The responses of the popular evangelical world to scandals never ceases to amaze me. I held back from responding to the Bill Gothard scandal simply because I want to give a more reflective instead of a knee-jerk reaction. I guess now is as good as a time as any to look at the situation. The basic situation is this. Gothard had headed the Institute in Basic Life Principles for as long as I can remember and I’m already past 50 years old. I recall my Christian high school classmates raving about such gatherings. I’m one of the reluctant rebels who had chosen to skip his teachings on sexual purity and moral uprightness (not that there’s anything wrong with both). Year later, Gothard has now been accused by hoards of young women who had been sexually molested by him in varying degrees. Investigation is ongoing as the organization puts him on administrative leave initially but finally he resigned. Many former employees have also confirmed the allegations to be true. I won’t comment until the full investigation is done, but what I will do in this blog is to bring awareness to our collective blind spot.
The responses to this scandal amazes me. From a casual browsing of Facebook, responses range from harsh judgment, disgust to shock. I want to address the shock because that is what I see most of all, especially by his former followers (yes, those people who enthusiastically went to his conferences when I was a teen). Why should we be shocked?
The answer to such a question is mostly logical. “He doesn’t practice what he preaches.” That is probably the most common response from shocked followers. Yet, Jesus had long talked about this problem in Luke 6.41-42. Since I’m still writing my Chinese commentary on Luke’s Gospel, I will share my reflection on Jesus’ ethics here about not judging.
Against common and popular misconception, Jesus was not teaching a simplistic prohibition on judging. Those who can read Chinese can read an excellent blog here on the Greek word study on judging. If you don’t read Chinese, you don’t even need to read the blog to see that Jesus was not prohibiting judgment of any kind. Rather, the verses in Luke 6.41-42 give the clear and proper context for making any kind of judgment. Jesus observed that the plank in the judge’s eye would keep him or her from telling the fellow disciple that there was a speck in the person’s eye. Notice that Jesus never denied that the speck was in the eye of the disciple. He was clearly making a judgment call. He was also noting that others could see the speck as well. Others were also making the judgment call. Thus, judgment does take place in the process of this analogy. How is this related to the shock responses to Gothard’s case?
It is related in the following way. First, we must assume that the plank and speck were made of the same material when Jesus spoke. Jesus was not talking about different sins. He was talking about sins of the same nature but of different degree. Obviously, the plank in one’s eye is very serious, so serious that it is deadly. Having a plank in one’s eye would essentially kill the person. In Luke 6.37, Jesus said, “Do not judge or you will be judged.” Surely, you will be judged simply because you’re committing the same fault to a greater degree. This next part is the part that many popular readers of this analogy misses.
Second, Jesus was making a simple observation about religious people who judge. Whatever sin issues one is obsessed with is often the mirror of one’s own equally huge shortfall IN THE SAME SIN. In other words, Gothard has been quite obsessed with moral purity (i.e. the specks in the eyes of others) but that obsession precisely mirrors his own shortfall in a larger degree (i.e. the plank in his own eye). By denouncing problems in others, many Christian teachers deflect the attention on their own exact but more serious problems. Jesus had long observed this problem. If his followers would read a little closer what Jesus taught, then the shock factor ought to be replaced by caution. I’m not saying that every time we make a judgment call on moral and social issue, we’re guilty of the same thing to a larger degree, but Jesus does make us think, doesn’t he? It’s no better time to think than now.
What occupies your sin radar today? Is all we have left these days is “Lust, Caution”? I’m shocked that you’re shocked.