Perhaps it is simply human nature?
Maybe it is the deeply held desire to feel good about oneself?
It could be that as long as we find someone else who is a worse person than we are, we deprives ourselves of acknowledging our own depravity?
The latest story that has trended throughout social media, become fodder for the mainstream media, and gets talked about over coffee by Christians and non-Christians alike began unfolding years ago. Then, last Sunday, a public statement made by a university president changed everything and . . . BOOM! More press releases. More stories. More accusations. More admissions. More denials. And ... I don't think the final layer of this onion has been peeled.
Thanks to the current state of politi-vangelicalism (I made up that word - a mashup of political and evangelical) that exists in our nation right now, to speak of any individual claiming, either willingly or unwillingly, a political or evangelical leadership title often either garners likes and shares or nasty statements. It is not that this is new, but with social media and instant news, it just happens quickly and more publicly now.
Thus, when Jerry Falwell, Jr.'s revelations of sinful indiscretions involving his wife, another man, and himself became more than rumors (at least some of them) and have been affirmed to be accurate, the flood of responses and shares began.
Some of a certain age are likening Falwell's revelation to those of the late 1980s involving prominent televangelists. Others are pointing to the power structures that not only allowed, but enabled such things to happen and continue happening for years. In the age of #MeToo and #ChurchToo, Falwell's story sadly becomes another of many.
There are variations of responses appearing such as "Serves him right," "He's blaming his wife?" "He has no ethics," and "It's abuse of power, abuse of authority, abuse sexually, etc."
Of course, there are others who due to their longtime support and views of the individual (or perhaps his father or Liberty University) blame it all on conspiracies, politics, anti-Christian groups, or any number of other people or circumstances.
Even Christians (and I'm not immune to this) often vent online when others fall. If we're not careful, we do more than vent. We actually may celebrate the downfall of others, especially those who claim to be followers of Christ as well.
But, celebrating the failures of others, especially those who at least publicly claim to be followers of Christ, is not the best, right, or biblical response. However, it is my most common response, but that does not make it right. Therefore, I read this verse in Proverbs and respond with repentance.
"He who is glad at calamity will not go unpunished." - Proverbs 17:5b (ESV)
Some Get It Right
Then, hidden deep within the comment thread on stories about Falwell, every now and then, we see things said that just do not get the likes or shares that others do.
In the midst of this tragic, sinful, abhorrent reveal that continues to be shared, there are those who are clearly not excusing the sin, not seeking an avoidance of justice, are calling for repentance, and who actually believe consequences should be faced, but are...get this...stating that they are praying for ALL involved and seeking God in the midst of these people.
In today's culture of offering "thoughts and prayers" (which has become a punchline for jokes - and in the way that many use the term, it should be a punchline) some are truly offering God-focused, biblically-accurate, grace-filled, justice-seeking, consequence-acknowledging (YES - THERE MUST BE CONSEQUENCES), condemnation-removing (Romans 8:1), repentance-desiring, intercession for Jerry Falwell, Jr., his wife, their acquaintances, and all others involved either directly or indirectly with these heinous accounts now made public.
Praying for Sinners Is Not Excusing Their Sin
I fear that all too often we wrongly believe praying for those who have done despicable things is excusing their sins. It is not.
Jesus prayed for those who put him to death on the cross. When he prayed "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do" he was NOT saying "You know, it's no big deal what they have done. It's all good."
When Stephen prayed that God would forgive those who would soon put him to death by stoning, it was not weakness on display, but grief over lost religious people who acted in ways that dishonored God, put his name to shame, and hurt the cause of Christ.
Terrible People Who Get What They Deserve
Some believe that Falwell's failures will negatively impact the cause of Christ for decades to come. I tend to believe that God is bigger than a university president, even one who led a university founded on biblical principles. God was not surprised when Falwell's failures became public. He knew when the sins happened. He knew when the sins would be made public. He also knows what will occur next.
As a Christian, I must confess, it is much easier to pile on the story and jump in on the "He is a terrible person and is getting what he deserves!" mantra. Truth be told - he is a terrible person and is getting what he deserves.
More than that, I am reminded that apart from the redeeming and gracious rescue by Christ in my life, I am a terrible person. So are you.
As it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one." - Romans 3:10 (ESV)
You see, it is easy to feel righteous as long as you compare yourself to someone who is easily seen to be worse morally than others.
But, what about when we compare ourselves to the one whom we are called to follow and be like? Compared to Christ, I am reminded daily that "but for the grace of God, go I."
When it comes to Jerry Falwell, Jr., I have opinions. Just like you do. He should not be leading Liberty University (or any university.) I do not believe he should be platformed.
He would be wise to get off Twitter and to stay out of the public eye for a season (perhaps a very long one.) I pray that he seeks God personally, privately, and honestly. I am praying that he discovers the great relief of forgiveness offered to those who are in Christ and repent. I pray he does this for real, and not as a Christian publicity move. I pray for his wife to do the same.
I pray that they realize they are not too far gone for God's grace to reach.
I pray that somehow their marriage survives and that it is nothing like it was prior (according to his own admission and other reports) but that God heals them both. I pray for their family...and for those who are part of this story in other ways as well.
And, no, praying for them does not excuse sin. It does not minimize it either.
Can God fix this? Certainly. I know he desires to do so. God won't for the sake of "good PR" however. He will do so only for his own glory.
Oh...and pray for Liberty University. This is a new day for the school. They have needed new leadership for years. They now have it. Despite the past, the future can look bright - but it starts at the top.