Our response to public failure

by Barnabas Piper

Posted on Friday, February 13, 2015, at 1:31 pm

Fallenness is in the news every day. In this space I have addressed Joe Paterno, Adrian Peterson, Aaron Hernandez, Bill Belichick, Ray Rice, Johnny Manziel, Yasiel Puig, Roger Clemens, Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong, LeBron James, Dwight Howard, among others. Some were philanderers, some cheats, others abusers, and a few simply exuded arrogance. But this is just a list of athletes—other public figures face-plant morally in some fashion almost daily. Brian Williams, anchor of the NBC Nightly News, is one recent example.

Public response to such falls is always outrage, usually unrelenting and in ALL CAPS, with calls to tar and feather them. The internet provides an engulfing flamethrower of vitriol, excoriation, and self-righteous grandstanding. And what’s most disturbing of all is how Christians love to get in on the fun, too.

Such responses are distinctly unbiblical. While sin must be corrected and violators should face consequences, most of the time you and I do not play a role in that process, other than publicizing and shaming. But before we respond to the failure of a public figure, we should ask ourselves the following five questions:

  1. Will my response lead people to repentance or resentment? Who are you influencing and how are you influencing them with your reaction? The Bible says God’s kindness led us to repentance. Are we showing that aspect of His character?
  2. Are we leaving room for restoration, or are we merely leaving the husk of a man behind? Believers are not called to eradicate those who fall but to represent Christ on earth. Christ hates sin, and His primary way of dealing with it was self-sacrifice to make a way for bad people to be made good. Too often our way of dealing with it is eviscerating the accused on an altar of morality.
  3. Are we willing and able to examine our own hearts and see any similarities we have with the accused? I see a lot of Brian Williams in myself. I value my reputation. The temptation to lie to enhance my standing is always present. Just because I don’t do it doesn’t mean I’m better than he is and it doesn’t mean I am incapable of doing so. Williams and I are much the same, and you’re likely not so different yourself.
  4. When will we “allow” restoration to happen? Often the answer is “once we have forgotten the sin” or “once you’ve reached an arbitrary standard of recompense over a random amount of time.” We need the humility to realize that we’re not in charge of the restoration of these public figures, and if we try to suppress it we may be working against God.
  5. Do we actually believe in grace? Somewhere along the way, many of us fell into the lie that it is our job to convict, restore, and redeem people through our Facebook, Twitter, or blog posts. We’d never say so, but it comes through loud and clear in how we respond. We forgot, or never believed, that God does those acts through His transforming grace. Do we believe it enough to let it happen, or must we supersede God?
Barnabas Piper

Barnabas works for Lifeway Christian Resources and is the author of The Pastor’s Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity and Help My Unbelief: Why Doubt Is Not the Enemy of Faith. He and his wife live in the Nashville area with their two daughters. Follow Barnabas on Twitter @BarnabasPiper.

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