The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
As the biblical writers sought to write down the story of God and God’s people, in other words, our story, they didn’t shy away from writing down the whole story. Along with the good, they also included the bad, and the ugly. Here are a few examples of what I mean:
David—the good: described as a man after God’s own heart, Israel’s greatest king, and the carrier of the Messianic promise.
—the bad and ugly: secretly forced Bathsheba to be his wife and then killed her husband, Uriah, to cover it up.
Paul—the good: did more to spread the gospel and shape the theology of the church than just about anyone in history. —the bad and ugly: was a murderer who zealously persecuted the church until Jesus knocked him off his horse.
We could go throughout the Bible and find so many instances of the good, the bad, and the ugly, sometimes found all together in one person, or in one group of people. As the church, this is our story; this is our history. This is the story they wrote and this is the story we inherited. It is who we are and there is much that we can learn from the biblical writers.
Much is being said, these days, about history, about previous generations and the current generations. There are some who are protesting what they see as the changing of history. Others want the whole story to be told, not just the story that favors the people in power. There are some who hold today’s generation accountable for what their ancestors did, and others who say that since we did not live back then, we are not responsible. The biblical writers would say that our story is our story; our history is our history, all of it, the good, the bad, and the ugly. I understand this on a very personal level. As a pastor, I know that my history is also a history of the good, the bad, and the ugly. For thousands of years, there have been good pastors who have faithfully served and cared for their congregations. They have led their people to worship God and follow in the way of Christ. Yet, my story as a pastor also includes the bad and the ugly, pastors who have abused their congregation members, sexually, emotionally, and spiritually. This ugliness is part of my story, not because I have committed this evil myself, but because I am part of a calling of people, some of whom have done what is wrong in the eyes of the Lord. I can’t pretend that the bad and the ugly is not part of my story, just so that I can spotlight the good, or claim my own innocence. I know there are some who are thinking, “That’s not fair. You didn’t do those bad things. Children aren’t to be punished for the sins of their parents.” Please re-read your Bibles, especially Exodus 20:5; 34:7, Numbers 14:18, Deuteronomy 5:9, and Jeremiah 32:18. I won’t tell you what these verses say. You have to look them up yourself. The truth is this. When I introduce myself as a pastor, there will be some who will be respectful towards me because their own experience of pastors has been good. Others will look at me with suspicion because they have heard stories about abusive pastors. Still others will look at me with anger and hate because they have experienced abuse at the hands of a pastor. This is the legacy that I have inherited from those pastors who have gone before me, the good, the bad, and the ugly. This is the legacy that I have added to and bequeathed to the next generation of pastors, the good, the bad, and the ugly.
What is true of me as a pastor is also true of me as a man, as a white person, and as a leader in the Boy Scouts. I am well aware of the fact that every day I carry with me the potential of having four strikes against me. Nevertheless, this is my story, my history. This is who I am. I both carry the honor and pay the cost of those who have gone before me.
I am not ashamed to be a pastor. I am not ashamed to be a man. I am not ashamed to be white. I am not ashamed to be a former scoutmaster. So, what do I do with the legacy that has been bequeathed to me? I seek to celebrate and uphold all that is good in my story, in my history. I want to add to what is good and bequeath that legacy to my children and grandchildren. In addition, I need to acknowledge the bad and the ugly, and at times, I need to condemn it. Then I need to stand with and seek the healing of those who have been hurt by the bad and the ugly, those who have suffered because of my story, my history. Yet, what I should not do, and must not do, is ban the conversations that still need to take place. To that end, I am in good company with the biblical writers.