Integrity in the Blogisphere

If you have read my About page, you know that one of my goals for this website is to report on current events from a Christian perspective.  Honestly, I have not done much of this, still being a relatively new blogger and unsure of my footing as a journalist in the blogisphere.  However, I may have made some progress in the woeful tale of Tom White.

Wednesday morning, April 18, officials found Voice of the Martyrs (VOM) executive director Tom White’s body in one of the organization’s buildings.  No specifics were offered except to say it appeared White committed suicide.  The day before, Bartlesville, OK police had opened up an investigation into White, who had been accused of molesting a young girl.  Again, no specifics were offered, but on April 20, the following was offered as part of a statement made by the VOM board:

“The events of the last week are tragic.  On Wednesday we learned that Tom White, VOM’s executive director, had died.

“Allegations were made to authorities this week that Tom had inappropriate contact with a young girl.   Rather than face those allegations, and all of the resulting fallout for his family and this ministry and himself, Tom appears to have chosen to take his own life.”

After the news broke, a Baptist pastor ran an open letter on his personal blog to the victim of Tom’s alleged crime (a 10-year-old girl, who he called ‘Tabitha’).  A few days later, he said he received a phone call from the girl’s father.  In a subsequent blog post he stated that while he would not share details of the conversation out of respect for the victim and her family as well as the family of Tom White, “What I can say is that there is no doubt the abuse occurred.  In addition, there is no doubt the open letter helped this young girl’s family.”

A firestorm of comments spread throughout the blogisphere, on the pastor’s blog as well as on many other blogs where the matter has been dissected, much of which I have been following for the past two+ months.  I don’t have a problem with the original “Open Letter” to the supposed victim of White’s crime.  The pastor wanted to reach out to the young girl, and without contact information his blog was a good choice for communicating his thoughts, concerns and prayers.  But like some commenters, I wonder about his pronouncement of guilt on Mr. White as well as his motivation for writing the second post.  The pastor defends himself against questions about his motives by saying he merely wanted to minister to the girl and her family, but it seems to me those goals were better served through the private conversation he had plus any subsequent private contact that might occur, not through a public blog that the entire world could read.

According to our country’s Constitution, we are all entitled to our opinions and have the right of free public speech.  However, God expects Christians to behave in a way that honors Him and faithfully represents who He is to those around us.  This obligation to be true ambassadors of Christ (2 Cor. 5:20) is higher than the law of the land, but if we are thoughtful, we can do both.

Before going any further, let me make my own position clear.  I am a trained journalist.  As such I understand a person’s First Amendment right to express his opinion in a public forum.  But I also understand the Bill of Rights proclamation that states a person is innocent until proven guilty.  These are rights that all Americans enjoy, yet rights that are easily trampled if caution is not exercised.

As a contract writer for the LA Times and crime reporter for a regional newspaper, my job depended on my faithful adherence to these two important principles with every word I typed.  That is why, attempting to be neutral in their reporting of crimes, reporters use words such as “alleged,” “reported” and “supposed” instead of outright statements of guilt (or innocence) before a trial brings the facts to light and a conviction can be made.

Certainly, by all outward appearances, and using a rational thought process, it seems entirely possible that Tom White molested the young girl.  I can’t imagine any other reason that a person would commit suicide in the face of a criminal investigation.  But just because we can’t imagine something doesn’t mean it isn’t true, and if there is one thing I have learned as a journalist it is that virtually anything is possible.  And so for the sake of the principles of this great American nation, and for the sake of the unknown details of this case, I will not pronounce guilt on Mr. White, and I daresay nor should anyone else outside of a court of law.  To do so would be un-American, and un-Christian.

Un-Christian? What about the call to judgment? What I know about judgment is what Jesus himself taught:

Do not judge, and you will not be judged.  Do not condemn, and you will not be
condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.  Give, and it will be given to you.  A
good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your
lap.  For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.  
—Luke 6: 37-38 (also found in Matthew 7)

Is there no place for criminal judgment in our society?  Of course there is.  Thankfully, the American justice system is still founded on Judeo-Christian principles, whose architect is God Himself.  But White is dead, he can’t be tried in a court of law, one might rightly say.  Yet God’s response is the same whether White is alive or dead: “Vengeance is mine, I will repay” (Romans 12:19, quoting from Deut. 32: 35).

If Tom White committed a crime and a sin, dead though he may be, rest assured God will deal with him. It is not our place to judge him, or his family, or the supposed victim in this case, or VOM.

Back to the topic of integrity in the blogisphere, the point I am trying to make here is that God’s law concerning human interaction should be our plume line when making decisions of judgment, not our culture or any personal opinions we may have based on hearsay (a legal term for ‘rumor’).

I also think it is important to be true to whatever role we currently serve in life.  As I see it, my role as a Christian journalist analyzing current events is to maintain neutrality while hopefully helping others to see God’s perspective in the matter at hand.

So what is a pastor’s role in the world and in the blogisphere?  When I ponder this question, I personally don’t see any diminishing of vocational duty just because the pastor’s blog is personal in nature vs. church related.  Thus I have a strong sense that a pastor’s role is to proclaim truth laced heavily with grace toward all those within his/her realm of influence, including his/her outreach to the Web community.

Truth—that sin is ugly and worthy of God’s righteous judgment (Romans 3:23, Romans 6:23)…and grace—that in Christ, forgiveness (both God’s forgiveness of our own sins as well as the ability to forgive others) and healing are extended to both the sinner and the victim of sin (John 3:16, Romans 8:1).

