Youthful Indiscretions, Virginia Politics, and Redemption (Part 2) February 23 2019
(Part of BCF’S blog series: “Society, Selflessness, and the Scriptures")
The Commonwealth of Virginia, home of my growing-up years, continues to be in the news, and not in a good way. Although the abortion controversy was overtaken by the Governor Northam “blackface” incident, other controversies have also engulfed the Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General. To recap, a photo became public from Governor Northam’s yearbook from medical school of a person dressed up in “blackface” standing next to another person dressed up as a member of Ku Klux Klan. Governor Northam initially admitted to being in that photo, but later denied it. Virginia’s Lieutenant Governor has now been accused of sexual assault, and the Attorney General admitted to a blackface incident of his own.
In the last blog, we talked about how powerful Jesus’ example was when He walked on the earth, as He shattered the prejudices of His day. We discussed how racial prejudices lasted far too long in the U.S., and that we have come a long way since then, though remnants still exist.
But what today’s politics brings out is that virtually anything in our past, no matter how long ago and no matter how people have changed, can now result in public shaming, humiliation, and even loss of a job. Perhaps political consultants advise that this is necessary (sadly) to win elections, but dredging up every incident from someone’s past to gain political advantage undermines the message we should be sending to society about the availability and power of redemption. To be sure, character is critically important as a qualification for office, but a failure to acknowledge the possibility of a changed life can keep gifted, service-minded individuals from taking on civic responsibilities. With the brutality of today’s political dialogue, is it any wonder that good people leave public service and others don’t get in?
But let’s face it. We have all done some really foolish things in the past, maybe even in the recent past. In biblical terms, “foolish things” usually translates to unloving, sinful things, where we did not consider others as more important than ourselves (Philippians 2:3). So what about redemption? As believers, we should understand redemption more than anyone else, given what has been revealed to us about the depth of our need for it, and the price Jesus paid to secure it for us. There are many scriptural references on this, but suffice it to say that: “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us” (Ephesians 1:7-8).
The Bible is filled with examples of redemption. Where would King David be, were it not for God’s redeeming grace? Where would Paul and Peter be? Where would the thief on the cross be? According to today’s secular standards, the Apostle Paul would never have been allowed to minister in the church. Ananias had to be convinced through a vision from God that the “new Saul” (a.k.a. Paul) was for real and was not a danger to the saints (Acts 9:10-19). It was reported that “When he came to Jerusalem, he was trying to associate with the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple” (Acts 9:26). This skepticism was understandable. But the reality of Paul’s changed life and boldness for the gospel became apparent very quickly.
According to today’s standards, David should never have become known as a “man after God’s own heart.” He committed adultery, tried to cover it up, and ultimately committed a murder by sending Uriah to the front lines of battle. Two of the Psalms attributed to David (32 and 51), are among the most descriptive in the Bible of how a person with a pattern of sin can be forgiven and restored. The repentant thief on the cross reminds us that no one is beyond God’s forgiveness. The Apostle Peter denied that he was associated with Jesus, not once, but three times. Did this disqualify him from ministry? Not at all! After he was restored, and after Jesus’ resurrection, he was one of the Lord’s most bold, ardent followers.
One of the wonderful things about the Scriptures is that God allows us to see both the dark, sinful side of human nature, as well as His readiness to take us back. This is why we can relate so well to the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), which so amazingly illustrates God’s compassion, patience, and readiness to restore us and take us back under his wings. This is powerful hope!
So that brings us back to how we should consider redemption for political figures, employees, those within our spiritual family, and in our physical family. We at BCF have been privileged to see God’s work in many, many lives. This is part of what makes this ministry so hopeful and fulfilling, and why, by God’s grace, the BCF ministry has continued for almost 45 years. Here are a few observations:
- We should celebrate changed lives, not try to manipulate people or continue to punish them by bringing up sins of the past. God recorded the personal failings of biblical characters for our instruction, not for the purpose of humiliation or accusation. As Romans 15:4 states: “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”
- At the same time, we need to be discerning about whether a person truly has a changed life or whether he is merely saying the “right words.” In reality, we know that a truly changed life cannot occur apart from salvation through Jesus Christ. Even in the political realm, we generally need to make judgements based on overall character, to the extent we can know that. But aside from politics, if an event has occurred that has caused a breach of trust, we can assist those individuals by helping them put in place some steps to avoid temptation as well as minimize even the appearance of evil. How these individuals accept counsel will be an evidence of how serious they are in demonstrating change. Ronald Reagan’s axiom on international relations: “Trust, but verify” comes to mind here.
- Expect some people to be skeptical about your own changed life. It takes time to develop a pattern of demonstrated faithfulness, and you may need to go to extra measures to help others see how the change is genuine. For example, if it has to do with infidelity, or the suspicion of it, make sure your spouse knows exactly where you are or where you are going at all times, and don’t put yourself in a position of being alone with a person of the opposite sex. This is consistent with the biblical command to “Flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22).
- We need to be prepared to accept the consequences of our actions. Someone who was caught embezzling money may have confessed, made restitution, and now “shares with those who have needs” (per Ephesians 4:28), but he may not be a good choice for church treasurer. Not only does that put him in the path of temptation, but it could be a stumbling block to others. This is also why we are very careful about the reputations and record of those we have in children’s ministry. It is possible that people could get fired from a job as a consequence of something they have done, or they may have difficulty getting another job. While this may be discouraging as one of the physical consequences of sin, they can still have a vibrant relationship with the Lord, who is always patiently waiting, longing to take them back, like the father of the prodigal son.
So what about politics? Apparently political positioning/manipulation will be with us forever, and it will likely even intensify in this age of social media. In principle, poor judgement or sin from years ago should not automatically disqualify a person from service. If we pay attention, there is usually enough information (not always) on an individual’s current character qualities and policy positions to make a voting decision. As Christians, we have the benefit of having seen the power of redemption in our own lives and the lives of others, so we should not too quickly dismiss a person for a “youthful indiscretion.” We hope and pray for more elected leaders, as well as citizens, who will have that same understanding.
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