ABSOLUTELY WRONG

 

Americans' attitudes toward right and wrong have probably never been so confused as they are at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Millions of our citizens are not even sure the German holocaust was wrong. Tragically, leaders in our colleges and universities, in the media and even in churches seem not to know if there are any acts that are absolutely wrong. Jim Nelson Black's disturbing book, Freefall of the American University: How Our Colleges and Universities Are Corrupting the Minds and Morals of the Next Generation (Nashville: WND Books, 2004), accuses the American university of being involved "in a conspiracy against the historic moral and social values of the American people" (p. 6). Dr. Black insists there has been a "collapse of standards on our campuses." Could that be one of the reasons that "two-thirds of college students today have sexually-transmitted diseases, such as, AIDS, Chlamydia, hepatitis B, gonorrhea, herpes, syphilis and venereal warts" (p. 208)? Tragically, some of these diseases, such as genital herpes, are incurable and some are fatal.

 

Every one whose eyes are open knows the moral views of the majority of the people in the media. I shall plan to deal with the media at a later day. I want to turn briefly to the views of liberal theologians. Wesley C. Baker was formerly a professor at San Francisco Theological Seminary and the preacher of a Presbyterian Church USA in San Rafael, California. In his book, The Open End of Christian Morals (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1972), Wesley Baker spews out some of the vilest values the perverted heart of man can imagine. Baker says "there is a historic suspicion that Jesus saw society as morally open-ended" (p. 16). Is Baker speaking of the same Jesus revealed in the New Testament? How open-ended are these words: "You have heard it said by them of old time, You shall not commit adultery: but I say unto you, That whosoever looks on a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her already in his heart" (Mt. 5:27-28). Jesus not only condemned committing adultery; he condemned thinking adultery.

 

Baker strongly affirms: "There is no such thing as a morally defensible position. That is, to be 'right' in any ethical situation is impossible" (p. 29). If "there is no such thing as a morally defensible position," Baker's position is not defensible. If his position is not defensible, why should reasonable people pay any attention to what he says on any topic? And if "to be 'right' in any ethical situation is impossible," he has successfully refuted every word he has written in his book or spoken from the pulpit. Oddly enough, Baker says: "Jesus refused to condemn adultery or prostitution" (p. 30). I wonder if Wesley Baker had ever read these words from the very mouth of the Son of God: "For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: all these evil things come from within, and defile the man" (Mk. 7:21-23). Jesus Christ specifically mentions "adulteries" and "fornications." The word "fornications" is plural and includes all sexual activity outside the marriage bond. Prostitution is sexual immorality and is always wrong—always condemned.

 

I have one other excerpt from Baker's book I must examine briefly. He asserts: "There are no absolutes, no unbreakable ground rules, no qualifying principles" (p. 59). Would it be possible to make a more foolish and illogical statement than that? If Baker were teaching a college course on logic and stated: "There are no absolutes," some bright freshman would almost certainly ask, "Are you absolutely sure?" Arguments declaring there no absolutes are self-refuting. If there are no absolutes, his statement is not absolute. If his observation is not absolute, why should we believe anything he says? Baker adopts the situation ethics of Joseph Fletcher when he writes, "It all depends on the circumstances" (p. 113). Is he absolutely sure of that?

 

Just in case you might be tempted to think that only radical theologians on the west coast could be so out-of-step with common decency and with biblical moral values, let me assure you that is not the case.   Former Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong has vigorously defended the impossibility of being certain about anything. In his book, Into The Whirlwind: The Future of the Church (Minneapolis: The Seabury Press, 1983), Spong insists: "We are thus entering a brand new world where certainty more and more will be seen as a vice rising out of an emotional need, and uncertainty will be seen as a virtue possessing integrity and a willingness to risk security in the quest for truth" (p. 26). If you think that Spong actually believes that we cannot be certain about anything, that is not the case. In fact, nobody could be that unreasonable. He at least believes he can be certain about not being certain. One statement from Spong completely explodes his foolish notion that we cannot be certain. "Since for me God alone can be the author of salvation, Jesus has to be in some sense God for me" (p. 39). Is he certain about that?

 

My question for you to consider today is very simple: "Is anything absolutely wrong?" Before we examine some modern behaviors to determine if they are absolutely wrong, I must make one clarification. Does the Bible forbid all killing of human beings? In other words, is killing always wrong? We know murder is wrong—always wrong— and will send the murderer to hell. Jesus Christ himself taught that murderers "shall have their part in the lake that burns with brimstone: which is the second death" (Rev. 21:8). But is killing always murder? The state has a right—more correctly, an obligation—to execute some people. Any person who commits treason should be executed.   The government should kill those people who commit first-degree murder. Executing vicious criminals, like Scott Peterson, is not murder. It is just punishment for unmitigated evil. Even if capital punishment does not deter other crimes—as some liberals maintain—it still must be done in a civilized society.

