We live in a very divided country, as far as politics are concerned. It is hard to find a cable news program where, if people are on the air discussing an issue where they disagree with each other, they do not wind up talking over each other and yelling at each other. We live in a country, too often, where if I disagree with you-not only do I think your ideas are bad, but I think that you are bad.
For me, however, what may even be worse than the idea that the person who is not on my side cannot do anything right, is the idea that the person who is on my side cannot do anything wrong.
One of the absolutes that I have discovered in what is now going on 41 years of ministry (where did all of the time ago?) is that absolutely everyone needs accountability. If you want someone to fail, surround them with “Yes” men and women, take away anyone who can tell them “No” and remove anything that provides accountability. That person is guaranteed to fail. It may take a long time for them to fail, but eventually, they will fail.
Human beings require accountability. That is why we have people like auditors and committees and oversight boards-human beings require accountability. If you do not have anyone who is able to tell you “No”, if there is no one to tell you that there are certain things you should not do, then eventually, you will do those certain things.
The problem is, as human beings, we naturally resist the accountability that we need. Some resist far more than others, but there is resistance in all of us, a resistance to be told that we cannot do the things that we want to do or think that we should do be able to do.
In a perfect world, that is where friends and loved ones come in. They are supposed to be able to “pull us off the ledge” and because of their love for us, tell us when we are going wrong-for our own good. My friend, Elder Freddie Russell said once, “Every leader needs people who loves you, but who are not impressed by you”.
I had the privilege for 7 years of being a weekly columnist for the old Insight Magazine. Insight was the church’s magazine for young people. Being a weekly columnist carried with it a certainly minor (very minor) celebrity status in those days.
My daughter, Courtney, was a college student at Oakwood back then. I remember sitting in the lobby of her dormitory, waiting for her, when a young lady ran up to me, almost out of breath. “Are you the Dana Edmond that writes for Insight? I read your column in church every week-to keep from falling asleep!” (She meant that as a compliment.)
Suddenly, there was this buzz in the lobby. ”That’s Elder Edmond”. But my fleeting celebrity ended when one of my daughter’s friends came into the lobby and saw what the fuss was all about. “That’s just Courtney’s Dad”, she said.
She was right. She appreciated me, but she was not impressed by me. To her, I was what I really was-not any kind of celebrity, but a Dad-like everyone else (by the way, being Courtney’s Dad-and R.J.’s Dad, is pretty special).
But every leader needs people who love and support them, without being impressed by them. Someone else wrote, “True friends are more loyal to God than they are to you”.
The problem is that we live in a world where too many times people are more willing to defend their friends when they are wrong because they do not want to offend their friends. That is certainly true in the political world.
Without attempting to be partisan, I find it disturbing that the supporters of President Trump are almost absolutely silent about anything that he does that is incorrect- no matter what he does, no matter what he says, no matter how inappropriate or profane his language or behavior. And the most silent group of all are his evangelical supporters.
This is the group that should be looked to for moral leadership. This is the group that above all should be expected to say, “We love the President and what he is doing, but saying saying that the KKK and the people who are protesting them are morally equal and that ‘there are good people on both sides’ is just wrong.” Instead (for the most part)-silence.
Christians are the ones who should be expected to say “Attempting to ban a whole group of people from this country solely because they are Muslim is a denial of the same religious freedom that the nation that we call Christian is founded upon is wrong”. Instead-silence.
Christians are the ones who should be expected to say, “We might personally believe that football players and everyone else should stand for the National Anthem. But calling the players who protest vulgar, unprintable names, that talk about their mothers, is not only beneath the high office of President but contrary to the spirit of the Christ that we preach”. Instead-silence.
Wrong is always wrong-no matter your political affiliation or your relationship to the person in the wrong. In fact, the fact that I have a relationship with the person doing wrong makes me even more responsible for holding that person accountable-because the person doing wrong is more likely to listen to a friend than someone who is not. When I defend wrong then I become a part of that wrong. Wrong is always wrong.
The really sad thing, is that kind of behavior-defending a friend who’s wrong because they’re your friend-does not just happen in the world; it happens in the church. One of the other absolutes that I have discovered these past 41 years of ministry is that everyone who is in the wrong has someone telling them that they are right. And those “encouragers” only really encourage the person who is doing wrong, to keep doing it.
The fact that the person who is doing wrong has people-even a lot of people, even a majority of people-telling them that they are right, doesn’t make them right. The majority of people thought that in Noah’s day that there was not going to be a flood. The fact that the majority thought that did not make them right; it just made them wet. And lost. Wrong is always wrong.
The really, really sad thing is that there are people who are doing wrong who would do right if their friends would stop supporting them in their wrong. Which means that if I really care about you, I have to confront you. I have seen people absolutely “crash and burn” because their friends insisted on supporting them in their wrong by telling them they were right.
At the end of the day, not only is wrong also wrong, but wrong eventually always has consequences. Someone once said that we get to make our own choices, but we do not get to choose the consequences of those choices. That means that on some level-not only is the person who made the wrong choice responsible for the consequences of their choice, but so is the person who told them that wrong choice was the right-not because it really was the right choice, but because the person doing wrong was their friend.
Years ago, when I was a Conference Youth Director (I do not know if I ever had a job that I loved more than being Youth Director), I heard someone say “Show me who your friends are, and I’ll show you who you are”.
The people who hang around us, shape us. But a real friend is someone who believes that wrong is always wrong and that they would rather lose a friend than be the cause of that friend losing their soul.
May God help us to have those kinds of friends and even more importantly, to be that kind of friend.
By Elder Dana Edmond