Coach Joe Paterno was fired this week because of information that he had and sat on.
The president of Penn State University was fired for the same reason.
Other members of the leadership team of that school will be receiving pink slips for the same reason.
In one sense, they did nothing wrong. It was that they did not do right. Their sin was of omission, not commission.
When they knew an assistant coach was molesting little boys in their athletic buildings and simply told him not to do that there anymore, they became enablers for his unspeakable crimes.
A coaching assistant told his father, the two of them told Coach Paterno, he told the athletic director, who told the president. But no one told the cops. What they said to the molester was, “Do not bring young boys into these buildings.” As has been pointed out in numerous sports talk programs this week, that is tantamount to saying, “It’s all right to molest them; just do it somewhere else.”
When the trustees of the university met Wednesday night of this week, they wielded a sharp axe. To them–as to any right-thinking individual–it’s not enough to warn the evildoer off. He has to be arrested and taken off the streets and dealt with in a court of justice. Even if a citizen cannot arrest him, he can report the crime.
PSU’s lawyers are scurrying around right now, it’s safe to say, wondering how much liability the college bears for all the children abused by that coach since Paterno and others found out what he was doing and did not do everything in their power to stop it. I’m thinking they have plenty of responsibility. The trustees did right in canning the coach and the president. One hopes the message goes out to other schools that “If you see someone abusing a child and do not report it to the police, you are guilty of aiding and abetting the crime.”
Sitting on the information. If it’s not a crime in itself, it’s nevertheless abandoning one’s responsibilities as a human being. And whatever happens as a result of your cowardly silence, you have to bear some responsibility.
–If I have information that could save your life and I keep it to myself, your death is on my hands.
–If I know the bridge is out ahead and do not try to warn off motorists, I am responsible for all that takes place.
–If you are deathly ill and I have the antidote which could save your life and keep it to myself, your death is on my hands.
“What did you know and when did you know it?” The answers–often asked in a court of law–help to establish culpability.
The spiritual implications of this are enormous.
God said to the Prophet Ezekiel:
When I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life, that same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand.
Yet, if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered your soul. (Ezek. 3:18-19)
One wonders how scary that must have been to the prophet. And how seriously we in the Lord’s work take that today. (Please see my note at the end of this.)
I sometimes imagine how things would have been had I known about the devastating floods of Hurricane Katrina in advance, and had gone into the low-lying areas of this city to warn residents. “Many will die here! Get out! Evacuate. Go anywhere. Just get out of this city!”
“Nut!” someone would call. “Doomsdayer!” “I wish our preachers had positive messages, and were not always running around warning people about judgement and death!”
If you knew the tsunami was heading toward the shoreline, wouldn’t you do everything in your power to save those in harm’s way?
Or would you sit on the information?
Joseph Joffo was born in Paris in 1931 to Jewish parents. When Hitler’s armies marched into France in June of 1940, his parents saw the handwriting on the wall and began making plans to move their family to safer regions. In his 1974 book, “A Bag of Marbles,” Joffo tells how his father prepared him and Maurice, his 12-year-old brother, for exile. These two young boys would travel by train to a border city, then do whatever they could to get across the border, then travel to a certain city near the Italian border where their older brothers lived. The parents would follow as soon as they could dispose of their business.
In the border town, Joseph and Maurice found someone take them across the border at night for a price. That evening, they met him, they followed him down this alley, across that field, up that road, through that creek, until finally they arrived at a farmhouse where they were safe.They waited in a barn for the morning light.
Sometime during the night, Joseph awakened to find Maurice gone. Just as he was about to panic, he found a note, “Don’t say anything to anyone. I’ll be back. –Maurice.” So, little brother went back to sleep.
Next morning, there were 50 people inside the crowded barn, all refugees fleeing the Nazis. Soon, Maurice arrived, and the puzzle cleared up.
That night, as the boys lay in the straw trying to sleep, it occurred to Maurice that he knew the way across the border. All those people waiting to cross into freedomland, he could help. So, he got up and slipped out of the barn and spent the night bringing them across.
He had made 8 trips across the border with the refugees that night.
Using his knowledge to bless those in need.
What do you know? Who needs to have what you know? What are you doing to get this knowledge to them?
II Kings 6 gives us the memorable story of the four leprous beggars of Samaria who decided not to starve to death inside the besieged and dying city, but to go over to the Syrian army and surrender. The worst that could happen, they reasoned, was they would be put to death. But if they did nothing they were going to die anyway, and there was a chance the Syrians would feed them. They had nothing to lose.
They discovered that God had panicked the enemy during the night and they had all fled, every last one of them. The military camp was as they had left it–food, clothing, weapons, everything. The lepers gorged themselves on food as they had only dreamed of. Finally, they began stashing away treasures. This went on for a while.
Then they came to their senses.
“We are not doing right,” they said to one another. “This day is a day of good news, and we remain silent. If we wait until morning light, some punishment will come upon us. Now therefore, come, let us go and tell the king’s household.” (II Kings 6:9)
People need the Lord. We know the Lord. When will we realize that people need the Lord?
(Note on the Ezekiel 3 passage. I have known of pastors and Christian writers heaping mounds of guilt upon Christians based on this one passage. It can easily be made to read that if a Christian is not telling everyone he knows about Jesus and the way of salvation, he/she bears responsibility for their eternal fate. Is there truth to that? Well, yes, but with a caution.
The caution is that it’s possible to go to the extreme in this, and to become a nut case, tormented by guilt. And the worst motive I can think of for sharing the gospel is guilt. (I’ve seen that, and it’s not a pretty thing.) God is not the author of bad mental health, friend.
Furthermore, let us remind ourselves there is no corresponding teaching in the New Testament, which is foundational for all our beliefs and teachings. I personally conclude that the primary teaching of Ezekiel 3 was intended for the prophet himself, and only in a general sense is it applicable to Christians.
We must not lose our sanity by going to extremes. We should, however, be faithful and diligent to share the message of Christ.