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Volume 7, Issue 2: Cultura

Making Peace by Exposing Sin

Roy Atwood

The crime and violence of recent months has been so appalling (even by American standards) that the sensational headlines in the local papers rival those of the National Enquirer and supermarket tabloids. Amy Fisher and Joey Buttafucco. The Menendez brothers. The Bobbitts. Drive-by shootings. Susan Smith and her dead babies. Pro-life radicals murdering baby killers. Bosnia. Chechnya. And OJ, OJ, OJ ad nauseum .

Most people were sick of the OJ hype long before the jury heard opening statements. In fact, most people are generally sick of the relentless coverage of crime, sex, scandal and mindless mayhem in our news. Editors regularly receive complaints that they don't run enough "good news" stories and that their crime coverage only encourages more lawlessness and corruption.
How should Christians think about OJ and the public revelations of sin? If the Bible is our only rule of faith and practice, then what does it teach about the public exposure or concealment of sin?
First, God not only permits public exposure of sin, but He positively requires it in His Word. Moses made idolators public examples (Deut. 13:6-11), Isaiah publicly revealed the transgressions and sins of God's people (Isaiah 58:1), Ezekiel exposed Israel's abominations (Ezekiel 16:2, 23:36), and Paul sternly warned Christians to not only avoid fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but to reprove them (Eph. 5:11). God Himself will disclose every vile secret of mankind on the final and awful day of judgment (Rom 2:16). In 1843 J.R. McDowell, editor of McDowell's Journal (NY) and a minister of the gospel, wrote one of the few biblical defenses of journalistic exposures of sin. Unlike the sensation-mongering "penny papers" of his day, McDowell's monthly based its exposes on the fact that the Bible taught and practicedfrom Genesis to Revelationthe public condemnation of sin. Biblically our duty is, McDowell concluded, "to expose licentiousness." To shirk our duty and to permit sin to have the field without rebuke is to mock the holiness of God. Failure to expose sin obliterates the sharp antithesis God has placed between righteousness and unrighteousness.
Second, the Bible also teaches that we must temper our public revelations of sin with justice and humility. True justice flows from obedience to the law of God, and God's Word reveals precisely how we are to deal with our own sins and the sins of others. His means perfectly fit His ends. He tells us, for example, when to speak gently and privately to a brother struggling with sin and when to rebuke the church and the nations for their (our) collective guilt. As McDowell observed, "The code of criminal law proscribed by every civilized and Christian government, requires the most diligent and energetic efforts to detect, expose and punish vice. . . . It is only upon the detection and punishment of vice, that the peace and safety of society depend. Banish from the community the vigilance of Police by day, and of a Watch by night . . . in short, abolish the whole system of means and measures, or powers and functions, organized for the detection, exposure, and punishment of viceAnd then shall you see commence the Reign of Terror and the Misrule of Anarchy." At the same time, the Bible tells us not to expose vice in self-righteousness (for so we condemn ourselves; see Matt. 7), but to declare the judgment of God against sin and to preach God's grace to sinners. The daily litany of public sin in the news should not improve our self-esteem ("Gee, I'm not nearly as sinful as that miserable man!"), but remind us that we stand personally and corporately guilty before a righteous God ("Lord have mercy on us").
And third, God uses the public exposure of sin to bring us to repentance and faith. Revelations of sin that merely provide fodder for gossip and profit from another's misery are themselves sins worthy of public revelation and repentance. All reporters who hound lawbreakers for the sake of ratings and profits, and all audiences who devour titillating scraps of scandal for their own perverted pleasure are equally guilty of gross public sin. Without repentance and faith as its goal, the public exposure of sin is just one more sin. In fact, the Scriptures inextricably link the revelation of sin with the call to repentance. For example, the apostle Peter, after he told the crowds on the Day of Pentecost that they were guilty of crucifying Jesus, said, "Save yourselves from this crooked age" and "repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus the Messiah for the forgiveness of your sins" (Acts 2:36-41). Knowledge of our sin is not enough. Only the washing away of our sins by Chr ist's righteousness will save us from all our sins, exposed or secret.
McDowell summed up the issue this way: "Those therefore who oppose the detection and exposure of vice, must see that they are acting in opposition to the best interests of society, and to the collective wisdom and experience of legislators in every age of the world. But this is not all: Such opposers must find themselves acting in fearful opposition to the Precept and Practice of the Bible, and of the Bible's God."
We must not conceal, therefore, the vile sins of man-yours, mine, or OJ's. Rather, we should repent from the failure of our news media and our churchesour failureto call sinners so exposed to repent and to make peace with The Only One Who Forgives All Our Sins.

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