Sunday, December 11, 2011

How Do We Seek Justice when Religious Authorities Disappoint Us? Supporting the “Do Right BJU” Protest

 Are you wearing red tomorrow? Wear it and use it as a reminder to pray for us all to do right.

Raised to have great respect for authority and with a belief that God always plans good things for me, I anticipated that religious authorities in particular would always show my kindness and would offer the best help. Are they not people who have specially dedicated themselves to serve God and His people? The Apostle Paul says to esteem others in a positive way, giving them the benefit of the doubt, if you will. Especially when you are a young child and growing in faith in Jesus, it seems right to look to authorities as role models. This becomes especially important when you finally have the opportunity to carve out the specifics of how you would like to live the rest of your life as a young adult in college. Those early experiences have a profound effect on the rest of your life – how it will be lived and how you will experience it because it colors your outlook through experience. Good experiences build objectivity and confidence in God and in the community of believers around you.

What does the Bible say about example and expectation?

Jesus talked of just authorities through many parables. In a recent post about this subject, I mentioned the Good Shepherd who cannot rest until he leaves the ninety nine to go off to rescue one lost lamb. We are not told whether that lamb was disobedient or wandered off to find circumstances that they well deserved. Rather than playing out a principle of pragmatism that would seem to indicate that ninety nine are more significant than one wayward sheep who may have been entirely deserving of an ill fate, we find our Savior's examples quite different. That shepherd's actions not only tell us of the duty to do good, they give us great insight into the desirable character traits of benevolence that leaders should possess. We should be “moved with compassion” when we encounter those who are helpless, broken, and abused in a way that changes the usual rules of conduct, regardless of whether those who are helpless and broken deserved their condition. The story of the Good Samaritan offers us another example of undeserved kindness, as to the Samaritan People, the Jews were despited and deserving of whatever ill fate they encountered.

In Chapter 7 of the Book of Matthew, Jesus also taught us something about our expectations when it comes to our role models and those who are called to nurture us. Children are those who are in need and lack the ability to provide for themselves, so they look to their parents for help and nurture. When we are hungry and ask our parents for bread, it is unreasonable to expect to be given a stone. I was always perplexed by the other example that Jesus gives in that analogy when he mentions the egg. Could you imagine what it would be like to expect to be given an egg, perhaps the best form of satisfying protein, to discover that you'd not been given something more benign like a stone but had been given a stinging scorpion. They are predators that devour their prey alive, and one of the most deadly of all scorpions can be found in the Middle East and Africa, its Latin genus name translated as “man killer.” They can be small enough to be placed in a child's hand. I've often pondered why Jesus would have used such an extreme example to illustrate an obvious point.
Sadly, our Christian parents, authorities, and our religious authority figures do not undergo some magical change which makes them perfect, even though their influence over us is quite profound. If they have nothing better to give us in their hearts and within their reach, they sometimes give us something quite different from what we'd expect. Sometimes they forget the character trait of benevolence and follow only the fleshly desire to see the guilty punished for their wrongdoing.

Some forget that while they were still a sinner, the Ancient of Days whom they hated came to offer Himself in their stead by taking their punishment of death. Or perhaps they have always felt themselves more deserving of Christ's forgiveness, as if God really picked up on an excellent deal when they decided to pledge themselves to Him as a follower of Jesus? They forget that Jesus left many to come to them and find them in their distress to rescue them from certain death, motivated by God's much unmerited love for them. Though those who we look to as experts in Christianity cannot claim ignorance of these spiritual principles, perhaps many have never seen them modeled in real life. Or perhaps they have put all of their trust in the works of the flesh and traditions of men, and when they feel threatened (read of an example on chucklestravels), they find that they do not have enough faith in God to follow the Good Shepherd's example.

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Much to the terror of our hearts, sometimes those we look to as just authorities and God's special ambassadors to us (pastors and others who hold positions of ministry) don't give us eggs when we are hungry, wounded, and lack the ability to find that nurture for ourselves. Sometimes they give us scorpions instead. We look to them, expecting to find help when we are most in need of it, and we find something that makes our original condition much worse. Not only are their actions violent to us because they add insult to our injury, their abuse of our trust seems greatly magnified because of our vulnerability. We're not an ideal position to be able to “take the high road” right away, and their response can be far more devastating to us than our original pain.

