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Pastor's Words About Another Aren't Forgiving

February 03, 2001|THE REV. BILL SHARP

When my wife and I disagree on something and it becomes clear that we both are entrenched in our opinions, and the argument becomes a stalemate, she invariably ends the discussion by saying, "I'll always defend your right to be wrong!"

That declaration of fairness, laced with a touch of humor, is a significant reason why we have been happily married for more than 25 years. After all, what does one say in return?

I have the same sentiment about the Rev. Connie Regener's harsh condemnation of the Rev. Jesse Jackson's recent well-publicized woes ("On Faith," Feb. 27). She has her right to be wrong.

Probably every reader of this page knows the facts of Rev. Jackson's situation: He had a sexual affair of unknown duration with an employee of his organization. The woman became pregnant and subsequently gave birth. Rev. Jackson publicly acknowledged the error of his ways and apologized.

In her column, Rev. Regener condemns Rev. Jackson in very harsh terms. She designates his behavior as "pastoral sexual misconduct," calls for his removal from office and advocates a search for additional "victims." While I defend Rev. Regener's right to be wrong, before anyone travels too far down her chosen road I want to advocate a different path: the path of Christian forgiveness.

Consider two New Testament sayings attributed to Jesus. The first is found in Luke, Chapter 6: "Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven." The second comes from the Gospel of John, Chapter 8: "He among you who is without sin, let him cast the first stone."

When read in context, the gist of these two sayings is evident. Do not be judgmental. Instead, grant forgiveness. Nowhere in Rev. Regener's diatribe against Rev. Jackson do I see mention of, or get any sense of, forgiveness. What I see is a Pharisee-like condemnation of another human being, written with an air of hostility, and sadly, perhaps even showing malice when she pushes for a search for other supposed "victims."

This attitude fails to pass the Christianity smell test. "Witch hunt" quickly comes to mind. Indeed, this is not to let Rev. Jackson off the hook. If the woman involved considered Rev. Jackson her pastor, then his actions quite probably do constitute pastoral misconduct.

And if she did not see Rev. Jackson in that light, but rather saw another clergyman as her pastor and viewed Rev. Jackson as her employer, I believe his actions would be viewed legally as business-related sexual harassment.

What, then, is an appropriate Christian response to Rev. Jackson's plight? Do we condemn or forgive? I favor a response derived directly from the New Testament. Condemn the action; forgive the man. Or, in religious language: condemn the sin; forgive the sinner.

And in fact at the same time that Jesus says, "He among you who is without sin, let him cast the first stone," he also tells the adulterous woman to cease her adultery. Jesus condemns the sin but forgives the sinner. That is how we should minister to Rev. Jackson.

Rev. Regener also judges Rev. Jackson's apology as insincere, calling it a "quasi-apology." But he did make a real apology, whether she believes it or not. She further invalidates his confession of guilt for the single reason that he made it too quickly. It must be a "slow journey," she says, "not a leap of faith." Not only is her statement inappropriate, it is nonsense.

First, Rev. Regener apparently assumes that Rev. Jackson began to struggle with his sin only when knowledge of it became public--a treacherous assumption into the mind of a man about whom she can know nothing.

Second, nowhere in the Bible is a "slow journey" required to validate a religious commitment. When Jesus began his ministry he called out to a fisherman, "Come with me." The fisherman dropped his nets, followed Jesus and became an apostle--a quick leap of faith if ever there was one, and one not rejected by Jesus.

So for Rev. Regener, rather than reject Rev. Jackson's apology, she should accept it and offer him a humble, sincere apology of her own.

The Rev. Bill Sharp, now retired and living in Huntington Beach, was a pastor to a large urban church, a small country parish, and an urban coffeehouse.

On Faith is a forum for Orange County clergy and others to offer their views on religious topics of general interest. Submissions, which will be published at the discretion of The Times and are subject to editing, should be delivered to Orange County religion page editor William Lobdell.

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