Last Tuesday, Major League Baseball had its All-Star game. Normally, if you aren’t a baseball fan, that means nothing to you. But while Josh Hader was having a less than stellar night on the mound giving up four hits, three runs, and walking away with a 27.00 ERA after getting only one out, someone did some deep digging on his twitter page. When he was 17 Hader made several racist and homophobic tweets, and in the middle of the game thousands of people suddenly knew all about them. His parents were given new jerseys to wear that didn’t have Hader’s name on them so that they could avoid abuse from fellow baseball fans.
Last week also saw James Gunn, writer and director of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1 and 2 fired for offensive tweets made nearly a decade ago. A few months ago, Roseanne Barr had her entire show canceled because of a racist tweet. All of this, and so much more, has happened since the #metoo movement started back in October of last year. Weirdly, Twitter has ended careers and brought awareness to sexual abuse in a way that no other social media platform has done.
The most obvious thing to say is “be careful with what you put on social media.” But it’s surprising that this is still a conversation that we have to have. Even more surprising is that it’s a conversation that needs to be had with adults, maybe more so than kids. A phrase I have to repeat often is “I will not argue with strangers on the internet,” usually after I just argued with a stranger on the internet. But there is a deeper issue that all of this brings up. What do we do about the movies, sports, or other materials that are now tainted by knowing the dark personal history of someone involved?
Do I boycott all the Marvel movies because they hired a director who had nasty tweets a decade before they hired him? Maybe just the Guardians movies? Could I still cheer on the Brewers if I lived in Milwaukee knowing that one of their relief pitchers had racist tweets from his teenage years?
Those cases are where one member of a much larger organization had issues surface. Hader is one of a dozen pitchers on his team, and Gunn was one of hundreds of people involved in the making of the GotG movies. But then there’s the case of John Howard Yoder. He was the author of the book “The Politics of Jesus” which was one of my college textbooks and is one of the books that I recommend to most people who are trying to figure out how Christians should interact with the world and politics. However, I recently found out that Yoder had a history of sexual abuse. What do I do with his book now? Can I in good conscience recommend a book about Jesus that was written by a guy who’s lifestyle didn’t reflect what I read in his book?
And then there are people like Bill Hybels, who over the past 40 years has provided leadership and direction for hundreds of churches beyond Willow Creek, and seen tens of thousands of people commit their lives to Christ. What do we do with his resources and models?
Part of what makes this issue so cloudy is that in the church we read books written by murderers and misogamists (among other less than kind descriptors) all the time. Half of our New Testament was written by Paul who murdered Christians before becoming one himself. The core of the Old Testament, the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy), is traditionally believed to have been written by Moses, who among other things, murdered an Egyptian before fleeing the country. No one is suggesting we discard those sections of the Bible that were written by people with less than perfect pasts. So why does wrestling with Hybel’s and Yoder’s indiscretions feel so different?
Some of it is time and tradition, the books of the Bible have been pretty much unchanged for 1700 years or so. Some of it is we can see the redemptive works of God through the authors. Sure, Saul (later to be known as Paul) killed Christians, but he also had his life radically changed by God and he became one of the biggest people in Christian history while fully admitting he wasn't perfect.
Some of it is supply and demand. There aren’t a lot of other books written by first century Christians who knew Jesus personally. But there are hundreds of books written on theology, church leadership, and politics of Jesus. So while Hybel’s and Yoder’s might be among the best, they aren’t the only ones saying these things.
But I think all of this is missing the point, or at least not addressing it directly. We don’t read books written by Moses, Paul, or even Hybels because of who they are and what they can tell us. We read them because of how God revealed himself through their writings. It’s God that we are drawn to, not the person who wrote down the words. When we look to people as our role models or inspiration, we’re bound to be disappointed, hopefully not by huge scandals, but in some way they will fall short of the glory of God. Maybe this doesn’t help you wrestle with if you should or shouldn’t read anything written by someone who’s had an affair, maybe you had no idea and I’ve just created another dilemma for you (sorry). So to quote one of the murderers who wrote the Bible,