 

 Is it wrong—always wrong—to starve someone to death? A few years ago in the state of Indiana, a woman gave birth to a Down's syndrome baby. In addition to Down's syndrome, the child suffered from a condition known as "esophageal atresia"—a condition that does not allow a baby to swallow food and water. The father, a public school teacher, had been reading about the long-effects of Down's syndrome. He believed the child would be severely retarded. He chose not to allow doctors to correct the defect of the esophagus. He also chose to allow the baby to starve to death. The baby's doctor asked a nurse to care for the baby until it died. She refused to aid the doctor and the parents in committing infanticide. The doctors asked another nurse who agreed to care for the baby. She said the baby died a horrible death. Just hours before the baby died, it tried to cry, but could not because there was no moisture in the baby's mouth. Blood trickled from the baby's mouth onto the white sheets. The nurse later wrote an article with the title, "Never Again."

 

Child abuse—sexual, physical or otherwise—exists in virtually every community in the United States. The abusers may be parents, religious leaders, schoolteachers or neighbors. We are always disturbed—at least, I am—when I hear of child abuse, regardless of the source of the abuse. When preachers, priests, rabbis and other religious leaders abuse children, it adversely affects the view of religion many Americans have. I have dozens and dozens of articles delineating child sexual abuse by religious leaders. You know the question I am going to ask you. Do you believe it is always wrong for anyone to abuse a child? If there are no absolutes—as radicals like Wesley Baker and John Shelby Spong teach—it cannot be absolutely wrong to abuse a child. It might be wrong under some circumstances, especially if it is my child who is abused, but it cannot be wrong all the time everywhere.

 

What is our Lord's view of abusing children? Christ's disciples asked him, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? And Jesus called a little child to him, and set him in the midst of them. And said, Verily I say unto you, Except you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receives me. But who shall offend one of these little ones who believe in me, it were better for him to have a millstone hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of sea" (Mt. 18:1 -6). The God of heaven looks with disdain and disapproval on child abusers. There really is no more abominable behavior than abusing a child.

 

Recently there have been a number of reports of women schoolteachers sexually abusing teenage boys. In the eyes of many people, that may not seem as evil as a man's abusing little girls. And in the long run, guys may be able to overcome the abuse better than little girls, although that may not be the case. But a grown woman's making sexual overtures to boys gives them a warped view of human sexuality. It may make it almost impossible for them to settle down with a wife and make a good home. Is it always wrong when a 30-year-old woman schoolteacher has sex with a thirteen- or fourteen-year-old boy? Is it always wrong when a male schoolteacher has sex with one of his female or male students? ALWAYS! ALWAYS!

 

The city of Atlanta has recently been shaken to its very foundation. A 33-year old vicious criminal by the name of Brian Nichols shot and killed four people, including Superior Court Judge Rowland Barnes, court reported Julie Brandau, the Fulton County deputy who was guarding him and Sgt. Hoyt Teasley, another deputy. Was the behavior of Brian Nichols absolutely wrong? Can you imagine a situation where it would be right? Do not the court officers in Fulton County share some of Brian Nichols' guilt since they did not do all they should have done to prevent him from the rampage that killed four people? The sheriff of Fulton County was negligent in his duties. He has done wrong—inexcusable wrong. He should be tried and convicted of malfeasance in office. He should be removed from his office.

 

School shootings occur much too often and have brought shame on our great nation. The Columbine, Jonesboro and Paducah shootings and other tragedies should have alerted American schools to the dangers some students pose to those schools. A boy who created ghastly drawings, admired Adolf Hitler and called himself "the angel of death" should have told the school authorities in Bemidji, Minnesota, that Jeff Weise, age 17, was extremely dangerous. I am not trying to remove the guilt from Jeff Weise because what he did was absolutely wrong. But the school authorities must share some of the blame for the tragedy.

 

I seriously doubt that Jeff Weise had ever heard of Wesley Baker and of John Shelby Spong. But had he learned from television and other sources that wrong is in the eye of the beholder? If we keep teaching our children and young people that nothing is absolutely wrong, how are they going to respond? For example, if it is not absolutely wrong to steal from a store or from a private home, what prevents our young people from becoming thieves? After all, the majority of them would likely escape arrest or if they are arrested, they will be slapped on the hands and released to steal again. Let me tell you in very plain language what is absolutely wrong: failing to teach our children that it is absolutely wrong to commit fornication, to steal, to lie and to kill their classmates and teachers. Parents, preachers and teachers had better take notice of what is occurring in our nation and take steps to remedy the situation. If people who produce television programs, movies and popular music had consciences, they could help change the moral and spiritual atmosphere in America. But if they did that, they might not make as much as money as they currently make.

