Yesterday evening, on my Facebook page, someone wrote a thoughtful question concerning the sexual accusations against Roy Moore. My Facebook friend raised several important points. Primarily, she noted that these allegations come from years before, and what happens when the accused has changed their ways, and moved on? Is there no room for grace, are they disqualified forever? I feel like we ended up having a really thoughtful discussion. I ended up thinking about this long into the night. (Feel free to read the entire thread here.)
These are important questions for anyone to grapple with, especially one who endeavors to live a life of authentic faith. Christians do believe a person can change for the better, with the help of God, and we believe in forgiveness. Christians build their entire belief system around the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, where we believe he died in order to forgive us our sins, and free us from the bondage of evil that has ensnared us. We belief that God raised him from the dead, thus overcoming sin and death, and offers us a new passageway into a different sort of life. A life that is not self-centered and self-seeking, but rather a God-centered, God-filled life, and subsequently an others-centered life, one that is freed to love others as we love ourselves. Because we are no longer enslaved to self-preservation, we are free to risk loving the other, our beloved neighbor, and not be afraid.
There are, of course, many ways to describe this belief system, thousands of books have been written to explain it, from the first epistles of the New Testament, to Augustine, all the way to today.
First, these sorts of behaviors are nothing new in the sea of humanity. We should not ignore the allegations. We should take heed and let the process unfold. The problem is, our society is inundated with these allegations and we’re exhausted and cynical. We have a recording of President Trump, himself, describing his own actions against women, as a man who just takes it, because he can’t help himself and nothing substantial came of it. His fame and his social status apparently gave him permission to take it, even from married women. There is a long history of men in power positions taking what they want, even when it harms women. Consider David and Bathsheba. He saw a woman bathing and because of his position as king, he brought her in. He used his power to get what he wanted. (When confronted with his sin he made sweeping changes and humbled himself before God.) Nevertheless this is a systemic issue that has permeated our world for thousands of years.
In the days of Attila the Hun, a virgin named Ursula, was apparently martyred because she would not become his concubine. Martyred.
Secondly, I want to point out that the intensity of this particular season of #MeToo and of women standing up, coming out, admitting they have been sexually harassed, harmed, used, cast aside, and manipulated is incredibly good for us as a society. But it feels overwhelming. It hurts when truth comes to light, but all in all, it finally gives women the right to use their voice on their own behalf, instead of being told that for the sake of the country, or the institution, or the family of the man, or even for the sake of the man, we must remain silent.
Is there a statute of limitations? No. There is not. I watched a Hawaii 5-0 episode a couple of months ago, where they arrested an old man for Nazi war crimes done decades before. He spent his final days in prison. (This was a television show, so I get it was fiction. But the story still impacted me.)
At the time, I wondered about forgiveness and grace and reconciliation, about how that old man loved his children and tried to make a new life. Should that man be charged decades later with crimes he committed in his youth? Even if he accepted the Christian faith and became a better person?
My friends, Christian forgiveness deals with God and a person, and person to person, which should lead to cultural transformation. But God’s grace does not extradite a person, or remove them from their responsibility to the law of the land. In fact, when a person comes into authentic faith, and it’s real and honest, many times they turn themselves in and let the law have its way. *Consider the story of Chuck Colson.
Unfortunately, we have made it a cultural norm to feel sorry for the man who abuses and what may happen to him when it comes to light, so much so, that we ignore the victim, something Scripture clearly explains that God does not do, and we also ignore the soul of the man who objectifies women, making it very difficult for us to discern good from evil, authentic from lie.
That is not restoration.
Unsanctified mercy is not mercy. It is cheap grace that has no long-term transformative power. True mercy is strong and full of honesty. Consider the story of Zaccheus. His encounter with Jesus, at one dinner, so radically transformed him that he gave up to four times what he had stolen. His authentic repentance expressed itself in restitution to those had harmed.
My concern is that somehow, over the years of altar calls and tent revivals, street preaching and crusades, we have given the culture a circumscribed understanding of the Christian faith. Receiving Jesus is not a free pass. It is the beginning of a real, authentic life in God, where we become true and real. This means that confession and restitution and reconciliation and laying down one’s life, and giving up one’s special place at the table become our path unto real life.
Receiving Jesus as one’s Lord is the first step to a Christian life. It is the beginning. And as John the Baptist tells us, we are to bear fruit in keeping with repentance … which means we are to yield to God as God would ask us to yield over the duration of our lives. It is a long walk.
I have seen many people change because of a coming-to-faith kind of repentance. Some were men and some have been women. They were people who used other men and women as tools for self-gratification, or sexual exploitation in ways we would find offensive and cruel. I have watched, as they, with God’s help, moved into authentic community and laid their sins out in the open and confessed who and what they were. I have been the one who hears sacred confessions, over and over. And I have witnessed the step-by-step way God leads a person into a whole new way of living. How they have had to make a ruthless inventory of all they have done, find each person they harmed, and make amends where possible. And then day-by-day turn their lives over to God and yield to God’s leading in their lives. Most of the time, this takes years, and is overwhelmingly painful and filled with ups and downs and pitfalls along the way. But in it, we learn how to trust God, to love others, and to accept ourselves for who we are … a terrible mess, and worthy of great love.
I believe in second chances and transformed lives, of a strong grace that powerfully changes one’s entire life. But grace and forgiveness should not ever serve as a smug way of avoiding true accountability. Grace and love, forgiveness and mercy, always lead us to love our neighbor more wholeheartedly, to serve others with greater humility, and to live more authentically.