Jerry Sandusky: football hero.

Jerry Sandusky: non-profit charity for troubled boys.

Jerry Sandusky: pedophile.

It is jarring, disorienting even. We believe what we see and hear and make assumptions about those spaces in another’s life where we cannot see and hear. We are often wrong. We often assume good where there is evil, and conversely assume evil where there is in fact good. What can we learn from this very sad and troubling case?

We can learn humility for starters. The fact is we do not know. We cannot see into hidden places of the life, the heart or the mind. It makes us uncomfortable not to know. We feel uncertain, anxious. Part of our finiteness is in not knowing. To pretend otherwise is to be delusional. What we see and hear does not tell everything.

Hitler, for example: the world believed him when he said he wanted peace. Jim Jones is another: leader of the People’s Temple and instigator of one of the world’s largest mass suicides. There was Jim Baker: the televangelist with a sex scandal and felony to his name. And then we have pastors, counselors, teachers in our own areas who have abused their power and fed off the sheep they were called to tend. All of these people looked and sounded good to some people. Their contemporaries did not know and neither do we.

We can also learn that institutions are only good when they serve and protect their constituents. Institutions and organizations are not eternal; people are. When we protect a school, church or organization that devours people, we are injuring and betraying our own flesh and blood. Some of the leadership at Penn State did it, as has the Catholic Church. According to CBS News, “Penn State’s internal investigation into the Jerry Sandusky scandal found that senior leaders at the university displayed total disregard for the children victimized by the former assistant coach.”

Former FBI Director Louis Freeh, who investigated the scandal, reports, “Our most saddening and sobering finding is the total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims by the most senior leaders at Penn State…. The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children who Sandusky victimized.”

Many evangelical organizations have also done so—ignoring the victimized, the oppressed and the silenced but making certain the institution lived on, though it be rotten at its core. In every case, the silence screamed for resolution and healing. In response to abuse, we need to stand with Elie Wiesel who said, “I swore never to be silent wherever and whenever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

In responding to Jerry Sandusky, those who remained silent at Penn State, and those who were victims of their abuse of power, we need to keep a couple things in mind. We are told in Isaiah that our God does not judge by what his eyes see or his ears hear, but by righteousness (11:3). That righteousness is of course the expression of his character. That God will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the level and sweep away the refuge of lies (28:12).

The “level” we must use is the character of our eternal God. Anything less is “off plumb” whether it be evil or silence and complicity in response. That means that Jerry Sandusky’s deceptions, manipulations and abuse of power is evil. It also means that any complicity and deception on the part of the institution to cover, manipulate and ignore for the sake of an academic institution and a football team is evil.

What does this mean for us? Wherever we fail to stand for righteousness and hid or ignore sin for the sake of something we love more than God, we too are choosing evil. Our response to the Penn State scandal and the man behind it must reflect the character of our God who calls us to both grace and truth. Those at Penn State who were aware of the situation but did nothing, by Scripture’s definition, hated the victims. First John 3:15 says, “Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer.” To hate means to spit on someone in your heart. That is what Sandusky and the institution did to an unknown ten-year-old boy in a shower stall.

If we, in turn, hate those who led the institution or Sandusky himself, we have been made in the image of the perpetrators rather than our God.

Hate evil; we are called to do so.

Cry out for justice; our God does.

Weep for the victims and the damage in their lives; he weeps.

Love others—even pedophiles and deceptive self-protective leaders—with a love strong enough to long for repentance, redemption and transformation, for that too is like our incarnate God.

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