“At dawn he appeared again in the streets, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the college and the cultural elites brought in a woman caught in a thought crime. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of a thought crime. We’ve filmed the act and posted it on Twitter, Facebook, and TikTok. We’ve contacted her employer demanding she is fired. Now what do you say, because, after all, silence is violence?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. A moment went by and suddenly crashes were heard throughout the town as rocks went through store windows.”
The above is a fictitious account of a very familiar Bible story in John chapter 8 (italics are my words), but it’s been on my mind a lot lately watching story after story break about people being canceled. The mob that surrounded Jesus brought a woman caught in adultery to him and had every intent on enacting corporal punishment on her. This mob was led by the cultural and religious elites whose goal was not to fulfill the Law (as they said) but to entrap Jesus so they could carry out punishment on Him. That seems to be the nature of mob leaders, they say they’re about justice and equality/equity but there’s usually a more nefarious selfish motivation behind riling up the mobs. Nothing’s changed today.
But two stories in the news and this Scripture caused me to ask a couple of questions. What do forgiveness, reconciliation, and “love that covers a multitude of sins” look like in our day in age? We’ve seemed to lost track of it completely in both Christian and Secular circles? Because the next part of the ending of the story in John 8 seems like a lot better a world than the one we live in today:
10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
11 “No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
I first heard about Professor Bright Sheng in a Twitter feed capturing tons of examples of some of the most innocuous mistakes that have ended people’s careers. Professor Bright Sheng, who survived China’s cultural revolution, even had his family’s piano taken away by Red Guards, but overcame and became a “genius” piano player in the United States. Robby Soave captured the story over at Reason:
His undergraduate students should certainly count themselves lucky to be able to learn from him. Instead, they are demanding the university fire him for rendering the classroom an unsafe space. The administration is looking into the matter, and Sheng has stepped down from teaching the class for the time being. He has apologized profusely for making his students feel wronged, though many have loudly rejected his apology.
What was Sheng's transgression? He screened the 1965 version of Shakespeare's Othello in class as part of a lesson about how the play was adapted for the opera. This version stars Laurence Olivier, a white actor, who wore blackface to portray the protagonist Othello, a Moor. The choice was controversial even at the time, and today, the portrayal is considered by many to be akin to a racial caricature.
It's not clear whether Sheng, who was born and raised in China, understood blackface's specifically American legacy, and why such a portrayal is considered offensive. But he swiftly apologized for screening this version of the film.
"I thought (that) in most cases, the casting principle was based on the music quality of the singers," Sheng told The Michigan Daily. "Of course, time (sic) has changed, and I made a mistake in showing this film. It was insensitive of me, and I am very sorry."
His apology ought to have been more than sufficient, but his students were not appeased. Indeed, they reacted as if they had been traumatized by the experience.
Now, let’s compare this reaction to another story that broke this past week.
John Gruden and the Las Vegas Raiders
John Gruden was the coach of the Las Vegas Raiders until yesterday when emails that had been recovered during an investigation of another football team captured Gruden making multiple disparaging comments about people in the league. The one I first heard about was an email in which he referred to DeMaurice Smith lips as Michelin Tires. More emails have been leaked since then (one wonders how given this was a private investigation by the NFL) where he used a gay slur in reference to the NFL commissioner and used a misogynistic slur against then Vice President Joe Biden.
The heat increased on Gruden, social media outrage grew, and even ESPN’s roundtables formed with former NFL stars expressing how much these remarks hurt them. Some of them were in tears. Which led to Gruden resigning as coach yesterday.
One thing that caught me off guard after all of this was that I thought these comments were made recently? It wasn’t till later that I learned these were from emails mostly sent in 2011. I thought it was interesting that many who talked about this incident never mentioned these emails were from 10+ years ago? Way before the MeToo movement or the BLM movement. Many I heard comment used both movements to condemn Gruden, but that seems a bit absurd given the standards they’re using to condemn didn’t weren’t even acknowledged to have existed back then? Which, from my understanding of both movements, was the point of the movements to begin with. A rejection of secular morals that looked the other way when people with power and money treated those they viewed as “below them” with no dignity.
A Better Way
John Gruden’s “sin” and Professor Sheng’s “sin” by any objective secular or religious moral standard are not the same. John Gruden knowingly used disparaging language and slurs in reference to other human beings. Professor Sheng's mistake was at worst ignorant. So while the “sins” committed by both men are different, the punishment and retribution are no different. Does that not strike anyone else as troubling? That we have a secular system in place that cannot differentiate between degrees of crimes but dishes out the same punishment equally regardless of the offense against secular orthodoxy? Perhaps this is why it hits me so hard? As a Christian and Bible school professor, I’ve read and taught about this type of zeal before. It’s religious, it enforced orthodoxy regardless of the hypocrisy of the enforcers, and it cannot be argued against - for god will’s it!
The modern secular society has two classes of people. Orthodoxy/praxy or heresy. That’s it. You fall into either class and whether you’re in or not is decided at all times by a majority of your peers. If one is found wanting (keep in mind that one’s past can be held to a standard created a few minutes ago) there’s no redemption, there’s no reconciliation, and there’s no forgiveness. The majority will make sure you’re cast out from society for the rest of your life. Forever unclean.
When the mob brought the woman caught in adultery, Jesus knew the woman had sinned. Jesus did not brush off the woman’s sin nor did He *cancel* her. He recognized and taught a better way. It looks like this:
A) Acknowledge our own hypocrisy which often takes on one of three forms:
Those who are so quick to cast the stones ALWAYS ignore the sins present in their own life which would be worthy of stoning. This is the dirty little secret about outrage, it’s an easy way to try and atone for one’s own inner demons without actually looking at them and trying to fix them.
Notice the partner of the woman is not brought to Jesus for condemnation. I often imagine the partner was either a Pharisee or Sadducee. That makes the most sense to me. It seems like the Pharisees and Sadducees were attempting to protect the other person, therefore showing partiality injustice - which God hates.
The Pharisees and Sadducees whipped up the mob demanding justice be done, but that was not their goal. They weren’t interested in justice they wanted to entrap Jesus. What other goals are behind modern calls for justice?
B) “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”
Jesus turns the mobs away with such a simple statement. Our society views this statement as problematic. Remember, in modern orthodoxy, there’s no differentiation in determining sin against it. In Christ, that’s not the case. The woman had sinned against God, the Law, and her people - all of that remains true. But, Jesus rightly points out, so have we all. Is it not interesting that our society continually condemns God as too harsh a judge but more often than not is way harsher and unforgiving.
C) “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
Jesus’s way is better because it acknowledges the woman’s sin and commands her to participate in biblical repentance. Repentance is not just words spoken but an act of turning away from sin. That act takes time because it’s continuous, but it offers hope for the sinner that they won’t be known forever for their sin. And God does even better than that. He states when we repent He forgets their sin. And this is how the people of God are to be. When genuine repentance occurs we too forget. That is not something our current secular orthodoxy understands or most of the time practices.
This is Jesus’s way, this way is better.
Biblical repentance is better.