Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Haggard, Hypocrites, and Hell in the Media

Recently I’ve been wondering why journalism in all its forms seems dedicated to the notion that the most important news is bad news. I can’t speak for everyone, but for me it gets tiresome hearing or seeing the words “Iraq,”1 “insurgents,”2 “Haggard,”3 or “Gibson,”4 every time I turn on NPR or open up the paper (Insert time appropriate word: 1-Palestine, Israel, N. Korea; 2-guerillas, Hezbollah, Hamas, Al-Qaeda; 3-Foley, priests, Clinton, Jefferson, Pee-Wee; 4-Michael Richards, etc.). You’d think we’d be impossible to shock after the long parade of scandal, tragedy, terror, and corruption that has been passing us by even in the years since Kennedy’s assassination. You’d think Foley would be par for the course since congressman Gerry Studds was guilty of not only salacious correspondence, but a full on sexual encounter with a page 23 years ago.5 And Foley comes as a shock?! You’d think after Nixon, we’d be prepared for corruption, but, no, we still spend months scrambling for every scrap of info about Abramoff. Why is it still interesting?

A few years ago, I was talking to a police officer about the sad depths to which people sink, when I commented that even the best of us have the capability to sink to these depths. I’ll never forget his rebuff: “There’s no need to put a black mark on everyone.” Implied in this statement is the idea that mankind is spotless-only peoples’ choices make them bad, and those few bad people are the problem. Perhaps the media, like the police officer I encountered a few years back, is obsessed with negative news because they still refuse to acknowledge that mankind has a deeply-ingrained evil. They dedicate their powers to exposing the anomalies, thinking they’re doing humankind a service. “If we blow the whistle on all the bad-guys, then the world will be a better place.”

Robyn Blumner was one of the many writers who unloaded criticisms upon the Foley’s and Haggard’s of the world: the hypocrites who preach against a sin only to indulge in it in private. Blumner stated in a recent editorial: “In Dante’s descending circles of Hell, hypocrites were cast into the eighth and penultimate level in honor of their status…I think Dante was too kind. On the scale of despicableness, the hypocrite is king.”6 Ron Hart, in another editorial wrote, “These folks have a special place in Hell reserved for them.” 7

Now before I voice my response and before you think I’m justifying Haggard’s or Foley’s actions, let me offer a few caveats: first, I recognize that this kind of media judgment is not reserved to liberals criticizing conservatives. The knife cuts both ways, and when every conservative was throwing stones at Clinton for the Lewinsky scandal I was right there with them, but I was pretty naïve then. In my older and hopefully wiser years I’m learning that these witch-hunts, regardless of their source or target, do little to make the world a better place.

Second, I do believe that the two writers I’ve referenced were right about hypocrites-that they deserve every bit of hell they get. Jesus himself spoke many parables to this end. Nonetheless, there are a couple of things that bother me about these writers’ position.

First, their tone just gets to me. They write with such a snobbish, snide and vitriolic ad hominem, you’d think they’d never done a bad thing in their lives. This is actually the thing that pushed me over the edge to type this essay out: I was watching O’Reilly factor over the Christmas break, and the guest host was tearing into Michael Richards and Mel Gibson with such self-righteousness, I just couldn’t handle it anymore. Now get me—I don’t think that what either one of them did was right or justifiable, but for goodness’ sake folks, have you not ever screwed up? Have you not ever flown off the handle and said something you regret later? Should their be accountability? Of course, but can’t we do it with a little more restraint? Can’t we be a bit more understanding? Can’t we be decent enough to admit that we too have screwed up in similar ways? This brings me to the other problem I have with the pundits: in launching their tirades against the Haggards and Foleys, they do the very thing they claim to despise in Haggard and Foley-judging others.