 

Leonard Little at one time played football for the University of Tennessee. In recent years, he has played defensive end for the St. Louis Rams. In 1999 Leonard Little drove through a stop sign and killed Susan Gutweiler, a 47-year-old woman of Oakville, Missouri. Little admitted he had been drunk the night he killed the woman. He pleaded guilty to charges of manslaughter. He spent 90 days in jail for killing a woman—90 days—and performed 1,000 hours of community service. Recently Leonard Little has been arrested again for driving under the influence of alcohol. He was driving 78 mph in a 55 mph speed zone at Ladue, Missouri. If Leonard Little had not been a professional football player, he would not have been arrested the second time for drunk driving. He would still be in prison for killing Susan Gutweiler. But, tragically, we treat professional athletes as if they are above the law. They are not and should not be given any slack when they violate the law. What message are we sending to our young people when we imprison a professional athlete for just ninety days for manslaughter? Is driving under the influence of alcohol absolutely wrong—always wrong? If we knowingly endanger the lives and property of others, how could anyone doubt the evil of such behavior?

 

Dr. William Bennett served in responsible positions in the Reagan and George Herbert Walker Bush administrations. I have been reading Dr. Bennett's books for years. Incidentally, I was disappointed to learn of his addiction to gambling. But that is not the point I want to make by mentioning Dr. Bennett. In 1998 Dr. Bennett wrote an excellent book with the title, The Death of Outrage: Bill Clinton and the Assault on American Ideals (New York: The Free Press). Dr. Bennett reminds his readers of the Bill Clinton's promise that he would have "the most ethical administration in the history of the republic." Instead, "Bill Clinton was a reproach. He has defiled the office of the presidency of the United States" (p. 5).

 

Surely no moral person in the United States approves of the immoral behavior of former president Clinton. He was sexually involved with an intern at the White House. He lied to the American people, betrayed his wife and daughter and engaged in other sleazy behaviors. As despicable as his behavior was, it was also very troubling to hear the defenses of his behavior. Geraldo Rivera said he was sure something happened, but even if the president was guilty of lying and being a hypocrite, so what? Get over it." Mary McCrory, one of the Washington press corps' most influential members, calls his conduct "reprehensible" but "not impeachable" (p. 13). Lying to a grand jury and suborning witnesses is not an impeachable offense?

 

Dr. Bennett quotes these disturbing words from former South Dakota Senator George McGovern: "Even if Bill Clinton has yielded to an occasional attack of lust and is too embarrassed to tell us about it, those sins have done far less damage to the American public and our democracy than is being done by a federal prosecutor rampaging across the land year after year" (p. 16). How did George McGovern arrive at the conclusion, "an occasional attack of lust?" Incidentally, it would have helped George McGovem to keep from making such inexcusably silly remarks had he remembered that the federal prosecutor was operating under the authority of the Attorney General of the United States. But if politicians, newspaper columnists and Hollywood sleazy characters, such as, Warren Beatty and Barbara Streisand, decide to ignore or to approve of immoral behavior, that is their prerogative. But they need to know that lying, committing adultery, suborning witnesses and betraying one's family are absolutely wrong—always wrong—even when committed by the most powerful man in the world and even if his conduct had the approval of every person the United States. Defending such conduct is absolutely wrong also.

 

Dr. Bennett has a brief discussion of J. Philip Wogaman, an ethicist and the preacher of the church Bill and Hillary attended in Washington. The New York Times interviewed Wogaman about the president's conduct. According to Wogaman, the only absolute is God. He argued that when we make absolutes of "cultural expression" like heterosexuality and sexual fidelity, we are guilty of idolatry (p. 113). With a preacher like Philip Wogaman, it is no wonder that Bill Clinton strayed from fidelity to his wife. Are preachers like Wogaman wrong on such matters—absolutely wrong? Absolutely!

 

In an appendix to his book, Dr. Bennett has a comparison of the Nixon defense for his unethical and illegal behavior and the defense of Bill Clinton. The press, Hollywood, liberal politicians, academicians and theologians despised Richard Nixon, but they loved Bill Clinton. Dr. Bennett concludes his book with these observations: "Here is my hope." Americans "will declare, with confidence, that a lie is a lie, an oath is an oath, corruption is corruption. And truth matters" (p. 133).

 

But should we not be tolerant of the conduct of people like Leonard Little and Bill Clinton? Dr. Bennett quotes G. K. Chesterton as saying: tolerance "becomes the virtue of people who do not believe anything." We absolutely cannot tolerate evil—whether in the White House, in church houses or in private houses.

 

Winford Claiborne

The International Gospel Hour

P.O. Box 118

Fayetteville, TN 37334