Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Faithless Fears That Help Sink Institutions

Before you read this post, I want to announce that the video from the Word of Truth, panel discussion, which occurred Sunday evening, November 13, is turning up online here.  Enjoy.  Now read the post.


Everyone right now is talking about Penn State and the Jerry Sandusky situation.   The question comes:  if Sandusky really did what is alleged, which many, if not most, are assuming, why didn't folks in the know at Penn State not do more about stopping it?  As I rehearse that interrogative, the point is not to write about Penn State here and now.  I want to get at an entirely different point, using the Penn State issue to do so.  If Joe Paterno knew, what virtue or value would hold him or even others from exposing it and stopping it?  Often it is that the damage of the revelation seems to be greater than the damage of the actual deed.

I'm talking about situational ethics, or what some might call hierarchicalism.  The hierarchy is that Penn State as a whole, and the good that the university did and the football program might have done and would do, was greater than the good that exposing Sandusky would have done.  The line of thinking might go like this:  we can stop Sandusky or try to stop him and then hide what he did to help save the university and the program---we're against the evil, really do hate it, but hate the take-down of the institution even more.  More people will be hurt by the exposure than would be hurt by not exposing.  Why should tens of thousands suffer because of the deeds of one man?  I'm not saying I know this is all there is to it, just that it is often how it goes.  It might be the case here with Penn State, Paterno, and some of the administration.  It makes sense that it would, since that is so typical.

So in the above case, the truth is "fudged" really in order to do the "greater good."  That is a kind of hierarchicalism.  It is not to justify Sandusky's actions or even not to make a statement about the heinousness of all of that.  They are putting forth an effort to protect something by choosing whom they will allow to suffer for what they see as a higher value.  I'm not arguing for this, by the way.  I am presenting it to knock it down.

A few dozen times, the Bible tells us not to be afraid.  The world does live in fear, that altogether may stem from the ultimate fear of death, Satan's number one tool.  Perhaps all the fears of man unwind from man's terror over his own termination.  Even if he wastes his life, he knows wasting it isn't good, so he writes his own narrative in which he isn't wasting it, even if he is.  What man forgets is that everything ends with God.  That is truly it.

I bring you to Scripture for a moment to see this.  At the beginning of Luke 12, Jesus warns against the influence of hypocrisy (vv. 1-12).  It's masterful teaching.  Faking our way through---faking it till we make it---is one of the great temptations of life.  We can blow everything by never being genuinely for God, just doing the labor to have people think we are for God.  A man in v. 13, who hasn't been listening but merely waiting for Jesus to take a breath, asks a personal question about an inheritance issue with his brother.  Jesus makes a point about covetousness and what life's really about, and then He illustrates it with a story about a man who had been a sudden, monumental success in his agricultural endeavors (vv. 16-21).  In the story, the man has a bunch of plans to expand his operation, none of which include God.  The one truth that he forgot was the most important one---he would die and face God.

God is the judge.  He is also Sovereign.  In the first twelve verses of Luke 12, Jesus speaks about not fearing man, but fearing God, Who will destroy both body and soul in Hell.   But then He says, "Fear not," because Jesus cares more about men than He does many sparrows.  So those who trust God, and really do fear Him, rather than man, do not need to fear.  It's a paradox.  Fear God and you won't need to or have to fear.

We don't trust God to go into damage control.  We trust God by doing what He told us to do.  There was something that needed to be done at Penn State, but people there, of course, weren't trusting God.  They don't trust God.  That's not how they view their lives or the world.  Values can't survive on this earth without God, since nothing or no one is more valuable than God Himself.  Since God is more valuable than anything, doing what He wants us to do will get us through those moment when we think doing right will bring more damage then it will good.  Maybe in the short term, we could explain how that it would, but with God in the equation, we do what we should and leave it to God to sort through.  In the end, the greater value exists in God.  I believe hierarchicalism does work, but it is understanding that on the top of the hierarchy is God.  He rules.

In churches and evangelical or fundamentalist organizations, bad things are done, and decisions are made on how to handle them based upon what will help preserve the institution.  Maybe even the media is involved.  The media swoops in to try to uncover what's happened in order to sell a news story.  The media doesn't care about a church or a pastor or even the truth.  Their sources may be bitter, disgruntled, and evil people with an axe to grind.  They want to destroy the church or the organization.   They may be  exaggerating or telling lies.  So what is the church or organization to do?

I think a church or organization can easily pull a Penn State, rationalizing that its enemies don't deserve the truth, and that whatever means necessary to protect the church or organization might be justified.   The idea is that "we" can save the church or protect its leadership with an all-out defense.  These are the faithless fears that help sink institutions.

God can and will save what He wishes.  He is Sovereign.  A church might participate in multiple sins and doctrinal and practical error.  It results in casualties, maybe even what some might call collateral damages.  God says confess, forsake, correct, repent, and I will heal and deliver.  That's where true faith comes in.  But the church or organization, its leadership, says faith is to circle the wagons and begin a campaign against the enemies and even its friends.  It's friends are saying, "Confess, repent, forsake, trust God for deliverance."  The church forsakes that counsel for something that looks more like what a defense lawyer will do to spring his guilty client.

Churches and organizations are already leaning on their own understanding for success.  They call it "practical," but that's the wrong word.  The right word is "pragmatic."  "Practical" is when we practice what God told us to do, to follow Scriptural example.  And the pragmatism is what got them in trouble in the first place.  And so it is no wonder that again they will use pragmatism as a means of "rescuing" themselves from their own troubles.  What is ironic is that it isn't going to work.  That's right.  It isn't even pragmatic.  The rich man said he would pull down his barns and build greater.  He had everything all planned, but He wasn't including God in the narrative.  And God is in every single narrative.  It is His story.

I mentioned the hypothetical reasoning of Penn State.  What about these churches?  'We can't confess anything wrong, because it will be admitting that we are guilty of what our enemies are alleging, which is exaggerated and slanderous.  And if someone is not offering full support, even questions what may have happened, they are now with our "enemies."  God is a Mighty Warrior, so our fighting is like God.'  Of course, God fights for Truth and Justice, not just to fight because He's some kind of Fighter, but the combative defense reminds them of how God operates at times, so the fighting must be correct.

Confession is not the cause for the enemies' rejoicing.  Repentance is not the basis of an opponent's victory. Neither of those two is what make our enemies rejoice or prosper---the violation of God's Word did that.

As I write this essay, I'm not saying it is simple to react in a biblical way.  It isn't.  The skids of our flesh are well greased for self-defense.  That's a push that seems natural.   We should consider that our problems might be our own.  We did something wrong that needs a scriptural response as a solution.   Then trust God.  Fear Him.  And then rely on Him for protection.

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