Anastasi0 Somoza Garcia was a Nicaraguan political despot who was by all accounts a charmless individual. Educated in the US, he returned to his country, overthrew the President, and ensconced himself as dictator, ruling with an iron fist for more than four decades.
The US Secretary of State once remarked to President FD Roosevelt, “Somoza’s a bastard”, to which the President replied, “Yes, but he’s our bastard.”
A bastard, but our bastard. Sorry for the French, but in any language this appalling tendency to turn a blind eye to the sins of those in our tribe is toxic and infectious.
Toxic tribalism can be political, cultural or religious. The idea that a toxic person gets a hall pass for their behaviour because they belong to our stripe is now rife in our culture across its various spectra. And it’s shameful.
We’re seeing that with Trump. Evangelical leader, Wayne Grudem’s belated withdrawal of support for Trump, given the latest lewd revelations, is simply a case of “me-tooism”; a rat leaving a sinking ship. Like this was the tipping point that revealed something about Trump completely out of keeping with his character? Please!
He might be a lewd sexist pig, but he’s our lewd sexist pig.
But it’s not a Republican thing, still less an evangelical thing. After all, unless Trump has oral sex in the White House with an intern, then he’s not even batting in Bill Clinton’s league.
He might be a serial sexual pest, but he’s our serial sexual pest.
Meanwhile Hollywood has continued to lavish praise on child sex offender Roman Polanski, as well as turning a blind eye to the dubious Woody Allen’s past. And little has been said about Elijah Wood’s scathing revelations about sexual abuse of minors among the glitterati. Of course if it all comes out in the wash and the social media show trial gathers a head of steam, then watch the rats jump ship.
And then there’s the BBC and the UK media industry’s refusal to call out serial pedophile Jimmy Saville for all those years of sneaky, slimy abuse. Louis Theroux and Johnny Rotten being the honourable exceptions to this refusal.
When Rotten named and shamed Saville decades ago the BBC declared it would never have him on the national broadcaster again, what with all that spit and drinking and swearing on stage. The fact Rotten has been happily, faithfully and proudly married to the same woman for more than thirty years may have been a factor. After all he said this about his wife, Norah Forster a few years ago:
If one of us goes before the other it will be murder for the survivor. She is older than me but women live longer, so we should die at exactly the same time. That would be perfect.
Gee – he’s married an older woman – what sort of sicko is he? Doesn’t he know the media industry frowns on such age disparities?
And then of course there’s our very own boy from Bassendean – Rolf Harris, whose sexual abuse was well documented but overlooked, as only the little people were affected. We’re moving to Bassendean next year. All traces of the once quirky wobble-boarder have now been expunged from our gentrifying suburb. But not before time. It took effort, and it took the small voices from below to bring justice.
And star of Aussie TV sit-com Hey Dad, Robert Hughes didn’t get away with murder. He didn’t have to. He could sexually abuse his younger co-stars because the television network executives in charge of the show turned a blind eye. The show once boasted of being the longest running sit-com in the world. Here’s hoping Hughes does a longer stretch than that in prison.
They might be sick individuals, but they are sick individuals who make a lot of money for the entertainment industry, so they’re OUR sick individuals.
Which brings us, sadly, to the church. The apologists among “Big Eva” in the US for Trump are simply another iteration of the powers that be. Powers that in the institutional churches flowered in different ways; hiding sexual abuse down the decades, moving offenders on to greener pastures where they could gorge themselves again, strip the field barren and then be moved on again. Hall pass after hall pass.
But lest we “tut-tut” about sexual abuse, consider the revelations of spiritual abuse that have been splashed across social media these past few years. Blokes who ticked all the right theological boxes (mostly conservative theological boxes), were given the ubiquitous hall pass because they were “ours” and they were getting stuff done, and packed out the conferences, and sold the books. Once again it took the bleating sheep from below, and irrefutable evidence to the contrary, for the movers and shakers to do a “Grudem” and admit what was clear all along if only they’d wished to see it. Hall pass revoked, but not before time, and not before shame was brought on the church.
We never learn.
And we all do it too, in dozens of small ways. Especially on Facebook in this fractured decade. All of the time. Someone posts about how much of a “b@%#d” such and such a person is, and we work the angles with a “Yes, but”, followed by a link to how bad their opponent is in some other area. It’s become a standard response.
A central argument in Romans (ch2:1) starts with these words:
You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things
And it ends with these words in Romans3:19:
Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.
Of course the point of that text is not to force us to say that my tribal member is a “b@%#d”, or even that the member of the opposing tribe is a “b@%#d”, but that I am! The hall pass for my own tribal member is simply an extension of the hall pass I give to myself. That’s the pattern and the justification.
Yet Scripture teaches that, if on last day I stand before God in my own self-righteousness then I am in the same dangerous, dreadful position as Somoza, Trump, Clinton, Saville, Polanski, Harris, Hughes; and yes, Roosevelt Rotten and Theroux. Even Grudem, should he stand before God with a self-administered hall pass of self-righteousness, is doomed.
That’s the bleakness of humanity. The simple fact is that before God we all belong to the same tribe – the unrighteous one entitled to no hall pass. We are all “b@%#ds” so to speak. And there is no hope for any of us.
Except of course through the one who was, ironically, once sneered at as illegitimate by those in his own tribe: the Lord Jesus. When Jesus challenged them about their evil desires the extremely tribal religious leaders of his day retorted: “We are not illegitimate children, the only Father we have is God himself.” (John 8).
The tragedy was that they were illegitimate, they just couldn’t see it. The reality was that Jesus, surrounded as he was with rumours of his own illegitimate conception, was a true Son; was the true Son, who grants sonship to all who refuse the hall pass of self-righteous tribalism and come to him for forgiveness.
Even Donald Trump. Should he ever see the need for it.