Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor

Morgan Park

 Baptist Church

11024 S. Bell Avenue 

Chicago, IL 60643


Reflection March 6, 2016

Power Corrupts
Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth

     There is a famous quotation from the 19th Century British politician Lord Acton: “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” While many know this quotation - what is less known is that Lord Acton penned it in reference to the Vatican’s 1870 declaration of papal infallibility. 

     I bring this up because Lent is a season when we ponder our mortality and our morality. Reflection is the lifeblood of faith. But when do we take the time - when do we have the time - to see our lives in relation to the Gospels of Jesus Christ? It is not easy becoming a fully-formed Christian. It is not easy becoming a person of “deep” faith.

     We have all done things in our lives that are wrong - that are sinful. And, yes, we cling to a God of mercy - a God who showed the way of forgiveness while dying on a cross. But many of us do not dare to speak our sins. We conveniently “forget” them in the busy clamor of our days.

     In sermons past, I’ve mentioned the 4th and 5th steps of the well-known 12 Step Programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous. In the fourth step, a person does a “very thorough and fearless moral inventory” of who he or she is.

     In other words, the person must search through his or her memories and admit everything they have done wrong throughout the expanse of life. Then in the fifth step, the person admits the true reality of his or her moral standing to God, to themselves, and to at least one other person.

     When I was pastor and campus minister at Grambling State University in Grambling, Louisiana, I was asked to be the designated person in northern Louisiana to whom anyone could come and complete the fifth step of the 12-Step Program. I was humbled and honored to do this task for so many who came, admitting their sinfulness and their brokenness.

     Sin does not go away just because it is unacknowledged. Sin does not go away just because a person doesn’t want to admit it. And, yes, we admit our sins to God first and foremost.

     But - I also believe - we should admit our sins to at least one other person while beseeching God’s forgiveness. God alone is the One who can forgive. No one else can forgive sins. But I believe we still need to admit what we have done to another human.

     For example, many of us have been wounded by parents who beat us when we were children. Yet a significant majority of people in America still mistakenly believe that hitting children is somehow okay. It is not. It is a crime. It is an abomination to the Almighty.

     I recall some years ago when I was being interviewed on WVON, discussing urban violence. I brought up the violence perpetrated by many parents against their children as being a significant cause of urban violence.

     I was told that I didn’t understand the Black Community because the Black Community was “okay” with spanking and other forms of physical “discipline.” I very much disagreed - but I was never invited back for another interview.

     There is a vastly mistaken notion that goes like this: “Spare the rod; spoil the child.” This quotation is actually from a 1662 poem by the English poet, Samuel Butler. Something similar comes from Proverbs 13:24: “Those who spare the rod hate their children, but those who love them are diligent to discipline them.”

     There is a mistake, though, regarding “the rod.” The “rod” is more accurately “the shepherd’s staff.” It would be better to translate the passage from Proverbs as “Those who spare the shepherd’s staff …” The shepherd’s staff was not used to beat the sheep. The shepherd’s staff was used to “guide” the sheep - to point them in the right direction.

     I don’t understand parents who will argue that beating their children was somehow a good or godly thing. Beating children damages them at their deepest core. It leads to all kinds of violence and all kinds of physical, psychological and spiritual problems. The effects of parental abuse are never-ending for the child.

     Beating children underlies much PTSD. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, for every soldier who suffers PTSD, 10 children do. We will never - as a country - be able to heal the violence surrounding us unless we are willing to seriously examine the ungodly persistence of childhood assault by parents. 

     When it comes time to stand alone before God’s Judgment, I’ll need to acknowledge my many sins and failings. But I can say that I never hit a child. Those who beat their children cannot expect to get off scot-free regarding God’s justice. Beating our children is a crime that cries to heaven.

     Yet what makes the sin of child abuse so pernicious and poisonous is the blatant unwillingness to admit it as sin. I cannot fathom how some parents will go to such lengths to justify their criminal assault upon their children.

     Lent is a good time for all of us to admit that we are broken and in need of God’s mercy and forgiveness. It is also a good time to admit to another person that we have sinned. As a pastor, I’d consider it a grace and a blessing to help anyone unburden his or her soul. Better now than later!