Saturday, November 12, 2011

Moral Imperatives and Penn State - Secrets Shouted from the Housetops

The Savior warned us to never assume that our secrets would be safe. He prophesied they would be shouted from the housetops one day:

"For there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known. Therefore, whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops." (Luke 12:2-3).

In light of developments at Penn State University last week, we would all do well to ponder that passage of scripture. We have all done and said things in secret, perhaps, that we would be all be embarrassed about if they were to be shouted from the housetops. In this age of digital communication, truly our every word can be instantly broadcast around the world. Our digital footprint is available to the world and on fully display. From any mobile phone, computer or other digital device we communicate instantly with others, and some of us actually still believe we can do whatever we do anonymously or in secret. As I suggested in an earlier post, not so!

Digital technology destroys our presumption of secrecy. WikiLeaks exposed thousands of classified government documents, embarrassing diplomatic leaders everywhere. How many of you know teenagers whose innocence has been betrayed when they were caught “sexting” to a friend? What they thought was innocent fun is suddenly broadcast everywhere, relationships are destroyed, and pain is inflicted.

Our deep dark secrets are harder and harder to hide. Sooner or later we are betrayed. If not in this world, doesn't anyone who believes in God have a sense of moral accountability before Almighty God? If what we do and say in secret is not revealed in this world, it will certainly be on full display when we stand before the judgment bar, won't it? How are we to assume we can hide from an omniscient God?

King Benjamin observed: "I cannot tell you all the things whereby ye may commit sin; for there are divers ways and means, even so many that I cannot number them. But this much I can tell you, that if ye do not watch yourselves, and your thoughts, and your words, and your deeds, and observe the commandments of God, and continue in the faith of what ye have heard concerning the coming of our Lord, even unto the end of your lives, ye must perish. And now, O man, remember, and perish not." (Mosiah 4:29-30).

The question God poses to Adam in the garden after he has partaken of the forbidden fruit, "Adam, where art thou?" is not because God didn't know the answer. Rather, He was more interested in whether Adam knew the answer. I submit we must make every effort to speak, write, and act in greater purity before the Lord.

We are living in a very public world these days. As disciples of Christ, we are charged with bearing witness to His name in our lips, in our hearts and in our daily walk. I'm not as worried about what others think about me as I am about what my Savior thinks. His eyes are upon us all. He knows us. He will succor us in all things. The least we can do is reflect His glory in our lives in exchange for His atoning sacrifice on our behalf. Even though true disciples are not yet perfected, their diligence is required in eschewing the temptations with which we are beset.

Which brings me to the topic today. In the category of colossal moral lapses, cover-ups and hidden sins, the events at Penn State this last week are in a lamentable category all by themselves.

Former Penn State head football coach, Joe Paterno 
In case you've been living under a rock, a storied football tradition at Penn State University came crashing back down to earth with the revelation that a defensive coach was in fact a serial child molester and had abused at least eight young boys under the noses of the university's top brass. After many years of head football coach Joe Paterno and university President Graham Spanier, acting in what they deemed to be the best interests of "the program," the board of trustees finally took action and fired both of them abruptly when the scandal blew up in their faces last week. The assistant coach who was allowed to retire without any of these sordid facts tainting his reputation, now stands arrested and will likely face the rest of his life in prison. The athletic director was put on administrative leave.

What a sad end to the career of college football's winningest coach. Whatever his legacy might have been in the future, it will now be forever tainted by his inability or unwillingness to prosecute swift justice against his assistant who was the perpetrator of the abuse against so many young and innocent boys. The scandal and his role in it will forever be the first item listed in his resume. How tragic!

"The failure of top university officials to act on reports of Sandusky's alleged sexual misconduct, even after it was reported to them in graphic detail by an eyewitness, allowed a predator to walk free for years — continuing to target new victims," said Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly. "Equally disturbing is the lack of action and apparent lack of concern among those same officials, and others who received information about this case, who either avoided asking difficult questions or chose to look the other way."

I have not read the court documents, but those who have waded through them describe Paterno's assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky, as "a monster" at work under the safety and protection of a bureaucratic cover-up designed to protect "the program."

Even more troubling, perhaps, is the rioting on campus that ensued. I kept wondering as I watched those scenes unfold, "What are the parents of these students thinking about the lack of moral clarity in their children that they cannot distinguish between right and wrong?"

It's one thing to be loyal to an iconic football coach, but does that loyalty manifest itself inappropriately and is it out of step with reality when it supports the obvious lack of moral turpitude of those who were in a position to end the abuse but failed to?

Do crowds of college students taking to the streets in the middle of the night and overturning a media truck in fury for reporting the facts of the matter make the disclosure of the beastly conduct of one assistant football coach somehow acceptable?

Does defending the indefensible somehow trump the morality of basic human conduct?

When does football become more important than what is considered a reasonable, even minimal, standard of acceptable moral behavior?

Even in a godless society, does sexual abuse of young boys by an authority figure EVER become morally justified in the name of protecting "the program?"

Can anyone, even a casual observer, even begin to count the cost in the lives of those boys, their families and the sordid ramifications of their future lives in the wake of what was perpetrated upon their souls? I am a somber witness of what can happen to the life of an innocent child who is sodomized at a young age. The ripples in that pond can go on and on forever.

I sincerely hope the twisted thinking of school administrators at Penn State who looked the other way in this sordid series of events is not representative of what is going on nationwide in other schools, but there is evidence it is not unique to Penn State. The culture of the NCAA has contributed to these events, I am sorry to say. The quest for money, ever increasing amounts of it, while somehow proclaiming its amateur status is naive. You can't have it both ways.

The purity of the NCAA's amateur image is continually challenged as recruiting violations pile up, disclosures of under the table payments to star athletes by boosters are disclosed, and the list goes on and on. Those guilty of crimes are routinely slapped on the hands, then go on to sign multi-year, multi-million dollar contracts with professional teams. Purity and college (even high school) athletic programs are not often two words found in the same sentence. There is a distortion over what is right and what can be considered acceptable conduct when boosting your "program," it seems.

The stark revelations at Penn State are a reminder once again that what we think is true, we hope is true, because we seem to value sports figures so much in our society, is nothing more than a sordid sham of excessive proportions.

The moral question was put into sharp contrast for me when I read in The New York Times a statement of one of the rioters who said, "It's not fair. The board is an embarrassment to our school and a disservice to the student population."

Really? The board of trustees acted decisively and accurately when it ended the season of Paterno prematurely by firing him, along with the university's president. As leaders of the university, the lapse in their moral judgment was appalling. Where's the outrage for the abused? Students are angry because their beloved coach was fired?

The evidence suggests both knew what was going on for fifteen years right under their noses and they took no decisive measures to clean house. Now their reputations, whatever they were before the events of last week, will be forever tainted and attached to this scandal. Evermore, they will have to live with their complicit decisions to see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.

And there is nothing supportive rioting students can do to alter that fact.


  1. It seems our friends in Provo are also guilty, to some degree, of setting the dollar on the highest pedestal. They regularly bring in athletes who are star players yet unprepared to live up to the school's behavioral standards. It's as if they recruit with crossed fingers. Now they want to join the Big East for football. One team or another will be making two 3-4 hour one-way, cross-country trips every week. This is in the best interests of students?

    I love the excitement of college football and Basketball, they're my favorite spectator sports. But it's all marred, you are correct in your assertion that the system is utterly corrupt. It's time to turn to the European model of athletic clubs unaffiliated with schools (and in BYU's case, turn to the Rexburg model).

    But the money, the money......

  2. I will be shocked if BYU takes the Big East invite. What's not to like about their independent status with 10 televised ESPN games?