In recent days Bill Cosby’s ability to continue covering up his past misdeeds has become hindered. His credibility has been challenged, his calling to African American’s to live with dignity, and his calling to all American’s to promote a higher standard of morality and social decency has been destroyed. He will never be looked at again as someone capable of sharing wisdom for living.
Jared Fogel of Subway has been charged in crimes related to child pornography. Fogel never called us to live on moral high-ground, but he did tell us to care for our bodies. As Subway’s spokesman, Americans believed they could trust him. Now, American’s feel deceived, trust has been broken, and he will never again find himself as a voice of reason in our over-consumptive culture.
Josh Duggar, too, has now been exposed as someone who (in addition to having issues regarding molestation) cheated on his wife while working for a political group that preaches the sanctity of marriage and the need for strong family values. Like Cobsy and Fogel, any credibility Josh had is now gone. These stories lead me to ask, “Is anyone left who still has virtue?”
The thing that gets me about all of these guys, is that they portrayed themselves to represent certain values and were exposed as hypocrites. When someone who does not pass himself or herself off as being morally superior to others falls, people are less likely to throw stones.When one is not a leader, less is expected with regard to behavior.
It is also interesting to see how the media treats people based on public opinion. As my wife pointed out to me, when the Duggar family is in the news for doing something good they are referred to as a sweet family and put in a positive light, but whenever one of them (well ok, Josh) does something that the public finds to be immoral, then all of a sudden it is not a sweet family, but a fundamentalist homeschool family.
Finally, now over 33 million people have been exposed as potential cheaters. They have used services to make affairs happen just for the sake of having an affair. We all know that affairs are cancer in committed relationships, but now culture almost embraces them as things that go on a bucket list.
We live in a culture where virtue has become a matter of taste. Our society rejects an absolute standard of right and wrong, but continues to seek justice. While denying that absolute truth exists, those in our society want the benefits that come with having such standards. Because the standard has been removed, people tend to pick and choose what is right and what is wrong in their own eyes. This reminds me of a verse at the end of the book of Judges.
So is anyone with virtue left? Are there no good role models? Are there no “men with chests” as C.S. Lewis might ask?
Despite the fact that in recent times a number of individuals have been exposed as frauds, liars, and abusers, it is important to remember that there are no perfect people. These stories remind me of King David. In the Bible, David was a great leader; he was a warrior who sought to follow the will of God. But when David saw Bathsheba and desired her, he made several very poor decisions. Those decisions lead to an affair, a pregnancy, and the death of Bathsheba’s husband. The consequences of David’s actions are most clearly seen by how he was treated by his children from that point on. He lost their respect, several of them mistreated one another, one tried to assassinate his father, and they no longer revered him as the great man others thought him to be.
In life there are always consequences for our actions, but there is forgiveness when we repent. Can Cosby, Fogel, and Duggar repent? I believe they can, but even if they find forgiveness from God and/or from the people they have hurt, they cannot reclaim their pristine images in the eyes of the public. It takes more than promoting moral values to be a person of virtue, it requires that we have a moral foundation. Because we all have our faults, it is important to keep in mind that none of us can live up to an absolute standard. But when we are humble enough to show grace, mercy, and compassion to others when they fall below the standard, it is easier to receive the same treatment whenever we fall.
I guess this post is as much of a call to humility as it is to anything else. Perhaps instead of putting so much focus on the wrongs committed by others, we need to each spend more time removing the planks from our own eyes. We need to pray for those who stumble and fall. We need to pray for those who are hurt of affected by those who fall. We need to pray for the moral backbone of our society. We need to stand firm believing in an absolute standard, while simultaneously admitting that no one can attain the goal. We are not found to be people of virtue because we claim to be better than everyone else, we are people of virtue because we live by our beliefs, admit our wrongs, and try harder each day to live inside the will of God.
We do not have to be the judges of our culture, we just need to love people where they are at, encourage them to improve with us, and be willing to catch each other when we fall.
While I am suggesting that Cosby, Fogel, and Duggar can be forgiven I am in no way suggesting that there should be no consequences for their actions. Cosby and Fogel should both be in jail for what they have done. Duggar, I am not sure he needs to be in jail, but he has a long road to recovery for his addictions. He should have been sent to a clinical psychiatrist years ago when he was 14.
What are your thoughts? How should we think about these fallen role-models? How should we go about seeking virtue? How should we present our message so that it will not come across as more holy than thou? What questions have I not asked? What have I neglected to think about here?
Dr. Scott Shiffer has a Ph.D. in Christian Theology from the B.H. Carroll Theological Institute and has been teaching religion classes since 2006. He leads Transformation Media Ministries, an organization to help believers think biblically about culture in America. Scott has given numerous presentations including one at Oxford. He has spoken at church retreats, youth retreats, conferences, and has taught discipleship classes for over 10 years. Scott is married and has three children. He has a heart for helping believers draw closer to God and for aiding them as they are faced with new challenges in America every day.