Chris Matthews said that Weiner was in trouble because his behavior offends ‘culturally backward’ Christian conservatives. Hmmmmm? If being offended by someone texting their “birthday suit” and undies to women they’re not married to is backward, then I guess I’m one of those people stuck in reverse. I was under the impression that when you are married, you are actually committed to the one you love. I am one of those silly upside-down people who thinks that faithfulness and purity are good things. Yes, silly me. Silly rabbit, morals are for kids. Morals are not for educated and sophisticated politicians and TV hosts. No, no. They know so much more than we do. They are so far “ahead” of us and so far above us that we wouldn’t understand. Apparently the new trend is to identify black as white and light as dark.
20 Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! 21 Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, And prudent in their own sight! Isaiah 5:20-21
The Bible offers us a template for responding to immorality. Whether that immorality is a neighbor, a leader, or a politician, how should we respond to Matthews’s arrogance and Weiner’s immorality?
In the movie, Brewster’s Millions, Richard Prior has the chance to inherit billions of dollars if he spends millions in a short period of time. One of his schemes is running for political office…. Kinda. He runs for mayor with the slogan, “None of the above.” He bluntly trashes both his rival candidates while showing the “dog-and-pony show” that politics have become. He reveals that money drives our political choices, not character and principle.
Why is it that every election we vote and feel like we are choosing between the better of two evils? Is it the back and forth bashing of both candidates by the Donkey and Elephant machine? Is it the fact that the whole political process has become more of a beauty contest than principle exchange?
Why is it that our “leaders” and representatives from both parties are hiding their love children, running off with secret lovers, or texting their private parts to women they “barely know” -with an emphasis on “barely” as they bare it all. What happens in the mind of a rich and famous person to think anyone might want a picture of their tighty whiteys? Who thinks, “I bet a woman I don’t know would love to get a photo of my fruit-of-the-loom’s tonight?
How should we respond -as people of faith- to yet another moral failure by one of our country’s leaders? We could get in our Delirium and flip on the flux capacitor and head back to the 90’s and say, ‘Character doesn’t matter.” We could pretend that a governor with good economic sense can do whatever he wants with his private life in Argentina. We could critique the country for holding these people up as heroes when they are flawed human beings. We could “burn the witch” and condemn Congressman Weiner for his hypocrisy, immorality, and unwise behavior. How should a person of faith respond?
The Gospel (The main message of the Bible) challenges both extremes. One extreme is postmodernism. This approach is a “let live and let live” approach. We respond to the “underwear” emailer by saying that it’s not a big deal. These kind of archaic morals are outdated. We admit that everyone struggles with lust of some type. Lust for power, control, fantasizing, etc. We compartmentalize this to Weiner’s private life and say, “It’s not a big deal.” We condemn anyone who condemns the behavior as a hypocrite and judgmental. In this view, morals don’t matter. This view makes you proud and arrogant believing you are better than those “moralistic” judgmental religious people who are so conservative.
The other extreme is moralism. This approach is to think “I’d never do that.” This approach is to shake your head and say, “What’s wrong with this country.” This approach says that the real problem in the world is the loss of moral family values. This approach lets you look down on “those” people and “those” politicians who participate in “this kind of thing!” This approach also fills you with pride and arrogance because you feel superior to someone who did such a stupid immoral act.
The Gospel offers us a third way. It allows us to condemn Weiner’s acts as immoral, unwise, and hurtful. It reveals that his actions are far worse than merely “mistakes” that he admitted to in his 40 minute public apology. It says that actions and character matters and are far far more serious than we can imagine because they hurt us, our family, and a nation that looked to us for private and public leadership. BUT, the Gospel also reveals that “I am capable of those same stupid decisions.” Given the right situation…. Given the right pressure on my marriage and career… I too am capable of anything. The human heart’s capacity to lie to itself is unparalleled as the prophet Jeremiah said, “The heart is desperately wicked.” My heart is wicked. My heart could do that. This approach allows you to judge without being judgmental. It allows you to condemn while feeling condemned. It allows you to stand with the accused in need of grace while not excusing the behavior. This is grace.
Galatians 6:1 Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who arespiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. 3 For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.
The Bible tells us that when someone is overtaken with temptation… help them to be restored in a spirit of…. GENTLENESS. We will see condemnation from both liberals and conservatives in the news. We will see little gentleness tomorrow. And Galatians tells us to “consider ourselves” lest we are tempted… When we are tempted to think “we’d never do that” or tempted to think “We are better than someone who did that…” The Bible reminds us that we too are capable of “deceiving ourselves.”
So, how would Jesus Respond to Congressman Weiner, the Underwear Model. Three ways.
1) Forgiveness. Jesus would forgive him and offer him mercy when he truly admits the truth of what he did. Having walked with husbands and wives in affairs for years, I can promise you that an initial apology is usually the embarrassment of getting caught. The response that looks like genuine guilt can actually be a self-centered “poor me” complex. BUT when someone genuinely sees what they did as wrong and an affront to God, themselves and others, Jesus offers forgiveness.
2) Reconciliation There is a difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. You can forgive someone who doesn’t ask for forgiveness. You can be free from the poison of bitterness with or without their request. Reconciliation, however, takes two. We can’t make anyone reconcile. A Christian tries to keep the door open for reconciliation, but sets boundaries to reestablish trust. Reconciliation takes time. A Christian can forgive without being ready to reconcile. It takes two to tango.
3) Restoration. There is a difference between restoring trust and offering forgiveness. A public official (Pastor, priest, politician, etc) who voids the public trust should resign. Period. They need to get their private life in order. That is the priority. Then their own family and marriage need to be healed. Donkey or Republican., they need to resign. And maybe… Possibly… After enough time, inner work, grace, and rebuilding of trust, they might re-earn the chance to represent again. But too often Christians confuse forgiveness with restoration. And sometimes, the act of stupidity or immorality is so grievous that there is no chance for reconciliation or restoration. Often the consequences involve prison for the wicked acts of the heart.
I will forgive Weiner when he really asks for it. As a Christian I would have forgiven Clinton had I thought his apology was genuine. I have forgiven Gingrich who was the representative of my district when I lived in Georgia for similar acts. However…. Restoration is another matter. I am not convinced that enough time, trust and repentance have been built to offer the restoration to public office for any of them. Gingrinch has by forgiveness and reconciliation, but lost his ability for political restoration in office. I humbly know that I too am capable of anything, but public sins also come with public responsibility. The same is true in a marriage. You can forgive an offending spouse. You can offer the chance for reconciliation. I have seen dozens of marriages reunited after a horrible trainwreck. Restoration takes time. Rushing from forgiveness to restoration is a sign the repentance is not genuine.
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