I was 10 years old when the story of Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky broke. I didn’t know many details, but I quickly learned that private actions have public consequences.
Sitting around the dinner table with my family, government was a typical topic of conversation. I was always interested. I was a big boy in school who knew how the government worked. I knew politics, had opinions, and made sure to share them.
When the Clinton scandal reached its peak, I heard the righteous indignation of my parents and joined in. I stated very articulately how character matters. I clamored about how he should step down and let a true leader take his place.
It was during one such monologue over dinner that someone, I can’t remember who, looked at me with the most confused look. He tilted his head to the side and asked me, “Can you state with certainty that, if you were in a position of power and faced constant temptation, you would fare better? Can you look me in the eyes and tell me you are above the sin that has trapped another man? While I certainly pray and hope that I would, I can’t state with certainty I would be able.”
That question both quieted and humbled me. My 10-year-old pride wanted to believe I could withstand the temptation. I just heard the story of Joseph running from Potiphar’s wife and I knew that I would run away too. But then I remembered I couldn’t resist the temptation of cookies. My mother had instructed dessert was only to be eaten after dinner, but I might have snuck one to my room before the guests arrived.
With the recent sex scandals sweeping the nation right now, I return to that conversation. Much has changed in the last 22 years. I now have a wife and children. I am a believer now; I wasn’t then. I still wrestle with pride, but I recognize how easily I have and can fall into sin.
I’m not here to excuse or minimize the sin of the people in Hollywood, New York, or D.C. But I think, for the Christian, it would benefit us to take a step back and reconsider our righteous indignation, our anger, and our pontification in conversations and social media rants.
This is an opportunity to express humility and grace, like my parents,’ friend while still calling sin what it is. My parents’ friend never excused Clinton. He never minimized his failing. Yet, he also removed me from the pedestal of judge, jury, and executioner.
There is an old story about John Bradford, an English Christian preacher and martyr. He was with a friend as a group of criminals were being led to the scaffold. People around him were jeering and taunting the men. Justice was being done. But Bradford’s response was simply, “There but for the grace of God, goes John Bradford.”
Now, Bradford could have had many thoughts in mind. Being an evangelical was illegal at the time. He was burned at the stake because of his religious beliefs just a few years later. But his quote, altered to say, “There but for the grace of God, go I,” has so many connotations.
That was basically the point of my parents’ friend. He wasn’t stating that he knew he would give into temptation. But he was stating that, apart from the grace and strength of God, he could easily fall.
As I harken back to that conversation, I realize, “There but for the grace of God, goes Teddy James.” I may not be a powerful man in a position of authority and influence, but I have placed every safeguard against sexual infidelity I possibly can. I don’t believe these men did. Most of them didn’t think it necessary, or actively fought safeguards God placed around them.
For Christians, especially Christian men, who see these stories, they should encourage us to renew our desire for purity, integrity, and accountability. These headlines, and the ruined families behind them, should humble us to realize that anyone can fail, anyone can fall. We are not above their sin. We are not above temptation.
For me personally, I have men around me who watch my life. I have rules for myself regarding internet usage. I have to place protections around me because I know how easy it is to fall into sexual sin.
None of this excuses or minimizes the sexual assault(s) committed in these stories. But in light of all this, how should we Christians respond to news of sexual abuse and violations committed by powerful men? I think we will always feel anger and righteous indignation at violence and injustice. Even the lost world does that. But believers should have a deeper, more powerful response as well. I’ll discuss that in the next, and final, article concerning the sex scandals.