With a breaking sex abuse scandal rocking Penn State University, I can’t help but notice all the raging debates on the comments section of the news stories. People are either staunchly supporting or against Head Football Coach, Joe Paterno. While I’m not about to take sides, I do think this affords us an opportunity to consider what we are called to do when we, as Christians, witness something.
Witnessing abuse or a crime taking place and turning away is not what Jesus meant by turn the other cheek. In fact, Jesus didn’t say “turn the other cheek.” He actually said, “But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also” (Matthew 5:39). If someone attacks you and hits you, Jesus does not advocate fighting back as self defense, but that does not mean we are defenseless. Nor should anyone take that to mean that we let people victimize others, especially those who are most easily victimized, like children. We battle evil by drawing attention to it and condemning it, calling those who perpetrate evil to stand in the light of day and account for their sinful ways. We do not allow them to hide in the safety of darkness, free to continue their predatory ways.
We are a people of justice, because we serve a just God “who executes justice for the orphan and the widow (Deuteronomy 10:18), and ” loves justice” (Psalm 37:28). We who bear the light of Jesus Christ use that light to uncover that which is unholy and evil, because darkness can not stand in the light. When we refuse to tolerate the pervasiveness of evil in our midst, those who engage in evil are forced to flee from our presence and seek a place that will tolerate their evil presence. Christians must call out the evil deeds of others because, as we have seen, if we don’t, then no one else is likely to do so either. We do not just guard God’s eternal truth, we guard those who cannot protect themselves: the widows, the orphans, the strangers, the sick, the poor. To turn away when we see injustice or crimes against those we are called to care for, means that we are implicated in those same crimes. We have, by our silence and inaction, allowed these crimes to continue. We deny the victims justice, and we become a cog in the evil of humankind that wants others to turn away so that we can selfishly act as we see fit, rather than living according to God’s ways. If we are silent, who will speak? The victims who are frightened and scared into silence? The perpetrators who take pleasure in their crimes and sins? We are the witnesses of this world, and we are called to testify. We are not limited to testifying to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We speak to the sins of a culture that would rather be blissfully ignorant than fully accountable for the crimes that take place. We speak because there will never be openness for the healing of the victims when they are kept chained in the darkness of intentional, willful ignorance.
How many times have we condemned the wrong in our hearts, but not with our words of cessation and our actions that enforce our refusal to allow it to continue? How many times have we seen the abuses of one against another and walked the other way? How many times have we closed our eyes and our mouths because “it’s not my place” to say anything? How many times have we refuse to stand up for another person who is being attacked, either verbally or physically, because we don’t want to “get involved?” Are we not the people who only exist because Jesus was willing to get involved and stand in our place? Who better to model the salvation and reprieve we received, and, in doing so, testify to the glory of Christ than we? It either starts with us, or it never starts at all.