Bill Bennett is a hypocrite. Let’s throw a party and celebrate. Mr. Morality is human!
After Bennett, the conservative family values advocate, admitted recently he has a gambling problem, you would have thought his critics were celebrating Christmas.
"Sinners have long cherished the fantasy that William Bennett, the virtue magnate, might be among our number. The news ... that Bennett’s $50,000 sermons and bestselling moral instruction manuals have financed a multimillion-dollar gambling habit — has lit a lamp of happiness in even the darkest hearts," wrote columnist Michael Kinsley.
A lamp of happiness? For someone’s shortcomings?
Something is seriously wrong when we find joy in the weaknesses of others.
Bill Bennett’s gambling problem, by the way, shouldn’t be applauded. It shouldn’t be defended (as his conservative allies tend to do).
Even so, there is no place for rejoicing in another’s weaknesses.
Kinsley’s comments shouldn’t surprise us. Within all of us, there is something that celebrates when a good man does something bad. Maybe not as outwardly as Kinsley, but the thought that sometimes crosses our mind when a righteous man, or anybody for that matter, shows a weakness is "nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah."
What a sick pleasure.
It’s easy to forget that beautiful text they always read at weddings. "Love is patient, love is kind . . ."
Don’t stop there, though. Go on. "Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with truth."
The verse reminds me of the controversy at The New York Times, where young reporter Jayson Blair reportedly plagiarized over and over during his career there.
Blair and I went to nearby high schools. We were both in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and we both worked on our schools’ newspapers.
I didn’t know him well, but I remember he was enthusiastic about his faith, eager about his journalistic endeavors.
Maybe I even admired him a little.
So when I heard last week about the scandal he is involved in, I was surprised. And saddened. How could this promising young reporter do something so against what we stand for in journalism?
It would be easy to cast stones now. What he did was wrong. But it’s also tragic when someone falls.
What, then, should our response be when a man falls into immorality?
First, we have to remember that all of us have weaknesses, and we’ll all stand before the Ultimate Judge one day. There’s only ever been one perfect person on this earth, and you’re not Him. But even though we are weak, we can still discern immorality and stand for righteousness.
Many consider Bill Bennett a hypocrite now. The implication is that without perfection, a person is not entitled to criticize or discern when something is wrong. If that is the case, none of us is able to criticize.
We’re all hypocrites, though. It’s part of being imperfect humans. I tell my wife to drive safely, but I speed when I’m on the interstate. Does that mean my wife shouldn’t drive safely? Or that I shouldn’t tell her?
A hypocrite is not someone who says one thing and does another. A hypocrite is someone who tells people how to live without examining his own actions and motives.
A hypocrite is a self-righteous person who has no humility about the sinful state of his own life.
As Jesus said, we must take the log out of our own eye before helping someone take the speck out of his or her eye.
Second, when a good man falls, our concern should be reconciliation, rather than rejoicing in his failure.
I don’t work at a large or prestigious newspaper like the New York Times, so it could be tempting to rejoice as Jayson Blair, a reporter my own age, fall from the heights of journalism. That would make me feel better, perhaps.
But it wouldn’t be the biblical response.
Just as Kinsley’s rejoicing over Bill Bennett’s failure is misplaced, so would my rejoicing over watching someone fall.
The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance . . ."
In other words, the rejoicing comes when we see a person restored in relationship to God and man.
Our first inclination should be to restore a person who has fallen. If that person continues in immorality, that’s a different story. But in Bennett’s and Blair’s situations, we don’t know what the results will be, so it is ill-timed to write things like Kinsley writes.
But if either man is restored in relationship to God and man, that will be cause for rejoicing.
That’s when it’s time for a party.
Not now. Not yet.
Brad Jenkins is features editor at the Daily News-Record in Harrisonburg, Virginia.