We should expect to receive goodness from God through those who represent Him. Sometimes we don't, just as this mother of a student at BJU realized when she was also a student there. She is just one of many examples of women who were tossed aside because of attitudes that women who have become “bruised fruit” can be sacrificed to protect reputations and cover up scandals. Maybe it is that women are just of low worth in their eyes to begin with? They become the abandoned lamb, sacrificed under the pretense that it is what is best for the group. The virtuous end of what they deem best for the group justifies the means of abandoning wounded lambs. It's ironic when you step back to look at the original mission which focuses on rescuing the lost from destruction.

Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully
as when they do it from religious conviction.

Should we confront those who disappoint us?

In the same chapter where we find the parable of the wandering sheep, we read the instruction to go to those who have offended us to seek justice and reconciliation. Within institutions like Bob Jones University, you may find yourself without a voice and without recourse to be able to confront those who have offended you. Does this mean that justice should be abandoned? Does this mean that people should not expect their religious authorities to “do right until the stars fall”?

Also, this raises questions about a disappointed and abused person's duty to others. If you have been abused and do nothing to seek justice, you can go on to focus on your own healing and accept the matter over time. But what of others who find themselves in the same situation that you did? If you say nothing, it may seem that the matter affects only you, but you are not an island unto yourself. “Europe is the less” (John Donne). The community suffers because nothing changes the situation which perpetuates and facilitates the wrongdoing. Keeping silent becomes a passive way of strengthening the arms of those who abuse by supporting those who old up the abuser. If you came forward and it changed the situation enough that someone else could come forward, and the chain of events resulted in protecting another innocent lamb in days to come, does that not imply a duty to come forward? Evil often prevails, not because great men fail to do great acts to conquer evil. Evil often prevails when good men make a choice to do absolutely nothing, saying nothing because they don't want to get involved (based on the quote from Sir Edmund Burke).

Studies on bullying and on those who follow the ease of human tendency who go along with the crowd tell us that the actions of a single dissident have a profound effect on those around them. It seems that it is human tendency that when others around us say something that we don't agree with, we face tremendous pressure to conform to the popular opinion of the group. (Learn more about the Asch Study.) This is human nature – to go along with consensus, not necessarily to gain the good opinion of the group but because this is the path of least resistance. Doing nothing seems benign, but this is only an illusion. When we come forward, as Philip Zimbardo points out so well in his book, The Lucifer Effect, our actions create a safe place for others who are like us to step forward, too.

But I'm not directly involved....

Was the Good Samaritan directly involved with the injured man at the side of the road? I think that he made a choice to be involved, out of beneficence and benevolence. Ashley Henry who has been openly participating on the “Do Right BJU” protest has written a blog post addressing this issue. You don't have to be a student or an alum of Bob Jones University to support those who have been abandoned and mistreated. She writes:

I'm just becoming increasingly disturbed by the defenses I hear surrounding why people don't want to "get involved" with the Tina Anderson case. That's just it. It's really not about the Tina Anderson case. In fact, that's the entire reason Tina was willing to go through with this case. Because she realized this was a common issue and she hoped her case would bring these situations to light and at least stimulate a healthy desire to learn what to do WHEN you're faced with the issue of abuse. When, not if. Because you will be in one way or another. It may eventually happen to some of you. It may eventually happen to your brother or sister or son or daughter. And then what will you do when people start handing you the same generic excuses not to care that you handed out about this current scandal?

And that's just it. Most of the people involved with the Do Right BJU movement have either been abused or known someone close to them who was abused. This isn't about hating Bob Jones and being "bitter" towards them. This is a group of people who have heard all these same excuses in their personal life and they saw an opportunity in this case to speak out against the wrong responses to abuse.  [Read more HERE.]

Lend your voice to those that have none. Trust God for the courage to do what is right. You have a choice to keep silent about injustice, but you also have a choice to stand beside the disenfranchised and damaged, too. I am reminded of some other words of Jesus which speak of inaction from the end of Matthew, Chapter 25:

Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these,
ye did it not to me. (verse 45)

Don't leave Him and your own flesh in prison.

Live up to what the word says, just like Bob Jones, Sr admonished. “Do what you're supposed to do and you will see results.”

Also read Hannah Thomas' reflections about tomorrow's peaceful protest.

And remember, you only intimidate the weak...