How Far is Too Far?

The news headlines are littered with stories of celebrities of all stripes falling into moral failure. It’s not a new occurrence by any means, but the reaction to the news seems to be changing.

Bill Cosby has been found guilty of drugging and raping a woman. As a result, he has been expelled from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, been removed from the American Advertising Federation Hall of Fame, and all references to “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids” and “The Cosby Show” have been removed from the Television Academy’s web site.

Tanya Harding pled guilty to a felony charge of hindering the prosecution in the attack against Nancy Kerrigan. The US Figure Skating Association stripped her of her 1994 National Championship and banned her for life from being an athlete or coach. However, they did NOT strip her of her 1991 national title.

Mark Driscoll, the founding pastor of Mars Hill Church in the Seattle-area, was removed from his position after it was found he had been, among other things, abusing his power. As a result, his books were removed from Christian book stores and he lost his position in other ministries.

Pastor Bill Hybels was forced to retire early due to alleged misconduct that spans over 40 years. It is yet to be seen what the fall out will be.

Theological differences cause people to react as well.

Rob Bell wrote a book that argues for universal salvation. His books were removed from Lifeway Bookstores, which is affiliated with the Southern Baptists.

When Eugene Peterson made a statement that seemingly supported gay marriage. Lifeway threatened to remove his work, including his The Message paraphrase translation of the Bible. Peterson clarified his stance supporting traditional marriage, and all was forgiven.

My question, and I don’t know that I have a great answer for it, is where is the line?

If we look back at our national history, many of our Presidents have had some serious moral failures. FDR incarcerated Japanese-Americans and he refused to accept more Jewish refugees. Jefferson and Jackson defended slavery and were responsible for executions of Native American peoples. JFK was unfaithful to his wife. Yet all of these men did good for our nation. We celebrate them, we honor them.

So my question is simply, “How far is too far?”

Obviously, we hold those who claim to be moral leaders, such as clergy, to higher standards. If a person preaches about the sinfulness of adultery and then is found to be having affairs, his credibility is shattered. It’s hypocritical we say and we ban his books from our bookstores.

In theological differences we do the same thing – if someone becomes heretical in their teaching (by our standards), we tend to believe that all their previous teaching, not matter how on point or beneficial to us in the past, must be bad as well.

Where do we draw the line? When do we say that someone has gone too far or done too much to be remembered for anything other than their sins?

When Jesus was confronted with the woman who was found committing adultery in John 8, he told the crowd that whoever had never sinned could throw the first stone. Then the accusers slinked away, one by one.

The fact of the matter is that we are all sinful people, and if our whole life’s story was bared out before the world – our inner most thoughts scrawled across the pages of a magazine – we may not look so good either.

I am not saying that there should not be consequences for these men and women – there should be – no one should be given a free pass just because they can make us laugh, make a good product, or pass good legislation. There is no legitimate excuse for sinful behavior.

But before we join in on the stoning, we need to make sure that we remember that we, too, are sinners in need of a Savior. None of us is perfect, and we are all deserving of God’s grace, love, and forgiveness.

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Am I More Than a Label?

Labels. They are very helpful in most cases.

I want to know what is in my food. I want to know what is in my cleaning supplies. I want to know the warnings associated with my appliances. I want to know the side effects of my medication.

But labels can turn nasty when they are used on people.

He’s the fat guy. She’s the smart one. He’s the funny one. She’s the loud one. He’s a jerk. She’s a loon.

These types of labels take one part of a personality and purport that it is the only, or at least the most important, part of a person. We all logically know this to be true, yet we still do it. We continue to label people and try to define them and put them in a nice, neat box.

The problem is that no one fits in a nice, neat box. We’re all a smorgasbord of personality traits, physical features, emotions, and beliefs, that make up the unique person we are. That unique person was created by God in God’s own image. That’s where we need to be finding our identity – as a child of God.

I’ve often heard that if you sin, you are a sinner; If you commit a crime, you are a criminal; or If you lose your temper, you are a hot-head. I will admit that there is SOME truth in that, but if we allow ourselves to be defined solely by our actions, then we’re missing the big picture.

We are not only the sum of our actions. Yes, our actions matter, and yes, that is how we are judged, but what truly matters is who God says we are. God says we are his children, made in God’s image.

Nothing that we can do will change the fact that God has created us – that he has perfectly and wonderfully made us. When we commit sinful acts, even gross atrocities (whether actual or in our minds), we are still made in God’s image. We are still his children. He’s never going to leave us or abandon us. He’s going to love us and seek a relationship with us NO MATTER WHAT.

Whether a person is a Christ-follower, an atheist, a pagan, or an agnostic, doesn’t matter. He loves each of us the same. It doesn’t matter if you’re straight, gay, male, female, old, young, tall, or short, God loves you, cares for you, and wants a relationship with you.

That doesn’t mean that God doesn’t care about your actions – he certainly does. What it does mean is that he loves us all the same. Sometimes love requires discipline, and that certainly is the case with God, but God’s judgment doesn’t negate the fact that he loves us. Our relationship with God will necessarily change how God responds to us – but he loves us all. He demonstrated that fact when Jesus died on the cross for our sins.

God has created each of us, and he desires that all people enter into a right relationship with him. But that doesn’t mean he stops or starts loving people based on their decisions.

If you’ve really screwed up lately, I want to give you hope. I want you to know that God still loves you and offers his grace to you. Don’t beat yourself up over your actions. Accept the consequences and move on. Do what you can to make things right, but accept God’s perfect love and forgiveness for yourself. God doesn’t label you based on your sins – he labels you a Child of God based on who you have been created to be.