Hart states, “After denying that he ever met the gay escort who says he had a three-year relationship with him, Rev. Ted finally confessed. Yet, before I cast the first stone, what man among us has not summoned a gay male prostitute to our hotel room for a massage and to score a little methamphetamine with Church money?” (emphasis mine). The italicized above is alluding of course to the woman caught in adultery in John 8, whose prosecutors were a group of scribes and Pharisees ready to stone her. Now I’m sure SOME of the Pharisees and scribes could have asked a similar sarcastic question regarding the prostitute: “Before I cast the first stone, what one of us hasn’t committed adultery?” And some of them probably could have passed that test. But notice –Jesus didn’t say, “He who is without adultery, let him cast the first stone,” but “sin.” Even these self-righteous men knew enough of God’s law to know they had their share of sin, so what did they do? They dropped the stones and left. Not so, Hart. He proceeds to state that the likes of Haggard should burn in hell.

I’m really starting to notice that the cover boys for hypocrisy in this nation (the Swaggarts, Bakkers, Foleys, Haggards) have become a nice dumping off point for a new crew of scribes. The hypocritical four above may be or may have been Pharisees in the worst sense of the term (Yes, I’m one of those people who actually believe people can change), but we as a people have become a nation of scribes-writing, reading and indulging in the scapegoating of big names so we don’t have to deal with the real problem: ME.

Jesus could get off with saying hypocrites should burn in the depths of hell because He wasn’t one. But that’s not true of Hart or Blumner or me. The people behind the scandals may get railroaded in the papers and they may be hypocrites now, but thank God that He’s not like Hart or Blumner, or else they wouldn’t have a second chance. None of us would. Psalm 109:31 says of God, “For He stands at the right hand of the needy, To save him from those who would judge his soul.” I find those words at the end interesting-“judge his soul.” When mankind denies the blatant reality that we are all beset by weaknesses and failings, it makes it easy to single out those whom on a social level are worse than us, and not only demand discipline, but judgment upon their very souls.

5 "Studds did not apologize, but admitted to 'a very serious error in judgment.'[5] As his censure was read, Studds faced the Speaker who was reading the motion, with his back to the other House members.[1][6] Later, at a press conference with the former page, both stated that the young man, who was 17, consented. Studds continued to be reelected until his retirement in 1997.[4]"

6 Blumner, Robyn. "Their Demons Make Them Do It."

7 Hart, Ron. "Ministers Do More Than Laypeople."


Matt said...

I totally agree, brah. I have noticed the same thing in the hospital setting. At least 1/3 and probably more of our patients are admitted to the hospital because of something they have done to themselves either with drinking, drugs, smoking, or violence. And health care professionals are some of the worst of all hypocrites. They have no compassion for people who are in the hospital for something they "did to themselves." Granted, I get frustrated with patients all the time, especially when they won't let me help them. But I get tired of my colleagues writing patients off with this sort of "they deserve what they get" attitude, especially our patient's with addiction. I have not been there for long but I can imagine that a few of my colleagues could have underlying addiction problems themselves one day if not already, but we all like to separate ourselves from our patient population. The reality is that if most of us were born into our patient's situations we would be right where they are. I have been blessed to be born into a good family and to have met the Lord at a young age. Most people do not have that luxury. Again, I am not making excuses for people's actions because there are certainly many examples of people who rise up out of bad situations to do great things and become great citizens, but I agree with you that we should at least evaluate our own hearts and thoughts first. I think if people were honest they would find very dark and dirty things (e.g., selfishness, lust, pride, malice, etc.) that are only prevented from coming out by socioeconomic and legal obstacles. The people we villify are only the people that let those dark and dirty things bubble over to the surface (and get caught).

brianmetz said...

Good post. Articulate and well thought out.

I think that obviously the definition of "sin" and depravity is lost on most individuals in and out of the church. The idolization of pastors or ministers as celebrities does not help the situation either. I think if pastors/ministers would be more transparent and accountable to others that it help alleviate some of this scandal. What is scandal but gossip anyway. The scriptures say that love covers a multitude of sin. Besides, we ALL deserve Hell. The beauty then of the Gospel is that Jesus gives us access to Heaven (a relationship with God).

Great waxing my friend.

Anonymous said...

Hey Chucko, you want good news thatis entertaining and often optimistic, turn to the new media: conservative talk radio. Laura Ingraham and Rush man, I'm an adict.