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Throwing Stones: A Christian Response to Public Scandals

Last Updated: August 9, 2021

Daniel Lohrmann

Dan Lohrmann is an internationally recognized Internet and computer security expert. Currently, Mr. Lohrmann works as the CSO for the state of Michigan. For seven years he served as the Chief Information Security Officer for the Michigan government. He started his career in the National Security Agency, and later worked in England for seven years with Lockheed Martin followed by Mantech International. Dan holds a Master's Degree in Computer Science (CS) from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, and a Bachelor's Degree in CS from Valparaiso University in Indiana. He is the author of Virtual Integrity: Faithfully Navigating the Brave New Web.

Believe it or not, there are still a few statements that Jesus made which are very popular in American culture in the 21st century. One example comes from the end of John 8:7.

“If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”

Put in other words, we get such modern paraphrases as: “People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.” Or, “Just never throw stones.”

In the second decade of the twenty-first century, this can get translated into: “Don’t criticize others in public because you likely have the same problems.”

You may be wondering: What could possibly be the concern with this modern trend of not casting stones, or engaging in criticism or calling others out? Our news is too negative anyway.

We want to read “feel good” stories. Besides, we all need grace, right? Mercy is a part of our gospel, and everyone wants (and needs) second (and third) chances. Jesus commanded us to forgive seventy times seven.

What About General Petraeus?

So no matter what is done in the public scene, the #1 sentiment seems to always be: “Don’t Throw Stones. We’re all guilty. You are next. Take the log out of your own eye. If you were in the same situation…would you be any better? Haven’t you ever…”

Case in point: the General Petraeus scandal. (I know this story is a bit dated now, there will be other similar scandals in the future based upon the recent past.) A popular article in Slate is one example of many that proclaim the real lesson from General Petraeus scandal was that we’re all guilty. We all say stupid things in our e-mail, and try to hide our online actions.

“Through texts, e-mail, tweets, and Facebook postings, we spend a great deal of time and energy seeking and consuming emotional intimacy online. E-mail and other forms of digital communication make all romance—licit, illicit, new, or old—extraordinarily convenient, and browsing for emotional connections online is now a part of everyday life for millions of people, one that brings us daily pleasure as we connect to the people we love…

Sometimes, some of us go too far, as the recent scandals involving former CIA Director David Petraeus and Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen reveal…

Is that really the main lesson? Is that the best we can do?

Of course, many of the points made are certainly true, as users of Covenant Eyes software certainly know. I certainly agree with the statement: “We delude ourselves about the way we use technology.”

But if the #1 lesson we teach to others when someone else makes a (very public) mistake is that we should just forgive and forget, are we really helping our followers?

I think not.

I realize that in our society, we like to let the courts do the reprimanding. If no laws were broken, just leave them alone. The weight of public opinion typically moves on to the next topic. As Christine Rosen implies in the Slate article, we generally don’t like to point fingers, because we are all guilty. Everyone is doing “it.”

Nevertheless, I think this is a dangerous societal trend.

Warning About the Primrose Path

But before I tell you what my reaction was, I want to point out that Jesus and others did criticize. Jesus publically called out the Pharisees as hypocrites many times (see Matthew 22 and 23).

John the Baptist was famous for his public preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near”(Matthew 3:1-2).

Nathan also publically criticized the adultery of the most popular king in the Bible and “a man after God’s own heart” (see: 2 Samuel 11). Therefore, we need to (appropriately) warn people about the primrose path and where it leads. Christians need to proclaim the full gospel, starting with “The wages of sin is death.”

Of course, we should be professional, positive, and remember the golden rule. We need to forgive and give second chances. Nevertheless, taken to the extreme, “Don’t throw stones” would mean we all look good and never criticize anyone for any immoral actions.

Getting Personal: Addressing Problems At Home, At Work, Or In Public

Allow me to get more specific in various areas of my life. Where do I see a corollary of this “unlimited forgiveness for everything even when it’s not asked for” concept play out—and used inappropriately?

As a father, I hear it from my kids. “Yes, I hit him, but he hit me harder, or first or yesterday…”

As a church leader I hear people say, “We all have lust in our hearts, so don’t condemn adultery…” or, “Just forgive and forget—everything will be ok; haven’t you ever…”

As a manager at work, I hear, “Everyone is wasting time online. Isn’t the Internet the new newspaper or smoke break of yesteryear?” “Why pick on ‘XYZ person’—haven’t you ever crossed the line at some point?”

A typical driver whose car is pulled over on the highway by the police says, “Yes, I was going 83 officer, but two cars just passed me going over 90.” You still get the ticket.

As a blogger, I read lots of technology and security industry blogs. This security blog has a very nice tone to it, which is difficult to argue with in America in 2012. Here are some of this HP security expert’s new rules for life:

  • Rule #1: Never rejoice in someone else’s failure
  • Rule #2: Never point out someone else’s specific failures unless you’re 101% sure you haven’t made the same mistakes
  • Rule #3: Never mistake foolish pride for actual knowledge
  • Rule #4: Remember the golden rule?—treat others as you would want to be treated
  • Rule #5: Remember the higher up you’ve climbed, the more shoulders you’re standing on
  • Rule #6: It’s a small world, and we’re all connected, don’t forget that.

Back To General Petraeus – An Alternative Response:

Yes, I make mistakes every day—just ask my wife and kids. And no, I am not 101% sure that I haven’t made the same mistake before I write articles warning people of dangers to watch out for. In fact, I think it is important for me to highlight “lessons learned” from around the country in kind ways when I deem it appropriate.

So how should we respond to very public stories like the General David Petraeus story—who is a respected, decorated war hero and former leader of our military and CIA?

I wrote this blog entitled: My Best Advice After Petraeus Emails. Here’s an excerpt:

But the best personal advice that I can provide you on this topic is not new or original. In fact, it comes from a very old book that still applies just as much to our 21st Century online world as it did thousands of years ago. “Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but whoever takes crooked paths will be found out.”

Yes, we all make mistakes. Surely, there can be forgiveness, mercy, second chances and the rebuilding of trust. But the main lesson to learn from the Petraeus story is that inappropriate behavior has consequences—and NOT that the Director of the CIA needed better e-mail processes or technology.

Ultimately, honesty, accountability and forgiveness are still the only approaches that work.

One more thing: we need to remember how the first “don’t throw stones” story actually ended. In John 8:11, we see, “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

Just don’t forget that last part.

  • Comments on: Throwing Stones: A Christian Response to Public Scandals
    1. Scott St. Onge on

      Amen. If we all followed the “judge-not” idea without the “go and sin now more”, we’d all be “free” of condemnation, for sure. But you’re right, Jesus offered both. We are indeed to be the light and salt of the world.

      Reply

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