• Maggie Wallem Rowe

At What Price, Silence?

I don’t want to read them either.

The headlines, that is. We already have a pandemic raging that has changed the lives of every single one of us. Isn’t that enough?

When you join me here for Views from the Ridge, I long for you to leave encouraged, inspired, and equipped. I’d like to stick to mountain vistas and spectacular sunsets and stories of hope, help, and human kindness. I don’t want to focus on the ugliness of life in my literary lens, or speak words of caution, exhortation, or rebuke that might offend readers who trust me with their time.

But there are times we cannot keep silent.

When Mike and I pray together each night, the first words that spill out are those of gratitude. “Oh Lord, we have so much to be thankful for, and we truly are.” And then comes a litany of deep concerns for our friends, our country, our world.

Moments ago, ABC news reported that Hurricane Laura is now category 4 with “unsurvivable storm surges.” Family and friends in the target zone have already evacuated. LORD, have mercy.

On the West Coast, hundreds of California wildfires are decimating thousands of acres of land, swallowing up homes and businesses. Family and friends have evacuated. LORD, have mercy.

Other than fervent intercession along with physical and financial assistance, there is nothing we can do to mitigate disasters due to natural causes. But what about trauma caused purely by human hubris, stupidity, and sin? When those responsible let the name of Christ drip from their lips, should the rest of us say nothing in hopes the world will not notice?

They have.

Yesterday we awoke to stories on almost every major outlet regarding the longtime president of a large Christian university who resigned following breaking news of an eight-year sexual scandal, and then reneged on his resignation in order to negotiate his ten-million-dollar payout. I won’t rehash the story here of years of documented sordid behavior by this individual and his “first lady,” but I reached for a bucket to hold the contents of my stomach. I have no personal connection with this institution, but I know many fine people who are students, faculty or alumni. They deserve better than what their president has given them.

Here’s what niggling at me today, friends.

Alumni and faculty members, some speaking anonymously for fear of retribution, had been sounding the alarm about their president for years, and yet the Board of Trustees did not take their concerns seriously enough to remove him. Nightclubbing, questionable parties on yachts with people who could not keep their pants zipped, racist tweets… nothing was deemed egregious enough to dismiss a leader with a famous last name. The inaction is not surprising. This university president gave the institution what Americans worship: success. More impressive building programs, a booming enrollment.

Whether the individual in question is the leader of a college, church, or country, how long do we remain silent?

We expect criticism to come from the opposition. It goes with the territory of serving as a leader. But when those most vested in an institution, or the longtime supporters of a political party, sound the alarm about a leader they appointed or elected, why do we not listen? Do we overlook his or her words and actions as regrettable but justified because they deliver the policies or programs we want? What has happened to our moral compass? To our witness?

Sincere followers of Christ who know and love Scripture sometimes unwittingly silence others with the admonition, “Judge not, lest you be judged” (Matt. 7:1-3). Does this mean that we are never supposed to judge others, or is Jesus warning of the danger of hypocrisy by those who use his name for personal, promotional, or even political purposes without living by his precepts?

I ran this question by my favorite pastor this morning – the one I’ve been married to for 44 years.

“My understanding of the text is that the word ‘judge’ carries the implication of condemning. It is not our place to condemn anyone or to wish judgment and punishment upon them,” Mike commented. “However, Jesus told us we are to assess or evaluate a tree by its fruit. It is legitimate for us to determine whether someone is genuine by how they behave. That is an evaluation, not a condemnation. If a leader prays or governs in the name of Christ, it is our responsibility to discern whether their words and actions are in alignment with the word of God or not. We use this type of thinking in countless decisions we make every day.”

Sometimes obeying God necessitates making a judgment, as when Paul warned the church about sexual immorality and the need for careful discernment within the body of believers (1 Cor. 5). Scripture also instructs us to discipline a believer caught in sin with the goal of restoration (Gal. 6:1). Correcting others requires a careful look within in order to render a proper judgment without.

Thanks be to God, the gospel is that of the Second Chance, and the third and the tenth and the twentieth. None of us are perfect, we all have a past, and when we confess our sins our Creator stands ready to clean us up from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

Let’s pray for this discredited university president, and all those in power, that they will find grace in disgrace by owning their sin, repenting, and living in the freedom that forgiveness brings.

And let it begin with us.

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- A paragraph of this piece first appeared in This Life We Share, copyright 2020, Maggie Wallem Rowe. Used by permission.

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