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thoughts on the penn state scandal

November 11, 2011

In the past week, the sex abuse scandal at Penn State has rocked the sports world. On November 4, the Pennsylvania Attorney General indicted Jerry Sandusky on 40 counts of molesting 8 young boys over a 15-year period. Sandusky was a long-time football coach at Penn State. On November 9, the Board of Trustees fired head football coach Joe Paterno. Coach Paterno was made aware of at least one allegation of sexual abuse in 2002. He fulfilled his legal obligation and reported the information to his superiors but did not act beyond that.

Until this time, Penn State’s athletic department was one of the most well-respected athletic programs in the country. They emphasized athletic, academic and character excellence for decades. All of this came crashing down last week.

Here are some thoughts on reacting to the scandal. Of course, these are by no means exhaustive, but I hope they are helpful.

1) We Must Be Tentative in our Judgments. The allegations are heinous, far-reaching and encompass a long period of time. In other words, if they are true, they sketch out deep patterns of diabolical and destrutive sin. Personally, I do not doubt that some (if not many or all) of these allegations are true. However, there is still a legal process still underway for Sandusky. We have to be tentative in our judgments as that process plays out.

For Coach Paterno, on the other hand, the situation is different. We can agree (with him) that he should have done more. Though he fulfilled his technical legal obligation, he did not do what was morally required. It is humbling to see how the power of one sin—a sin of omission in Paterno’s case—can entirely disrupt and overthrow a lifetime that many say was marked by persistent good acts.

2) Grief and Outrage on Behalf of the Victims Is Fitting. I put this one second, because I first wanted to state the need to let Sandusky get his day in court. But if any of these allegations about him are true, this is absolutely deplorable. For the powerful to use their power in a way to crush the weak is something that God hates—and we should hate it as well. As someone who has pastored victims of sexual abuse for over a decade, I have seen the deep and lasting damage that sexual abuse does. It is not a minor sin. Rick Reilly has a very good article about this on the ESPN website.

3) God’s Wrath is a Good Thing. People all over the country are morally outraged, and appropriately so.  This outrage is something akin to “God’s wrath” as it is spelled out in the Bible. God is outraged at human sin. As I mentioned above, God is particularly angered when the powerful crush the weak. We need a God like this. Sin must be opposed.

4) We Need to Take This as a Sober Warning.  St. Paul tells the Corinthians “if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall.” Penn State had such a great reputation. Paterno and Sandusky were powerful, revered men in their world. Any of us in positions of power need to know that power and authority come with great responsibility for others. Also, we should be warned about idolizing any institution or person. Anyone is capable of great sin. This situation should wake all of us up to the power of sin in the world.

5) We Need to Consider the Cross. Though we must pursue justice, we cannot do so with self-righteousness. Each of us has our own sins and weaknesses with which we must deal. Also, we all sin differently, and many of us do not sin to the degree described in these allegations. However, God’s gift of forgiveness offered through Christ is big enough to cover all sins—even the sins of molesting children and abusing authority. The cross has always been scandalous as it offers hope and forgiveness for the worst of our sins.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Angela permalink
    November 11, 2011 11:13 am

    These types of situations make the concept of ‘forgiveness’ and ‘grace’ incredibly difficult to reconcile. I know what we are called to do, I know what Jesus has done for us, I know that I am not blameless by a long-shot, but even still…it’s a good thing Jesus is better than me, is all I can say. And if people like this make it into heaven through God’s amazing grace, I still think it will be challenging not to punch them if the face when I get there.

  2. November 11, 2011 2:33 pm

    really great John, good words. I’m sharing it on our church’s facebook page.

    • John permalink*
      November 11, 2011 3:45 pm

      You’re welcome, Brian. Glad it is helpful.

  3. Darik permalink
    November 11, 2011 3:08 pm

    Thanks so much for helping me to be able to start trying to put my anger and horror over this situation into the perspective of Gods justice and mercy and grace. This organization called Second Mile apparently takes it’s name from the sermon on the mount where Jesus tells us if our brother asks us to walk a mile with them we should walk a second mile. I pray I will be willing to walk alongside the innocent and defenseless people that I see around me whose lives have been torn apart by sin.

    • John permalink*
      November 11, 2011 3:44 pm

      You’re welcome. Glad the post helped. Click on the link under Angela’s comment. It’s another post by a friend of mine. Helpful stuff.

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