Another idol crumbles. One can hardly turn on the news without hearing about allegations by women claiming decades-old sexual assaults by comedian Bill Cosby. The image of the man once dubbed “America’s dad” is forever tarnished in the public’s eyes. The shock is even greater because Cosby has been one of the few people in the entertainment industry to speak up for high morals and family values. We trusted him. And now, if the accusations are proven true, we are left with the strong impression that we have been deceived once again.
We’ve seen this movie played numerous times before. Not only in the secular world, but also within religious institutions worldwide, where people of faith have been shocked through the ages by pastors, priests and other religious leaders who betrayed their wives, molested children or stole money from their congregations. When they fall, they bring down a number of faithful with them. The tragic consequences of their actions spread far and wide, often turning their victims away from the God they proclaim. Because many of their followers idealized their leaders as men and women of strong faith, their actions often make people stop attending church altogether.
I’ve witnessed the consequences of a leader’s immoral choices in the lives of his family and followers. I’ve known people who stopped going to church because of the hypocrisy they experience among believers. And although I do believe that it’s natural that such experiences make us question the perpetrator’s faith, their actions should not become an excuse for us to stop worshiping God.
People of faith are often labeled as hypocrites by those who choose to stand away from our places of worship. Naturally, when a religious leader falls, they give munition for those who criticize the entire faith. I find it amusing though; because truth be told, we walk among hypocrites of all types everywhere we go. Religious hypocrites, political hypocrites, hypocrite teachers, co-workers, you name it. Doing the opposite of what we preach is not only common, it’s human. It’s not right, but it is indeed human. Some individuals’ bad choices unquestionably bear more devastating consequences than others, but we all fail. Only God does not.
That’s why I decided, a long time ago, not to idealize men (or women); even the seemingly strongest person of faith. Every human being who walks on this earth disappoints someone at some point in their lives. We must look to God for perfection, not men. Because I will fail. So will you. Even when we don’t mean to, we are bound to hurt someone we love. And when it comes to our faith, if we put our eyes on our pastor, our priest, our rabbi or any other religious leader, instead of on God, we allow their weaknesses, their struggles and even their lack of faith to guide our steps away from God.
Bill Cosby, the man, may have failed his fans. We may indeed eventually find out that his moral compass was broken when it came to his personal choices. We don’t know those answers yet. But that doesn’t make his message wrong. It makes him wrong. Likewise, if a person within our church, maybe even our pastor, fails us, we must remember that they’re as human as we are. We must not blame God for their choices and use them as an excuse to leave the faith. Rather, we must keep our eyes on him, the only perfect one, who gave his creation free will to decide whether or not to obey him, and remind ourselves that he is the only one who will never leave us or fail us.