ACQUITTED SINNER: Former Sen. John Edwards and family last month outside the federal courthouse in Greensboro, North Carolina, where he was found not guilty on one of six counts of campaign corruption. The judge ruled a mistrial on the other five. (Photo: Chucky Liddy/Newscom)
The campaign-corruption trial of former U.S. Sen. John Edwards is history now. His former mistress, Rielle Hunter, with whom he had a daughter, is now on tour promoting her memoir, What Really Happened: John Edwards, Our Daughter, and Me. She announced during a TV interview that she and Edwards are no longer a couple, but will continue raising their daughter together. Soon, both will be out of the news cycle, but their saga possibly offers a lasting lesson for many Christians concerning this question about sin and crime.
A jury found Edwards, an admitted sinner, not guilty on one count that he accepted illegal campaign contributions in order to hide his adulteress affair. The jury deadlocked on five other similar counts. The acquittal hasn’t totally exonerated Edwards of campaign finance crimes, but the U.S. State Department dropped the case anyway.
Edward’s sin with Hunter occurred while he was campaigning for the presidency of the United States and while his late wife, Elizabeth, was dying of cancer. Like many men (and women) caught in an immoral self-inflicted bind, Edwards lied and lied until the truth, as it always does, eventually came to light. Many people who paid attention to the case agree that Edwards was put on trial more so as punshment for being unfaithful to his dying wife and for his hubris to believe he could sneak his secret into the White House.
And so Edwards publicly confessed his sins (which the Bible, in 1 John 1:9, states will be forgiven) before God and the world. However, should the government criminalize a sin that basically affects only the imperfect consenting adults involved? Should the church get riled about certain sins, while giving a pass to others?
I’ve been wondering about this most recently since President Obama announced in a TV interview in May that he supports same-sex marriage. The president caused an uproar among many Christians that still simmers, including among many of his supporters in the black church. But should the government, under political pressure from the church, legislate against same-sex marriage, especially when in America two consenting heterosexual adults can marry and divorce without the church being involved? Should most Christians insist that same-sex marriage be illegal, when homosexuality is actually listed in the Bible equally among other sexual sins, including adultery, that are not federal crimes?
A sin is a transgression against divine law for which Christians believe the sinner will be accountable at the judgment seat. The sinner mainly puts him or herself at risk with God. A crime is an action against the people that injures the “public welfare.” Like a drunk driver who runs a stop sign, or an armed robber, committing a crime puts several innocent people potentially at great risk. The government, working on behalf of the people, therefore has a duty to prevent crimes and punish criminals. Does the same duty apply to non-felonious sins?
Obviously many sins are also crimes such as, for example, being a serial killer. But what injury does same-sex marriage between two consenting adults cause to the public welfare? Is it more severe than adultery? Is it more destructive than divorce, a sin that often tears families and wounds innocent children? God allows divorce (which should be a last resort when reconciliation fails) under certain circumstances. Neither adultery nor divorces are federal crimes. Thankfully America is a democracy — a nation of Christians, believers of other faiths, agnostics and atheists, who for the most part believe in preserving the separation of church and state, and not a theocracy, as in living under Sharia law.
A recent CNN/ORC poll indicates that the majority of Americans believe same-sex marriage should be legal. Perhaps they’re saying it should be treated like adultery or divorce; it may be wrong, but people deserve the free-will right to choose who they want to (or don’t want to) be in a committed personal relationship with.
During closing remarks, Edwards’ attorney Abbe Lowell reportedly told the jury, “This is a case that should define the difference between a wrong and a crime … between a sin and a felony. John Edwards has confessed his sins. He will serve a life sentence for those.”
Perhaps Christians who are adamantly against two consenting same-sex adults having the legal right to marry should adopt this reasoning, too.
THE SUNDAY AFTER: After being arrested for allegedly beating his teen daughter, megachurch pastor Creflo Dollar appeared before his Atlanta congregation to deny the charges. "Raising children in our culture of disrespect is a challenge," he said.
Pastor Creflo Dollar did the expected during his first sermon after being booked on charges of simple battery, family violence, and cruelty to children. He repeated his denial of his daughter’s accusations that he choked, punched, and slammed her down during an argument.
You can view the address here, but in short, Dollar read from a prepared statement that was likely signed off on by his legal defense team. Dollar said:
• He is the true victim, not his 15-year-old daughter.
• He should not have been arrested.
• The police are irresponsible for photographing an eczema mark on his daughter’s neck.
• The news media and other accusers are evil and blowing things out of proportion.
• “The enemy” is trying to discredit him in order to block his message of grace.
Dollar concluded by quoting Psalms 35 to explain his situation and the likely result: “Malicious witnesses testify against me. They accuse me of crimes I know nothing about…Take up my case my God and my Lord…”
The most revealing part of his address was when he seemed to go off script a bit.
“I’m a human being and, you know, I’ve had to do a lot of praying and my family has been very supportive,” he said. “Because when I feel like an injustice has been done, I get angry. And yet I respect the law.
On some levels, I can surely appreciate where Pastor Dollar is coming from. As I’ve written previously, rearing teens can be very difficult. Depending on their personalities, they often have a sense of entitlement, they think they know everything, and with hormones raging they can be outright nasty. My wife and I have been there with our three children, of which the youngest is our 19-year-old daughter. As a dedicated father, I know rearing a daughter can be particularly challenging. You worry about them being harmed even more than you do your sons. You have to be more careful and sensitive when correcting them.
