A Judge, a Reporter, and the Cross

Several years ago our community had a rather prolonged disagreement about whether the county should continue the practice of allowing a small nativity display on the courthouse lawn at Christmas time.  During that period of time, a local cartoonist drew a picture of our county courthouse with a cross on top of the dome in place of its current statue with the caption, “the way some people want our courthouse to look.”  Someone responded with a drawing of a coin with the words “in God we trust” scratched out and the caption “the way some people want our money to look.”  It was a typical illustration of the tension between a government’s not establishing religion and not prohibiting its free exercise.  Applying the first amendment protections to the freedom of speech, the press, religion, etc. is often easier said than done.

Good person, bad decision?

Last week a local judge uttered a memorable line when sentencing a local real estate agent convicted of forging property tax exemption documents for her rental homes.  After she paraded a number of supporters before the judge to convince him that she deserved a light punishment, he finally said; “I’m tired of people coming in saying they’re a good person who made a bad decision.” Apparently this judge wasn’t buying the argument that these 12 counts of forgery were momentary lapses in an otherwise pristine character.

The media piling on

A local reporter picked up the story this week and ridiculed this woman and her family on several points.  He especially went after her for having family members prepared to shield her with umbrellas as she left the courthouse, apparently in an attempt to avoid further embarrassment.  The paper ran a picture of the scene and then the reporter said,

“The broker’s willingness to face up to the situation concluded, oddly enough, with an interesting rendition of ‘Singing in the Rain’ with friends and family using deployed umbrellas to shield the defendant from cameras and the prying eyes of folks with prior convictions waiting their turn in court as the entourage made its way through the ornate courthouse corridors.” (Journal & Courier, http://t.co/WgARe5xO)

Talking about having your reputation trashed. I wonder if this woman and her family will ever be able to show their faces in town again.

When discussing the misdeeds of others…

I’m certainly not excusing what this woman did.  Forging documents in order to avoid property taxes is a serious crime.

I can also understand the judge’s point–it is time for people who commit crimes to honestly face their own natures–as in, “I am a bad person who did a bad thing.”  The average judge would probably fall off the bench if a person uttered those words in court.

I even stand with the media’s right to report on events that occur in our town.  Who wants a press that is anything but free?  But I sometimes question whether members of the media carefully consider the impact their words will have on those whose lives they are trashing.

On one hand, the judge and the reporter are right–the realtor is a bad person.  But so is the judge. And so is the reporter. And so am I. And so are you.

I find it interesting that all of this played out on Easter week. Here’s the bottom line: On one hand, the judge and the reporter are right–the realtor is a bad person.  But so is the judge. And so is the reporter. And so am I. And so are you. Before God’s holy character and commands, we all fall short (Romans 3:23).  Let’s always remember that when discussing the misdeeds of others.  This realtor is not the first person who ever made a wrong choice and then compounded matters by trying to spin the story in an overly positive way.  I’d stand in that line.  Would you like to join me?

That is why I am thankful that God called me to be a minister of the gospel.  We don’t want a cross on top of the courthouse or the newspaper building, but I am glad we have one on top of the steeple of our church.  That does not make me better than a judge or a reporter.  I am just glad I, and you, have the privilege of pointing ourselves and those around us to the beautiful gospel of grace.  Jesus died for the sins of the world…hers, theirs, yours, and mine. On that point the judge is right–the first step toward accepting Christ’s gift of forgiveness is admitting your need.  But that is not a truism for a few; it is a truism for us all.  So let’s come out from our shielding umbrellas of pointing the finger at everyone else and just admit it – she sinned, but I sinned to.  For those willing to make that admission, an empty tomb proves that God’s grace is sufficient to save all who will come in repentance and faith.

Steve Viars
Dr. Viars has served as a pastor and counselor at Faith since 1987. He is an author, national speaker, and Vice President of the Board of Directors for the Biblical Counseling Coalition.