Article by Trevin Wax, The Gospel Coalition
(Reposted with permission)
During his lengthy tenure as an evening commentator on CNN, Larry King often posed two questions to pastors and theologians who came on as guests.
First, is Jesus the only way to God? This was Larry’s way of seeing if the Christian representative would insist on the uniqueness of Jesus no matter how offensive that claim might come across in a pluralistic world. You mean good people from other religions might be condemned?
The second question came from a different angle. Could a serial killer, or someone like Hitler, or a rapist, or a pedophile receive forgiveness and wind up in heaven? This was Larry’s way of seeing if the Christian representative would insist on the offer of grace, no matter how offensive that pronouncement might come across in a world that demands justice. You mean abhorrently wicked people might repent and be saved?
Larry King is not a Christian. But he knows where the scandalous power of Christianity is found. It’s in the narrowness of insisting on universal, eternal condemnation for all sinners who fall short of God’s glory, and in the broadness of calling everyone to repent of their sins, trust in Christ and be saved. Everyone, even the “vilest offender,” in the words of the old Isaac Watts hymn.
The “vilest offender” today is the person who engages in sexual assault and abuse.
VILENESS KNOWS NO BOUNDS
Once upon a time, Hollywood elites winked and nodded at those who were well known for their brazenness. But no more. The dynamic has shifted. Women’s testimonies are (finally) taken seriously. More and more people feel the freedom to speak up. Contracts have been canceled. Stars find themselves blacklisted.
In politics, from the far right to the far left, we are discovering case after case of lecherous and predatory behavior, and we are coming to grips with a cultural sickness that promotes and protects such travesties.
(Unfortunately, partisan impulses that have been present since the Bill Clinton era have ossified into tribalism so powerful that it’s unclear if there’s anything egregious enough to cause voters to abandon their party’s candidate. Far too many have fallen for the myth that candidates who promise to vote the right way are to be preferred no matter their honor or character. This was the myth that many conservative Christians rightly exposed during the era of Clinton, before succumbing to the same line of reasoning in the era of Trump.)
Religious people have no room to point the finger and say, “I told you so!” to Hollywood moguls and corrupt politicians. In our own churches and institutions, we’ve seen how sexual abuse and assault can thrive in the shadows of piousness and self-protectiveness. Moral laxity is not the only condition necessary for evil to flourish. High moral standards or the “right positions” on biblical morality do not serve as a safeguard against those who would abuse their power in their pursuit of prey.
How then should we respond?
As Christians, there should be no equivocation or excusing of inappropriate sexual advances or abuse. Lord forbid the world be clearer than the church in naming and shaming evil deeds!
The church must be unflinching in its naming of sin. And yet the church must also not shrink back from the call to repentance. Repentance is the hope-filled call of the gospel: anyone can repent and be restored. Yes, anyone can turn from sin and find forgiveness.
Herein lies the scandal of the gospel. Christians name evil for what it is. Yet we also believe that evil desires and deeds can be confessed and overcome, that sin can be forgiven, and that people can be redeemed. The church is the peculiar society that insists that certain acts the world finds praiseworthy are sinful, while certain sins the world finds unforgivable can be wiped away.
So, the offense of the Christian gospel is twofold. We will seem narrow and strict when we insist on calling out sins. And yet, we will seem too generous when we insist that anyone no matter their past can repent and be restored. Our stark vision of sin is grace to the victim; our call to repentance is grace to the offender.
REPENTANCE AND RESTORATION
Repentance and restoration are powerful realities, but they are neither cheap nor easy.
True repentance over sin is more than remorse over consequences. It is a change wrought in the depths of one’s heart. Sexual offenders no longer dismiss or downplay their actions. No longer do they blame the victims, retreat into defensiveness, or seek to discredit the men and women who come forward. The church calls the offender to agree in naming the evil deed and refusing to make any excuses for it.
Likewise, forgiveness and restoration does not mean we abandon precautions in how we live among people who are guilty of sexual assault. It does not mean we overlook past offenses or set aside earthly consequences. The outworking of restoration must be applied with wisdom and care and prudence. Full restoration of human relationships (where a victim stays in contact with a repentant abuser) may not be advisable or possible on this side of eternity.
But the gracious call to repentance still goes out, and it is still powerful. We worship a generous God who takes sin so seriously that he gave up his body to be crucified, for the sins of victim and abuser alike. The rugged grace that flows from the cross does not minimize sin or redefine wickedness; it floods the cavernous heart and washes away our stains.
So, if the world is shocked that we still believe in sin, let the world be even more shocked that we still believe in repentance, forgiveness, and restoration. When the world is rushing headlong into sexual libertinism of all types, we continue to bear witness to the truth of God’s design for sexuality and the reality of sexual sinfulness. But when our vilest sins make us retreat in shame or double down in guilt, the church bears witness to the truth that any person, no matter how vile, who repents and believes will be forgiven and restored.