The Kavanaugh controversy is ephemeral. One way or another, it will probably be over with by next week. I’m discussing it because it raises some perennial ethical issues.
But what if he is guilty? Should the Senate Judiciary Committee vote against his nomination?
Let’s put our past sins into four different categories, responding to each category in turn.
The first category consists of the foolish things we did as teenagers and young people. But these transgressions are known, open, and a distant part of our history.
For example, my personal testimony, “From LSD to Ph.D.” is well-known.
It is well-known that I was a heroin-shooting, LSD-using, hippie rock drummer before coming to faith in Jesus at the age of 16 in 1971.
It is well-known I broke into a doctor’s office with a friend and stole drugs.
It is well-known that I was a proud, angry rebel.
As our daughters grew up, I shared my story with them. Now my grandkids know my story.
My story is known and out in the open, and it’s a testimony to God’s grace.
Since 1971, I have not used an illegal drug or abused a legal drug. And, despite drinking heavily at times in my teen years, I have not had a sip of alcohol since 1971.
If Brett Kavanaugh got drunk with his friends and assaulted another teenager that would be grave and ugly. But if this was something that was known, open, and unrelated to his behavior and conduct ever since then, it should not disqualify him from service today. (To be “known and open” would also mean that he had made things right with his alleged victim.)
Lots of us did stupid things when we were kids and teenagers. But as we became responsible adults, we put those things behind us.
Some of us even did reprehensible things as adults. But we made proper restitution, we were completely rehabilitated, and we have made something worthwhile out of our lives.
Such stories are noble and inspiring.
Past Behavior Honestly Addressed
The second category consists of sinful behavior in our past that we covered over, hoping it would never be discovered.
What happens when these old skeletons are suddenly discovered in our closet? If the behavior was totally uncharacteristic, if it did not lastingly wound or injure someone else, and if it was never again repeated, you can make a case for overlooking it — but only if the response today was proper.
In other words, if it came to light that, when you were a 16-year-old boy, you had consensual sex with your 16-year-old girlfriend, but since then, your moral behavior was impeccable, you shouldn’t be disqualified from public service today. But only if you responded properly when confronted.
A proper response would require full acknowledgment of guilt, not lying about the incident, and pointing to the changes you made to live rightly ever since.
To say that these sins of our youth make us unfit to serve today is to render unfit a vast percentage of the population. How many of us have an unblemished past?
The third category consists of lying today when confronted with sinful behavior from the past. That would be the bigger issue to me with Justice Kavanaugh.
Did he do something reprehensible as a drunken teenager? Perhaps he did, but again, that is just an accusation at this point.
The big question for me is: Is he telling the truth today?
We’re not looking to confirm teenager Kavanaugh. We’re looking to confirm Judge Kavanaugh.
His present behavior is far more important to me than his teenage behavior. Can the man be trusted?
When Past Becomes Present
The fourth category consists of sinful behavior in the past that still carries over until today.
If Kavanaugh did, in fact, sexually assault his accuser more than 35 years ago, does that reflect his attitude towards women ever since? Is he an abuser? Does he view women as sexual objects? Does he look on his alleged past transgressions as just a bunch of guys having fun?
Much of what Brown says here is sage pastoral and practical advance. But I have three caveats:
1. Although just about anything is divinely forgivable, that’s not a basis for law and public policy. That’s ultimately about the world to come. But in the here-and-now, I’m not prepared to say that anything a teenager does, however heinous, should never make him a pariah.
2. Surely Brown is aware of the fact that dramatic conversion stories (e.g. Nicky Cruz) are a career-booster in charismatic/evangelical circles. But that’s quite different from secular employment, where volunteering information about reprehensible past behavior may get you blacklisted.
3. Apropos (2), suppose companies have a policy of not hiring an applicant with any history of sexting. The application form has a question about that. Suppose, as a teenager, the applicant took obscene pictures of himself and shared them with a girl in school (or vice versa). So he lies on the application form.
Suppose I’m the employer. I run criminal background checks on all applicants. The background check reveals the fact that he lied. But it doesn’t turn up any subsequent behavior in kind. Apparently he outgrew that.
I wouldn’t hold it against him that he gave a false answer to that question. It’s too idealistic to expect people to volunteer incriminating information that will make them unemployable. The fact that he lied wouldn’t by itself disqualify him in my book. That would depend on the nature of the offense and his subsequent behavior.
via Should your past make you a pariah? — Triablogue