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Monday, January 22, 2018

The Perfect Hero

Doesn't exist.

End of story.

It's not hard to find these days. A Baltimore memorial honoring the Star-Spangled Banner was defaced recently with the accusation "Racist anthem" spray-painted on it. "Racist anthem?" you ask. So they tell us. You see, Francis Scott Key, a slave owner in his day, included a third verse we don't see that included the lines
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave
There you have it; clearly a celebration of slavery and exultation in their terror and death.

Now, we can debate it if you want. The story goes that the British had hired mercenaries and black slaves to fight against the Americans, and Key was rejoicing that these opponents of his country were not prevailing. Racism or just nationalism where "slave" merely references a group of people attacking his country? You can decide. My point, however, is that Francis Scott Key was not a perfect human being. He had faults. I said, "It's not hard to find these days," and I was referring to that -- heroes who have faults.

Thomas Kidd wrote an article entitled, "When Our Heroes Don't Live Up to Their Theology" about this topic. We find out that Christopher Columbus wasn't always a good guy and we decide to remove all monuments. They have actually removed George Washington markings because he owned slaves. In the Christian realm, it turns out that influential theologians like George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards owned slaves, and suddenly anything they had to say is no longer worth examining. Martin Luther is almost as famous for his horrendous anti-Jewish statements as his Reformation work, and maybe we should ignore his Reformation work. John Calvin famously had Servitus executed, so nothing Calvin has to offer is of any value. Is this the way it is? Rather, is this the way it should be?

I'd like to point out that, just on the face of it, those that think this way are committing the classic logical fallacy, the ad hominem error. That is, "Don't listen to what he says because he's a bad guy." This is a standard (perhaps the most common?) error because it assaults the source without evaluating the content. This is not a valid way to evaluate content (as if that needs to be said). "Ignore everything they said and did" is not a valid (in terms of logic) response.

So what do we do? "This pastor we liked did that??! Now what?!" Do we ignore it? "He's done so much good that we should ignore the bad." Should we discard it? "It doesn't matter how much good he has done; if there is bad, it's all bad." Or should we manage it? "There is bad (and we don't call it good) and there is good (and we don't call it bad)."

Taking a cue from Scripture, as it turns out "all have sinned" (Rom 3:23). That would require that no one we admire or learn from is free from error or sin (with the obvious exception of Christ ... but I'm pretty sure none of us are reading books written by Jesus or are in a church pastored by Jesus). Paul classified himself as "foremost" among sinners (1 Tim 1:15). You will not find a single person that is error-free in orthodoxy (right doctrine) or orthopraxy (right living). Further, Scripture doesn't make any attempt to "deify" its heroes. David is a "man after God's own heart" (Acts 13:22) who committed murder and adultery. Abraham lied about his wife because he was afraid they'd kill him (twice!) (Gen 12:14-17; Gen 20:1-9) to get her even after God had promised offspring, but is listed as an example of faith (Heb 11:8-10). The Bible doesn't hide the fact that some of our best examples were not good people. Neither should we.

So, we look to positive points from positive examples with positive things to say and benefit from them. And we see that these positive people have negative aspects that are, indeed, negative, which helps us avoid the danger of pride and the danger of worshiping men rather than God. We thank God for the good that He gives through these and we thank God that He can save sinners ... like us. If you're looking for the perfect hero, save your efforts. No such person exists. You can find the positives and mark the negatives and benefit from both. Or there are the other alternatives -- ignore the negatives or reject the positives. Your call.

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