I looked into the mirror
Proud as I could be
And I saw my pointing finger
Pointing back at me
Saying “Who named you accuser?
Who gave you the scales?”
I hung my head in sorrow;
I could almost feel the nails.
I said “This is how it is
To be crucified and judged
-“What About the Love“, Amy Grant
When I first moved to Minneapolis, I lived in an upstairs apartment in a big house in Northeast Minneapolis. Downstairs lived two women who were good friends. At some point, the daughter of one of the women came to live at the house a short time. I remember when I first met this young lady, she brought up some conversation about slavery. She proclaimed that if she lived back in the time when slavery was still a part of American life, she would be against it.
While I would hope this young white girl would choose the anti-slavery side, I knew that there was a good chance that if she were dumped in say, 1856 , she well might see the problem, shrug her shoulders and look the other way.
It’s been interesting to see all the ink or wattage spilled on the Penn State sex abuse scandal and the late Joe Paterno. Like most people, I think the statue of Paterno needed to be taken down and I think the football team needed to face some sanctions. Paterno’s reputation has been forever wrecked by his own actions.
But unlike a lot of people when I think about this scandal, I don’t feel anger as much as I feel fear. It’s the fear that I would have to face something like what Paterno faced and covered up: finding out that someone who you work with or worship with or what have you is abusing someone. It’s the fear of being tempted to look the other way, or even worse, cover it up.
Of course, since I am a member of the clergy, I am mandated by the state of Minnesota to report such abuse to the authorities. I don’t have the luxury of ignoring abuse even if I wanted to.
But I have to admit that the thought of looking the other way would cross my mind.
You see, I’m not brave. I’m not an example of moral courage. Yes, I try to do the right thing, but let’s face it, more often than not I would rather ignore things that my upset my world.
Which is maybe why I haven’t really felt like sermonizing about what went on at Penn State. Yes, people should do the right thing, yes, we need to make sure that children are protected; yes, we need to report such things to the police. I know that we need to do all of those things. But none that can shake the fact that if I was faced with the test, I very well could fail it too. I know this because I know that I am flawed, sinful. I know that in some way, I’m no different than those who didn’t stand up during segregation in the American South, or those who looked the other way during the apartheid era in South Africa, or those who said nothing while Jews were being rounded up in World War II. I wrote about this back in November when the scandal first broke:
Joe Paterno and others at Penn State should have done more than what they did and it makes sense that he had to lose his job for failing to do the moral thing. But there are reasons why they probably didn’t and they are reasons that you and I would do the same thing.
None of this is to say that lying to ourselves is okay. But it does show us that we are all fallible beings and it is so easy to just ignore the steaming pile of crap in front of us instead of trying to clean it up.
But we all have dark sides. I’m not saying that a whole host of us are going to molest children, but we can see a wrong and tell ourselves not to get involved. We do that all that time. I’ve done it and so have you.
It’s fascinating that on the same week we are talking about the NCAA penalties on Penn State, the Hebrew Scripture for this Sunday is the story of King David and Bathsheba. This is the story of a powerful man who took a married woman and had his way with her. When he finds out she is pregnant with his child, he then tries cover the crime up. Sound familiar?
It’s been easy in all of the media frenzy to resort to moral grandstanding. But this whole sad and horrifying affair should strike us with fear as much as anger. If someone that was supposed to be a paragon of virtue like Paterno could fall, then none of us are that far behind. Penn State shouldn’t send us to our computers pounding out furious tweets as much send us to our knees in prayer, asking that God give us the strength to stand when the time of testing comes.
Because I’m just not that brave.
But I’d like to be.