Determining Right and Wrong

Penn State’s head football coach, Joe Paterno, lost his job last week. He was fired. At the age of 84 Joe Paterno was still a capable football coach, as is indicated by his team’s 8-1 record at the time he was fired. Paterno’s firing was occasioned by the alleged horrific crimes of his former assistant, Jerry Sandusky. Sandusky is accused of raping at least eight boys. Joe Paterno knew for nine years about one instance of Sandusky’s sodomizing of a ten-year old boy, but he failed to do anything with that knowledge other than tell his boss at Penn State University about the incident.

Understandably, almost universal outrage has been expressed in the media over Sandusky’s crimes, as well as Paterno’s failure to make sure he was punished for them or at least that he was prevented from committing more crimes. Many articles condemning Sandusky and Paterno can be found by doing a simple search on the Internet. It seems our society still views the sexual exploitation of children as a monstrous crime.

But why? Why have so many concluded that Sandusky’s actions were monstrously wicked? Why have so many concluded that Joe Paterno’s failure to act more decisively is so reprehensible that he deserved to be fired and have his reputation tarnished for good? How do we determine what is right and, in this case, what is wrong?

Asking this question brings out the hypocrisy of many in the media who are condemning Sandusky, Paterno, and Penn State University. Many of the people who express outrage over the sexual exploitation of children promote the murder of unborn children, homosexuality, and all kinds of other monstrously wicked acts. One example, is Maureen Dowd, a columnist for the New York Times. Dowd approves of abortion and homosexuality but strongly condemns Sandusky, Paterno, and others at Penn State who failed to act more decisively. (Cf: Dowd gives a clue to how she and so many like her determine what is right and wrong when she writes,

Like the Roman Catholic Church, Penn State is an arrogant institution hiding behind its mystique. And sports, as my former fellow sports columnist at The Washington Star, David Israel [I could not find the article by Israel—CS], says, is “an insular world that protects its own, and operates outside of societal norms as long as victories and cash continue to flow bountifully.” Penn State rakes in $70 million a year from its football program [emphasis added].

Societal norms, what is normal in society, apparently determines right and wrong for Dowd and probably for many others in the media and in society generally. The reaction to what Sandusky did and Penn State’s cover-up likely has been so strong because the vast majority of people in society believe pedophilia is wrong.

The trouble with determining right and wrong on the basis of what society decides is normal is that what society defines as normal may change, and therefore right and wrong may change. One day, and perhaps this day may come soon, what Sandusky did may be viewed as perfectly legitimate by our society. And in that day outrage will be directed not towards those who abuse children but to those who condemn it, as is the case with abortion and homosexuality.

In order to determine right and wrong, we need a consistent standard. That is what the Bible is. The Bible is consistent because it is God’s Word. God, who cannot lie or contradict Himself, who is also perfectly just in His judgments, reveals what is right and wrong in the Bible. The Bible is the only reliable moral compass there is, and without it man cannot determine what is right or wrong.

What Jerry Sandusky did is monstrously wicked because God says so. He broke the laws of the state of Pennsylvania, but, more seriously, he broke the law of God. Joe Paterno apparently does not see it that way. Nor do those in the media who are condemning Sandusky and Paterno. They are all wrong.

All the Way Back…to Rome

The Washington Post¹ reported on October 9 that St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Maryland converted to Roman Catholicism. The report states, “In doing so, St. Luke’s became the first Episcopal church in the United States to convert under new Vatican rules meant to attract disaffected Protestants.” The “new Vatican rules” were made in 2009 to allow Anglican congregations, parishes, or dioceses to convert to the Roman Catholic Church en masse. The Roman Catholic Church’s new rules seem surprisingly tolerant. Converted Anglicans will be allowed to keep some of their own worship practices, and married clergymen are allowed to remain married and become priests in the Roman Catholic Church, although they will not be allowed to become bishops.

The Roman Catholic Church targeted the Anglican Church because of the deep division in the Anglican Church over issues such as women and homosexuals holding church offices. Many Anglicans who oppose the ordination of women and homosexuals are unhappy with the division in their denomination and in turn are attracted to the Roman Catholic Church because of its unified stance against their ordination. The Roman Catholic Church is happy to do what it can to attract these Anglicans back to its fold. And St. Luke’s was happy to go back to Rome.

The main reason St. Luke’s was happy to go back to Rome is that in Rome there is “one clear religious authority.” The members “said they didn’t like the range of views that Anglican clerics expressed on issues such as same-sex relationships and Christianity’s sole claim to God.” The former pastor of St. Luke’s, who now hopes to join Rome’s clergy, also explained that the church already “aligned…more closely with [Roman] Catholic theology than Protestant theology.” The road of St. Luke’s back to Rome included a church atmosphere in which chaos reigned because there was no clear authority and there was indifference to the doctrinal chasm between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism.

If the road of St. Luke’s to Rome is a blueprint for how others will return to Rome, we must conclude that there are also Presbyterian and Reformed churches on the road to Rome. In Reformed and Presbyterian churches the one clear authority is Scripture rather than the Pope. But in many Presbyterian and Reformed denominations the authority of Scripture is no longer recognized. Either Scripture’s authority is explicitly denied or it is practically ignored, so that the result is chaos in the church. People with radically different interpretations of Scripture on important issues are allowed to remain in the same denomination. That situation becomes wearying. How long will it be before people in these Reformed and Presbyterian churches are attracted to the apparent peace of Rome, where there is the clear authority of the pope?

Doctrinal indifference is also found in Reformed and Presbyterian churches. Many do not want to condemn Roman Catholic doctrines anymore, as is done by the great Reformation creeds. Roman Catholic doctrines are even taught in some Reformed and Presbyterian denominations. The entire Federal Vision movement that is plaguing Reformed and Presbyterian denominations essentially espouses Roman Catholic doctrine. It could almost be said of some Reformed and Presbyterian churches that they “align…more with Roman Catholic theology than with Protestant theology.” Would it really be so surprising if these churches go all the way back to Rome? Today it might sound unthinkable. But 20-30 years from now we will probably be as unsurprised to hear of this as we are to hear of an Episcopal Church going back to Rome.

What do they find in Rome? Authority. But not God’s authority. The pope, a man, rules Rome. He does so tyrannically. There is no freedom in Rome. There is bondage to man’s rules, to man’s false doctrines and evil worship practices. There is no joy, no blessedness in Rome. The road to Rome ends in spiritual destruction.

Let’s stay off the road to Rome. We have liberty, truth, and spiritual joy. We have the authority of Scripture. May we ever bow to it. And we have our Reformed creeds. May we ever love and confess their truths.


¹ viewed on November 14, 2011.