The big item in the news for the past couple of weeks has been the sex scandal at Penn State University. My goal in writing this article is not to rehash the details of the event — that has been done already ad nauseum. I want to consider the disparate reactions to the firing of Joe Paterno as Penn State’s head football coach. Once news of Paterno’s firing became public, thousands of Penn State students protested the firing and showed their solidarity with their football coach. On the other hand, people with no ties to Penn State were calling for many more heads to roll and a complete shutdown to the football program and the university. A close personal friend of mine said that Penn State should be “burned down” for allowing what happened.
These two extreme reactions — extreme loyalty and extreme righteous anger — depict to me in no uncertain terms the depravity of man at work. You may ask what I mean by that statement. Allow me to explain. Consider how people are willing to rationalize the bad behavior of their favorite celebrities. The cult of personality is strong, and people are willing to cut their idols a lot of slack when it comes to personal failings. Consider how former President Bill Clinton was able to survive a sex scandal of his own and win re-election, or consider the cult of personality that surrounds President Obama — he has broken nearly every campaign promise, yet he still receives strong support amongst his more loyal followers. The same can be said of Joe Paterno. Technically speaking, he did nothing wrong from a legal standpoint; he can say he did the legal minimum that was required of him. But as has been said here before, legal and moral are not the same thing. Joe Paterno had a moral obligation to protect a child being sexually abused by an older man. Instead he chose to protect his reputation and the reputation of his university instead of doing the right thing.
Equally puzzling are the responses of vitriolic hatred over what Paterno did (or, more accurately, didn’t do). The fact that Paterno didn’t report this crime to the local authorities, but instead chose to inform his ‘boss’ the athletic director and campus security, is definitely a serious lapse in moral judgment to say the least. The fact that he didn’t follow up on this incident is even more of a lapse in moral judgment. There is no question that what Paterno failed to do was morally reprehensible. This does not mean that the football program needs to be shut down or that the university should cease to exist. Jerry Sandusky should definitely answer for his crimes, and so should Paterno and any others of his staff who enabled Sandusky in his sexual abuse of young boys. Failure to report a crime is itself a crime. Having said that, there are thousands of students, atheletes, professors and administrators who have nothing at all to do with this scandal. They should not be punished for the failings of the football coach, his staff and the atheletic administrators.
Here’s the crux of the matter: We are a sinful people! According to the bible, we are a fallen creation. God originally created us upright, righteous and holy, but our first parents — Adam and Eve — fell from that state of original righteousness and into a state of sin and misery. This state of sin and misery was passed down to their progeny so that all human beings are born into a state of sin and misery. Every single one of us — from the youngest to the oldest — has a sinful disposition that seeks to rebel against God and his law which is written on our hearts (conscience). Now because each human being is unique in his or her own way with a unique personality and unique experiences, we will all sin in various and sundry ways. Some people are compulsive liars, others are gambling addicts. Some can’t help but gossip, others can’t control their anger. Some have a propensity toward homosexual desire for young men, others are so self-absorbed with their own reputation that they ignore an obvious evil for fear of the harm it could do to their reputation. You get the picture?
For those who wish to split legal hairs and claim that Paterno did nothing wrong, you all need to ask yourself one question: What if that young boy was your son, brother, cousin or nephew? If it was a bit more personal to you, would you then care that a man in the position of Joe Paterno basically did nothing and passed the buck to others who then swept this under the rug? I know how I would feel; I would be outraged that someone who could have done something didn’t because he didn’t want to tarnish his reputation. This hero worship of Paterno is a sin! Joe Paterno is a man, and a flawed one at that. He failed in his moral obligation to protect the young and the innocent. All of the ‘good’ he did as the head football coach of a premier college football program is for naught in this situation. We’re not weighing his actions on a balance — sin is sin, and his failure is still punishable by law no matter what other benevolent work he has done. You all shouldn’t let your love for Paterno or Penn State football cloud the fact that a moral evil was committed and ignored by those in power and with an opportunity to do something about it.
However, for those who not only want to crucify Joe Paterno, Jerry Sandusky and everyone else involved, but also want to level sanctions on the football program or shut down the university, consider the words of Jesus: “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:1-2). It is my experience (personal and otherwise) that self-righteous people are very vocal against the sins of others, but are relatively silent regarding their own sins. Rare is the person with the moral integrity to look at his or her own sin with the same level of hatred with which they look upon the sins of others. This is a dangerous path to tread! Consider the Ten Commandments — a summary of God’s moral law — how many of them have you broken over the past few months, weeks, days, or even hours? I’m not just talking about the letter of the law, but the spirit of the law as Jesus fleshes out in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5). In other words, it’s not enough to have not committed murder, you can’t be angry with your brother (murder is just the outworking of anger in the heart). If that’s too high a standard to meet, how about your consistency with your own moral code? Are you 100% consistent with your own moral code? The answer to that question would also be “no.” Again, what Paterno did was clearly wrong, but we should not be so quick to judge. We are all guilty of countless sins — whether sins committed or omitted.
The bottom line in all of this is that we all will face the music for the sins we commit — both in this life and in the next. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God; we are all guilty of failing to meet his holy standards. Whether we’re Joe Paterno, Jerry Sandusky, Adolf Hitler or Mother Theresa, it matters not. Our only hope to escape the judgment to come is to place our faith and hope in Jesus Christ. He died to take away the sins of the world so that whoever believes in him may not perish, but have eternal life. Joe Paterno needs to repent of his sins. Jerry Sandusky needs to repent of his sins. If you’re a Joe Paterno hero worshiper, you need to repent of your sins. If you’re in the camp that wants to crucify Joe Paterno, you need to repent of your sins.
When situations like this come up, and they often do, I am reminded of the famous phrase coined by English reformer, John Bradford: “There but for the grace of God, go I.” In other words, if you’re not a homosexual pedophile like Jerry Sandusky or a self-absorbed man like Joe Paterno, thank God! “There but for the grace of God, go I.” The same sinful nature that lurks within Paterno and Sandusky also lurks within you and me.