Still while it may be inevitable that sin will rear its ugly head, our Christianity should at least affect our ability to respond to it. Thankfully for some, it has; and the amazing grace and humility of Christ has spoken louder than any lawyers or prevarications ever could. But sadly, for others it has not; and in some ways, we as a community are bettering the unbelieving world in our ability to look the other way.
And it makes me all very curious.
In Penn State’s case, it’s clear that there were plenty of reasons for the coaches and leadership to rationalize their choices to protect Sandusky. What would scandal do to a multi-million dollar football program and a top-ranked university? And while in many ways we’re still answering that question, and regardless of what part friendship and wanting to believe the best about a person played, the result was that leadership succumbed to the temptation to minimize the tragedy of what actually happened.
But what about us?
You would think that a community established on the very principles of human depravity and divine grace would be the very community able to handle these situations when they occur. But unfortunately we are proving that we can’t. And I’m wondering, why? Where’s the disconnect? What’s missing? What are we protecting?
A significant part of the problem is that for too many years our churches have been selling the gospel not by presenting sinners who have been redeemed, but by presenting perfect people. By presenting people who keep the right rules, who attend the right schools, and who have a “good testimony.” If you don’t believe me, think about the last time you actually heard public confession of sin and testimony to the greater restoring power of grace. Think about the last time YOU felt free to confess the dark thoughts that afflict your own soul because you knew that there was grace and redemption waiting at the Cross.
But we aren’t and so we don’t.
And instead of being a people marked by grace that restores us in our sinfulness, we’ve become a people marked by not sinning in the first place—or so we’ve convinced ourselves. And slowly in this context, grace became obsolete and we created a culture where the most dangerous thing you could possibly do is admit to failure. Because without grace, there is no room for that. Without grace, there is no help for broken people. Without grace, there is no security to acknowledge that we’ve done anything wrong in the first place.
Simply put, without grace, there is no hope when we sin.
So we must do everything in our power to keep from sinning and when we do, as is inevitable, we must deny it in order to protect ourselves. And when that doesn't work, when scandal finally erupts, our corporate response must be to quiet that as well because our theology simply can’t handle it. So, in the end, we will either minimize sin simply because we have no other choice; or in our insecurity, we will fumble around looking for someone else to blame for our missteps. By forsaking grace, we essentially handicap our ability to handle sin and back ourselves into a corner with no way out.
But what if there were a context that enabled us to own our sins precisely because we knew there was a power greater than evil? What if we could confess our wrongs to each other precisely because we knew we would receive mercy? What if instead of selling an image of perfection, we sold Jesus’ free, unadulterated, loving forgiveness?
Well, in that context, we would respond very differently to abuse and scandal.
Because in that context, victims would be safe because we could admit the heinousness of the sin and do everything in our power to protect them. In that context, we could freely confess the temptation of wanting to cover everything up to avoid embarrassment. And in that context, we could offer hope for all involved.
Even for the abuser.
This seems to be the thing that none of us really want to think about, much less talk about. Just as much as the victim needs grace, so does the victimizer. But he needs it in a different way. He needs grace that will be strong enough to reveal the ugliness of his sin in order to free him from it. He needs grace that can kill the demons that plague his soul. He needs what no watch list, no prison sentence, no public shame can offer. He needs redemption.
And grace offers that. And more. Because not only can grace redeem, it can also restore and accomplish what no trial by jury or guilty verdict can ever do for the victims--it can actually heal the wounds of these little ones and make them whole again. So what we all need, whether at Penn State or in our church pews, is a healthy dose of grace.
Grace that will empower us to say to the abuser, “I love you more than you love yourself and I will do anything to keep you from destroying yourself and those around you. Even if it means turning you in to the authorities.”
Grace that will empower us to say to the abused, “I love you and my heart breaks that have been hurt so badly. I will do everything in my power to protect you and anyone else from being hurt this way again. Even if it means making a public scandal.”
And then when we fail to do these things, we need grace that will empower us to say to each other, “I did not love enough; I was tempted to remain silent; I was wrong and I am sorry.”