Even when correcting my sons physically, my point was to calm them down and show them that if I really wanted to hurt them I could. Being an athletic 6-foot-1 inches and more than 200 pounds, I often needed to think twice before dispensing any sort of physical punishment. And if one of the kids deserved physical correction, it was often safer for them — and better for the parent-child relationship — for their mother to do it, especially if it was our daughter. Still, regardless of their gender, your teens can make you snap, but as a parent you MUST maintain control, lest you cross the line.
What set most people off in this Pastor Dollar case is the accusation that he choked punched and slammed his daughter. Child abuse is “any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation; or an act or failure to act, which presents an imminent risk of serious harm.”
Only the Dollar family knows if this situation rises to the level of abuse. However, watching his well-meaning congregation give him a standing ovation, and reading the many comments here on UrbanFaith misinterpreting the scripture “spare the rod, spoil the child,” I wonder about a dangerous message being sent to people who are truly victims of domestic abuse: The church isn’t much of a sanctuary for help.
Domestic child abuse is a serious problem in America. According to the Administration for Children and Families, there were 3.3 million child abuse referrals involving 5.9 million children in 2010.
Some published reports estimate 25 percent of churchgoers have experienced domestic abuse. This means that among those clapping vigorously in support of Pastor Dollar, there were sufferers of domestic violence. There are people suffering in my church and your church. YOU may be suffering in silence.
I know personally teen girls who have suffered domestic abuse at the hands of men in their homes. One in particular attended church religiously, but felt no one in the church would believe her because her stepfather was respected in the community. So she suffered in silence. Girls in these types of situations often become women who enter abusive relationships. Even when married to men who are not abusers, these women have wounds that scar their marriages. They need counseling.
As this situation with Pastor Dollar unfolds, what message are true victims of domestic abuse hearing?
Perhaps this unfortunate incident will provide Pastor Dollar and other church leaders around the country the opportunity to offer a word of grace to the silent sufferers in their midst.
Wil LaVeist will discuss this article and the topic of domestic abuse on his radio show tomorrow, Wednesday June 13, from 12 to 1 p.m. Eastern Time. Listen to the live stream on Hampton University’s WHOV here: www.whov.org.
TOUGH LOVE?: Pastor Creflo Dollar's mug shot from his arrest on Friday, June 8.
This is not the type of story I was expecting to read just before Father’s Day.
According to news reports, Atlanta-area megachurch preacher Creflo Dollar was arrested for allegedly assaulting his 15-year-old daughter. The two were arguing over the daughter attending a party. According to the Fayette County police report, the argument turned physical when the preached clutched his daughter’s throat, slammed her down, punched her, and beat her with his shoe. His 19-year-old daughter corroborated the story, police said. Dollar was arrested on charges of simple battery, family violence, and child cruelty. He was released on $5,000 bond.
Being a father of a 19-year-old daughter, I have an idea of how this went down:
Dollar: Look young lady, no God-fearing daughter of mine has any business being out there “droppin’ it like it’s hot” like some video chick on BET, or worse.
Daughter: Oh, so you calling me a ho now, Daddy? You worried about me or your preacher reputation? I’m grown. I can do what I want to do. You don’t own me.
Dollar: Little girl, I brought you in this world and in the name of Jesus, I’ll take you out.
Daughter: To hell you will!
Dollar: No you didn’t! I’ll kick your …
And that’s about where the similarities end for me. Raising my hands to my daughter or to my wife is out of the question. My older sons? Well, they’re different cases. But not my only daughter who (technically) is no longer my “baby girl,” even though she’ll always be just that.
As a father, rearing a daughter is more than a notion. Especially if you know what’s out there awaiting them because of your own pre-Jesus experience running “the game” in the streets. We dedicated fathers worry about dogs … I mean, young men — many of whom do not have their fathers around to train them. We worry they’ll disrespect our daughter or outright abuse her. We have thoughts of willingly doing prison time after tracking down some punk who harmed our precious girl.
We remember the “sweet talk and conquer” mentality we had as teens and twenty-somethings and wonder if our daughter will reap what we sewed. Combine this with that neck-jerking, eye-cutting nasty attitude that often comes with the terrible teen years, as a parent you sometimes don’t know whether to pray or pull your hair because of your daughter. It’s a blessing if teens like Dollar’s daughter truly understand this.
My daughter and I have gotten into it particularly over some of her choices in skirts. I don’t like seeing her legs the way I like looking at her mother’s thighs. We also get into it because we’re stubborn debaters. We enjoy frequent rounds of verbal handball. But to get so out of control that I clutch her throat, slam her down and ball my fist? No. That’s not fatherly strength; it’s the ultimate sign of male weakness.
CELEBRITY REV: As an author, TV personality, and pastor of World Changers Church International in College Park, Georgia, Creflo Dollar gained an international following.
My daughter got spanked on the butt when she was a little girl, but I didn’t hit her when she was a 15-year-old hormone terror. You can bet your bottom dollar that I would never sink so low.
The police report for the Dollar family incident says Pastor Dollar told authorities that he tried to restrain his daughter when she “became very disrespectful” after he told her she couldn’t go to the party. Dollar admitted to spanking his daughter and wrestling her to the floor, but said it was because she hit him.
In these types of domestic cases, it’s always unwise to leap to conclusions. There are always more sides to the initial story. The truth of what happened in the Dollar household will eventually seep to the light, regardless of how the preacher will try to keep things shrouded.
Dollar later released a statement through his lawyer saying, “As a father I love my children and I always have their best interest at heart at all times, and I would never use my hand to ever cause bodily harm to my children. The facts in this case will be handled privately to further protect my children. My family thanks you for your prayers and continued support.”
You certainly have my prayers for your entire family, brother. But my respect for you as a man and a father?
If the police report is true, you’re too weak for that.