Avoiding “the False Moment”

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We would do well to live honestly – to be wary of the lies we can tell ourselves and others about who we are, or who we think we are. We would do well to do everything in our power to avoid the false moment: the moment we are not ourselves. Sadly many never arrive at themselves, and live on in falseness, however much they boast a new found authenticity.

We live in an era of lies – maybe magnified greater than it has ever been, and more prone than ever to create false moments when the foundations of integrity are found wanting. And the “church” – whatever that might mean in this era – has found itself shifted from its foundation to accommodate a mercurial world and the capriciousness of sin.

Thus David French writes pressingly in his July post, “A Most Urgent Task“,

It’s hard to think of a more urgent task than responding decisively and justly to the crisis of sexual abuse in the church.

French writes the work of the church “will ultimately be fruitless if the church can’t protect its members from predators. We know beyond a shadow of a doubt that sex abuse scandals can devastate a church. They don’t just wreck its witness (who cares what an abusive institution thinks about, well, anything?); more importantly, they inflict deep and sometimes deadly wounds on human beings created in the image of God.”

From the boy scouts, to coaches of various Olympic teams, to the church, and many other spheres in our society – there is the scandal of outright lies, sexual interference, and/or financial misappropriation. How do we create or re-create a culture of integrity consistent with an ethic of honesty, safety and care?

A look back at History

I am not pining for the “good ol’ days” (for a false narrative hidden there) – but there is usually something to be learned from history. On October 24, 1948, French writes,

“…a young evangelist named Billy Graham gathered in Modesto, California with key members of his team to craft a set of informal rules designed to safeguard the integrity of his expanding ministry. According to his autobiography, Graham was concerned about the temptations of money, sex, self-promotion, and excessive independence from the local church. 

To respond to these temptations, Graham and his team made a few simple pledges. Regarding money, they agreed to downplay emotional appeals for funds and to depend on funds raised by local committees. The most famous aspect of the manifesto was the famous (and controversial) “Billy Graham rule,” his pledge “not travel, meet or eat alone with a woman other than my wife.” Graham also pledged to cooperate with local churches and to resist any temptation to exaggerate the effectiveness of his ministry.

At the heart of the Manifesto was both a recognition of the frailty of the human heart and, in Graham’s words, “the determination that integrity would be the hallmark of both our lives and our ministry.” The rules aren’t mandated by scripture, and no one claims they’re perfect. The Billy Graham rule itself is dated. It can be a source of unfairness when or if a male leader grants access and privileges to male employees that he denies women in equivalent positions. The Manifesto’s rules do, however, construct a “fence” around real misconduct.”

Guardrails set up to “Avoid the Moment” of Failure

Without trying to defend any politicians like former Vice President Mike Pence who was mocked for practicing a kind of Billy Graham rule, he nevertheless appears to live his life in contrast to his former president.

However, it isn’t just Christians who set up guardrails – even one of America’s most influential progressive atheists, Ta-Nehisi Coates, once wrote this in The Atlantic:

I’ve been with my spouse for almost 15 years. In those years, I’ve never been with anyone but the mother of my son. But that’s not because I am an especially good and true person. In fact, I am wholly in possession of an unimaginably filthy and mongrel mind. But I am also a dude who believes in guard-rails, as a buddy of mine once put it.

I don’t believe in getting ‘in the moment’ and then exercising will-power. I believe in avoiding ‘the moment.’ I believe in being absolutely clear with myself about why I am having a second drink, and why I am not; why I am going to a party, and why I am not. I believe that the battle is lost at Happy Hour, not at the hotel. I am not a ‘good man.’ But I am prepared to be an honourable one.

A New version of the Modesto Manifesto?

Would that every man of faith – indeed every man – aspire to be an honourable man – that every woman aspire to be an honourable woman. This all takes forethought; it takes a desire to be honourable; and it takes intentionality. As French notes,

… human failings proceed from human frailty, and it is wise to recognize your own frailty when setting the rules and practices that guide your organization and your life.

… It’s past time for the church to not just recognize human frailty in setting policies to prevent sexual misconduct, but also in setting policies to respond to abuse. A new version of the Modesto Manifesto would put a fence around the human temptation to cover up abuse, enable abusers, and rationalize cowardice.

For more details on the 1948 agreement, read “On this date: The Modesto Manifesto.

For more on David French’s call for a New Modesto Manifesto, read “A Most Urgent Task.”

For more on what churches are doing to set policies, see “Plan to Protect.”


What are your guardrails?

As Nehisi Coates confesses and understands,

I am not a good man. But I am prepared to be an honourable man.