Obviously we can never fill Jesus’ shoes and live perfectly the example He set.  But we can do our best, and really, no matter what roles we play in society, aren’t we all responsible for what we know of God’s love and grace?  Both Old and New Testaments say that we are.  So whether we’re journalists, pastors, or Mr. or Ms. Average Christian, we can intentionally withhold personal judgment against our fellow human being, allowing God His due as Judge, and let our speech and our actions be sprinkled with the unbounding love of our Redeemer, Jesus Christ.

Evidence of Forgiveness-Part 2

In Matthew 18:21-35, Jesus tells a parable about a man who owes a large sum of money to a local king.  When the king realizes the man cannot repay the debt, he orders him and his family to be sold into slavery until the debt is paid.  The man begged for more time, and the king had pity on him, cancelling his debt all together.  The man did not deserve it, but because of the king’s great compassion he forgave the debt anyway.  The man was free!  Not only that, his account had a zero balance…he could start life anew.

But the story continues.  After leaving his master, the man found his own countryman who owed him some money, grabbed him around the neck and choked him, demanding repayment of his loan.  This debtor also begged, but the man refused to have any mercy and had the debtor thrown into prison.  When the king heard this, he was outraged.  Calling the man whose debt he had forgiven into his presence, he said, “You wicked servant!   I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to.  Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had mercy on you?”

There’s a little more to the story, and it’s really important so I encourage you to read on.  But I stopped at verse 33 to illustrate a point.  When we truly understand the magnitude of our debt and that by trusting in Jesus Christ as our Savior we are utterly forgiven, I mean really understand it, the knowledge changes our hearts and our lives, our attitudes and behaviors.

It’s easy to forget what forgiveness really means.  Being married, raising children, living with family, getting along with neighbors and coworkers, all require continual acts of forgiveness.  We think we know what forgiveness is.  But every once in a while a person comes along who is dishonest, manipulative, spiteful, belligerent or just plain mean.  Maybe we try to reason with the person, make amends, but our efforts are completely rebuffed and we are belittled in the process.  We can never forgive that person now, nor do we feel the need to.  Because he/she doesn’t deserve to be forgiven.

Oh, my, now we are touching the essence of forgiveness, for true forgiveness means forgiving even those – especially those – who do not deserve it.  THIS is the point of Jesus’ parable:  When we really ‘get’ the depths of our own depravity and sin toward God and misbehavior toward our fellow humans, and when we truly grasp that God has completely wiped our slates clean (assuming we have placed our faith in Him)…such forgiveness compels us to forgive others in the same way.  Including those who don’t deserve it.

Notice I didn’t say “should compel us.”  When we finally get the whole picture, when we are transformed by the knowledge of God’s total forgiveness of our sins, with the help of the Holy Spirit the revelation DOES compel us to forgive others.  I daresay, if we still cling tightly to our secret grudges, it probably means we don’t truly grasp the ‘dirtiness’ of our own sin or the totality of God’s forgiveness.

Make this a matter of prayer today.  Ask God to gently show you the greatness of your own debt and offense, and then reveal to you the wonderful, far-reaching, everlasting totality of His forgiveness.

More to come.

Evidence of Forgiveness

Thank you to all the faithful readers who have returned to these pages through the months of no new posts.  My father passed away earlier this year, and my mother two years before that.  It’s been a difficult transition losing both my parents, as I feel relatively young for this phase of life.  And as new phases often do, this one brought up a lot of thoughts and feelings that drained my mental and spiritual energy.

Over the past several months, I have gone back time and again to the story of Jacob in the book of Genesis.  A cheater, conniver and manipulator, Jacob had deceived his father and stolen his brother Esau’s birthright, and then run away.  Over many subsequent years, he gained two wives through hard labor for a dishonest father-in-law, had many children and grown rich.  Despite his flawed character, however, God stayed by Jacob’s side (remember his heavenly encounter in Bethel, which he called “the house of God, the gates of heaven,” Gen. 28: 13-22).  Like the Christian bumper sticker says, God loved Jacob for who he was, but wouldn’t let him stay that way.  Jacob changed over the course of time through hardship and pain, as well as joy.

Finally, in Genesis 32, Jacob’s past caught up with him.  He knew his brother Esau was fast approaching, and he feared for his life as well as the lives of his family members.  Jacob did not understand the concept of forgiveness; quite possibly there was a part of him that had never forgiven himself for what he’d done to his father and brother.  Certainly, he didn’t understand God’s forgiveness.  So one night, after sending waves of lavish gifts ahead of his caravan to Esau, he sent his family away to spare their lives, and spent the night alone.

But he wasn’t alone.  The Scriptures tell us:

…a Man wrestled with him until the break of day.  Now when He saw that He did not
prevail against Jacob, He touched the socket of his hip; and the socket of Jacob’s hip
was out of joint as He wrestled with him.  So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel:
“For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.” —Genesis 32: 24-25, 30

I am not a theologian and don’t attempt to explain what is obviously a spiritual encounter of the highest magnitude.  What I think is important to glean from this mysterious passage is that Jacob wrestled with a heavenly being (be it God Himself or an angel of the Lord), and in the words of the “Man”, Jacob prevailed.

Don’t think of ‘prevailed’ in the sense of a conquest.  One never conquers over God or His angel!  But we can wrestle with God and survive…still, we are never again the same.  Any close encounter with the Almighty will leave us scarred but blessed, as wounds are reopened and cleansed, and renewal takes place.

A couple things happened to Jacob that night.  He experienced forgiveness from God, when (I believe) he expected condemnation and destruction.  His heart was permanently changed, along with his name.  The next morning – having braced himself for days against his brother’s wrath – Jacob was met by a tearful Esau, who embraced him with love and acceptance.

Powerful stuff.  But we serve a very powerful God.  Do you feel forgiven today?  Have you been an instrument of forgiveness in the lives of others?  While God can redeem the past (Jacob’s life is proof of that!), there’s no better time than the present to experience God’s forgiveness, and share it with others.