Blame-Shifting Away Our Sin
When former NFL player Brian Holloway first saw tweets from the teenagers partying in his New York vacation home, he thought it was a hoax. He soon realized it was not, called the police, and the trespassers scattered. But not before they left behind an estimated $20,000 worth of damage.
Between 300 and 400 teenagers invaded Holloway's home that Labor Day weekend, vandalizing his property with graffiti, breaking windows and doors, urinating on the carpet, even stealing a memorial to his stillborn grandson. Being young (and wildly shortsighted), they tweeted pictures of themselves committing these very crimes.
Holloway responded with a surprisingly gracious offer: Rather than press charges, he re-posted their tweets on the website http://helpmesave300.com and invited the teens back for a picnic and cleanup. Only 4 of the perpetrators showed up for the picnic. And now, the parents of the remaining teens are threatening to sue Holloway for posting the photos online… photos their children had already posted online.
It's a classic case of parents making excuses for their kids. In response to the parents' threats, many outraged Americans have taken to the Internet to lambast the parents and their astounding self-righteousness. I generally agree with the criticisms. While these teens need to be held responsible for their actions, the onus is on the parents to discipline their kids, who are unlikely to take ownership for their behavior if they aren't learning to do so at home.
However, finger pointing isn't much of a solution. Instead, we might consider what this story means for us, parents and non-parents alike. What does it mean for how we raise our kids? And what does it mean for how we live out our faith?
These questions matter, because Holloway's victimization, and the related negligence of the parents, all occurred within a wider culture of blame shifting. Rather than take responsibility for one's actions, many individuals are prone to make excuses and shift the blame elsewhere. We see this tendency everywhere, from high profile cases such as Holloway's, to the classrooms of the American high school, where teachers face disrespect and even violence from their students, while receiving little to no support from parents or school administration.
If we want to be salt and light in a culture of blame shifting, then the Christian response is clear: We need to take ownership for our own wrong-doings. We need to accept the blame when we make a mistake, and we need to teach our children to do the same.
The practice of taking responsibility—and repenting—is an important Christian discipline for two reasons. The first is that it authenticates our witness in an unexpected way. I don't think the world expects Christians to be perfect. I don't think we need to be faultless in order to have a credible voice. Why? Because a Christian's credibility springs not from the absence of fault, but from how she responds to it.
Throughout the history of the church, Christians have sinned in both private and publics ways. When we do, we diminish the power of our witness to some degree. However, the humble acceptance of blame proclaims a witness of a different sort. It testifies to the greater reality that I need the grace of God. Rather than frantically preserve my own reputation, I acknowledge my frailty and then point to the one who never fails.
The second reason we must take responsibility for our actions is theological. When we engage in blame shifting or excuse making, we subscribe to a squishy view of sin that minimizes personal guilt and strips all meaning from cross. If sin is not that serious, then the crucifixion was a fool's errand. If our guilt is not that great, then Christ's death was unnecessarily cruel.
A soft view of sin also produces in us a cheap view of grace. As Jesus explains in Luke 7:47, whoever has been forgiven little loves little, but whoever has been forgiven much loves much. If we want to truly love and worship God for all He has done, then we must grasp the weight of our sin. Likewise, if we want our children to understand God's sacrifice for them, we must instill in them a sense of personality accountability.
I am not suggesting that we swing hard in the opposite direction of the culture by raking ourselves over the coals. Christ took on our punishment and we can add nothing to it, nor should we try. However, repentance and restoration cannot occur without responsibility. It is a hard discipline, but it is one we need not fear. Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more (Rom. 5:20), so in the words of Martin Luther, "Sin boldly." God is ready to extend mercy.
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