Monday, November 27, 2006

Jimmy Swaggart's picture

I just came across a very interesting line of discussion about one of my earlier posts--about why pastors not falling into scandal.

My first reaction was great pleasure that someone took my ideas seriously (this pleasure, I suppose, is why I chose academia). Then I realized that these pastors understand the issues much better than I.

What interested me most was a concern raised by one commenter about the picture I had posted of Jimmy Swaggart. I attached a photo of Jimmy Swaggart's famous crying-confession to my post, just because that video-capture is perhaps the best known image of recent church scandal.

The commenter pointed out, however, that this is highlighting Jimmy Swaggart's sin, and should we just let it go. Now, I'm not a big fan of Jimmy Swaggart, for various reasons, but the more general principle here is the danger of highlighting other peoples' wrongdoing. I know for a fact that I would not want people publicizing my sins (which, there are many people who could have a lot to say), so why do it to others--even famous people with famous sins.

Okay. I went ahead and changed the photo on the post & will keep an eye on that in the future. Point taken.


Dan Myers said...

The problem for me is that it's hard to know exactly when we should let it go. I'm prepared to let things go when the person has genuinely repented and taken responsible action for the problems they've caused.

But just because someone claims contrition doesn't mean they are actually contrite. JS's behavior since 1988 doesn't suggest much introspection about his own behavior and hypocrisy. As far as I can tell, he is still using a hate-laced doctine toward others (gay men and lesbians, Catholics, anyone he considers to be a sinner) while playing on people's sympathy's about his own behavior.

As a double-PK and someone who works at a religious university, I've known many clergy in my life, and therefore I'm very appreciative of your original post—we could all stand to work a little harder at helping along the "lead us not into temptation" clause. But at the same time, I don't absolve the individual from culpability for their own behavior, for making genuine attempts to take responsibility for it, or for trying to learn from it—especially when we are talking about those who wish to maintain leadership positions.

Honestly, the criticism of using the picture seems a little over-wrought when we think about the bigger context of Jimmy Swaggart.

Danny said...

Danny Myers:
What Jimmy Swaggart did was wrong. It was also nearly twenty years ago. Whether or not he has repented is not our business. We are taught to forgive others whether they deserve it or not. The "bigger context of Jimmy Swaggart" should only serve to remind us that we are all sinners that are saved by grace. I have sinned against a loving and holy God and so have you. We appreciate when others forgive us. We some how feel justified in condemning a well known minister who falls into horrific sin. How can we justify that. What an arrogant position. There is nothing good within us apart from what God has done for us and through us.

Yes, Jimmy has been prideful and arrogant at times. That is between him and God. I have too. That is also between me and God. Jesus said it best, "Let him who is without sin, cast the first stone."

I also am reminded of the scripture that reads, Whatever a man sows , that also will he reap. I am sure there are some harvests in each of our lives that we have prayed for weed killer to be put on them.

I am thankful for God's mercy and forgiveness.

brewright said...

What an interesting discussion. I wonder if the question becomes "when" should we judge.

Never judging seems naive and not-discerning.

Always judging seems equally problematic as well as hypocritical.

With Jimmy Swaggart, I have no reason to judge him. I'm not thinking of giving him money or joining his church, so why should I judge?

With others, though, who I'm more interested in learning from, that's where discernment/judgment comes in.

Then the question becomes what should we do with our judgments. So I find someone wanting (I pretty much agree with your assessment Dan). What do I do then? Perhaps nothing, usually?

These are important issues, especially with the sin of pastors and priests and other church leaders so often in the news.

Thoughts from others?


Knumb said...


I can see the higher standard that you are aspiring to by removing the pic and that's the Right Thing©®™ to do.

That having been said, you could have put me in a room with your post and said: "What's wrong with putting this picture with this post?" Then, a thousand monkeys on typewriters, typing randomly, would have come out the right answer before I (right after they finished Hamlet).

To me, the picture is something of an icon representing the subject at hand, not a continuing judgement of Swaggart by you, personally.

Danny said...

I don't think I mentioned judging Jimmy Swaggart at all. I believe we must make judgements constantly as Christians as to whether something or someone is in sin. I am saying that when we see sin in our camp we should be quick to pray, forgive, and assist in restoration.

If the body of Christ at large made that our goal then we wouldn't be having this discussion about the 18 year old sins of a once prominant preacher.

We are called to a life of love. Love is at the same time confrontation and compassionate. We are to confront those who we are responsible for and to pray for restoration and repentance for those who we aren't.

We are supposed to leave the accusing of the brethren to the guy with the pitchfork.

Thanks for the dialogue guys.

Dan Myers said...

Hey all,

Well, believe it or not, I put in a fair amount of time thinking about that post because I know it is hard to say something negative without being/sounding judgmental, just as labeling someone/something arrogant is itself an act of arrogance. At the same time, we can’t just ignore the things that are wrong around us. Should we just move on when priests sexually abuse alter boys? It’s a legitimate dilemma where to draw the line with other people’s behaviors—as Brad points out—especially when those behaviors have ramifications for other people. Swaggart’s type of behavior, in the context of who he is and what he stands for, is not irrelevant to other people—they can send people into faith crises and have more immediate effects too. I had a friend who life was turned upside-down by the Jim Bakker scandal. He had just sold his business, that he had spent years building, and moved his family down to work in Bakker’s organization, when the scandal hit. Don’t we have some responsibility to address these kinds of problems (or judge) even if we aren’t personally damaged?

As you can tell, I am pretty uncomfortable with the idea that these things are just between Swaggart and God. Other people are affected, so don’t we have a responsibility as moral human beings to act in ways that address, prevent, and even condemn these kinds of behaviors? To me, neglecting that kind of responsibility is a sin of omission.

But really, my post was not concerned so much with the original 20-year-old problem. Rather, I was intending to focus on what has happened since—and the hypocrisy inherent in it. It will continue to bother me that anyone who invokes the principle of forgiveness in his own self-interest is so full of condemnation for others.

That being said, I believe very strongly in the principle of forgiveness—but I also believe it works best when accompanied by voluntary responsibility (for both past and future behavior).


Danny said...

I agree with the last comment you made. I do feel we are obligated to deal with, confront, and engage people who deliberately engage in sin. Especially when it does affect so many people.

brewright said...

What an interesting, informative exchange. I found myself thinking about it all last night...

Thank you!

Danny said...

Dan Myers:
When I wrote the following...
"We some how feel justified in condemning a well known minister who falls into horrific sin. How can we justify that. What an arrogant position. There is nothing good within us apart from what God has done for us and through us."
...I wasn't pointing my finger at you. I was speaking to all of us Christians collectively. I was making the point that "we" sometimes get a holier than thou mindset and we forget that we all have been forgiven on many different levels. that's all. I just wanted to make a general point.

Thanks for your input and iron sharpening skills.

Dan Myers said...

Well said, Danny. I never want to feel self-satisfied from someone else's foibles. It's sad, for anyone and the people around them, when they screw up. And forgiveness is a critical factor in anyone's (both forgivers and forgivees) personal progress, and in making progress on so many problems in the world. As our good friend Fred Rogers used to say, "Forgiveness is the one thing that evil can stand."