My hometown has received national attention this week in tragic circumstances. As I follow the situation with a heavy heart, I realize this essay I wrote a year ago is very relevant.
Let’s just say it never happened.
Feel better now?
The NCAA ruled that more than some 100 football games Penn State played over the last 14 years essentially didn’t happen. How this is supposed to make up for sexual abuse against children, I do not understand.
The ruling is a convoluted stab at justice that reveals something about our culture. We’re intent on constructing barriers in an effort to insulate ourselves from the consequences of sexual sin. Yet we’re fooling ourselves as we ignore the behaviors and attitudes destroying us from the inside out.
The NCAA, like all of us, is trying to say that they wish the abuse had never occurred. But since they can’t change that, they’ll try to make it seem like the football games weren’t played.
We have a responsibility to protect children and administer justice to abusers, no doubt about it. In this effort, we paint sex abusers as the most vile of all creatures. We’re convinced that an abuser must be rotten to the core and incapable of ever doing anything good, like winning a football game. So evil, it would be obvious who they were. They could never be a neighbor or Sunday school teacher or family member, this thinking suggests.
It’s a dangerous step, because it blinds us to the reality that the capacity to commit sexual sin resides within each of us. Most of us will never, ever cross that line. The line, however, keeps getting blurrier under a haze of sexualized messages that barrage us daily.
Our courts, goaded by state legislators, take a hard line on child molesters. At a recent sentencing involving a religious leader, the judge said someone who covered up crimes allowed “monsters … to destroy the souls of children.”
This is a black-and-white stance in the courtroom, but here in the real world it’s more like “50 Shades of Grey” as the explicit book is a best seller, pornography is piped into every home and nudity is depicted on network television. Sleeping together on the first date is thought to be “no big deal” while waiting for marriage is so rare it’s considered freakish.
Not a chance
In this hyper-sexualized culture, it seems children hardly stand a chance. The church’s plea for purity is drowned out as hopelessly outdated. Many Christians, I expect, are reluctant to speak out because they feel they’ve failed in this area in the past. Yet, it is only in holding to the truth that we can truly protect the innocent from those who seek to destroy their soul.
We are right to be grieved for the boys who were abused at Penn State; they carry the scars all their lives. Yet I find myself thinking about the ordinary students at that college and many others. How many of them bear lifetime scars because of “casual sex.” The consequences of sexual sin don’t stop when a person turns 18, no matter what we’ve fooled ourselves into believing.
As someone who as has never been married, I know that it’s one thing to be disciplined in behavior, yet another altogether to be pure in heart. Our church teaching should emphasize the gifts that chastity and restraint offer for people in all stages of life. Purity isn’t old-fashioned, it’s the light for our future.
One thing the NCAA ruling does get right is that sexual sin doesn’t just affect one person. The effect ripples out to a whole community. The football penalty actually impacts students the most, taking away 10 scholarships among other things. Children and the innocent suffer when vows are deemed unnecessary, when the sacred is treated as disposable and when children are considered an unfortunate byproduct of recreational activity.
Which is easier?
In my toddler Sunday school class, we recently studied the paralyzed man who was carried to Jesus by his friends. Jesus saw his physical problem, but also the greater need of his heart and said, “Sons, your sins are forgiven.”
Then Jesus reads the thoughts of the Pharisees and asks which is easier: to make a man walk or to forgive his sins? To prove his point, Jesus then heals him and the man stands up – his legs whole, his heart healed.
Those words have echoed in my mind many times this week. What is easier: To take away football wins, or to take away sins?
The NCAA doesn’t have the power to forgive. Our problems won’t be solved by taking away football wins or issuing longer sentences for convicted abusers. Until we look beyond obvious crimes to see that pornography and promiscuity cause deep wounds will we be able to rise up and walk.
Sexual sins have broken many lives. God has the power to forgive sins and to heal our hearts.
As we, the people of God, go forth in the beauty of purity, may our chastity and restraint transform the very core of our culture.