There you have it from the jump. Without secret or hesitation, like many, I grew up in the nineties on The Cosby Show. Invariably, as with Seinfeld, The Bernie Mack Show or The Jamie Foxx Show, one could not dispatch the show from its namesake and lead figure. In fact, Bill Cosby was essentially one of the leading pioneers in this sort of autobiographical kind of satirical humor in PRIMETIME America; particularly crossing over to every culture, race and creed. Bill Cosby single-handedly, with his stellar cast, became a household name. I, like many, couldn’t wait for Thursday to arrive!!! In a real sense, Mr. Cosby personified a charicarization of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “American Dream”. The Huxtables cleverly and compellingly enchanted America and persuaded the nation, possibly the world, that Malcolm’s “Nightmare” had diminished and Black America could live, work and dream as they pleased.
Tragically , and often unfairly, segmented society will often trip on the paradigm and make the picture interchangeably synonymous with the person. In all fairness, The Cosby Show was an autobiographical reflection of Cosby’s own life. Camilla was Clair. Bill was Cliff. The four kids were his own son and three (3) daughters. But what if the story wasn’t about his own life at all? Would his personal life taint a person’s sacred view of Cliff? I do not know. What I do know is that this scathing truth prevails in Christendom, for sure.
On the one hand, we cannot expel the message from the messenger. Conversely, the church can unfairly crown the Christian Leader with an unattainable standard that only Christ can comfortably reach.
Since 2014, Cosby has been accused by over 50 women of either rape, drug facilitated sexual assault, sexual battery, child sexual abuse, and/or sexual misconduct, with the earliest alleged incidents taking place in the mid-1960s. After an October 2014 comedy routine by previously unknown comedian Hannibal Buress casually accusing Cosby of inappropriate sexual behavior went viral, earlier sexual assault allegations against Cosby became more public, prompting many female accusers to come forward. In the wake of the allegations, numerous organizations have severed ties with the comedian, and previously awarded honors and titles have been revoked. Cosby and his lawyers have repeatedly denied the allegations, calling the allegations discredited. Most of the acts alleged by his accusers fall outside the statutes of limitations for legal proceedings. Today, December 30, 2015, numerous civil lawsuits against Cosby, as well as a single charge of aggravated indecent assault in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, remain pending. He was arraigned today.
I would like to make a few observations, as this is clearly not going away.
1) As the husband to a woman I love, a mother I cherish, two goddaughter who I pray for daily and countless women to whom I minister, I am very sensitive to the cries of these woman. I am not naive enough to think that sexual harassment is mere fiction. Worse still, as with the “wardrobe malfunction” in 2004, often the woman is villainized while the man is given a pass of fidelity. As with the woman caught in adultery in scripture (John 8:1-11), the brother is conspicuously excused and exempt. This is unfair and inequitable.
2) As a man living in what Maya Angelou calls “these yet to be United States”, I cannot help but ask “Why now?” Okay….I can hear someone shooting me down. 50 women? Speaking out since 2014? I’m just saying!
3) As a Christian who is a pastor, I think this should lead us to ask a few questions. Let’s face it…Leaders fail. Some fail more and more often than others. I often wonder if the church does a good job of 1) restoring those who’ve fallen 2) given enough thought to preserving the message and legacy of spiritual leaders after they have fallen from grace.
Focusing on my last point, I have seen it go in both directions. There are churches that will turn a blind eye to a leader’s alleged (or confessed) in descretions. I know of a Bishop who was accused of several improprieties, and there seemed (it may have been done privately) to be no form of discipline, counseling, repentance, etc. on the other hand, I’ve seen draw it measures taken in churches where the leader is not only removed; but any semblance of trace of their ministry in that congregation is obliterated, stripped down, sanitized and thrown into the wilderness with the nameless creatures in the 2004 movie “The Village.”
Is this right? If Billy Graham is discovered to have been a murderer years ago, should all of his honors, medals, books, sermons be destroyed? I can go on and on all day. But I will stop here and simply ask, at the end of this year, that we pray for spiritual leaders and their families. The stakes are high, and the Devil is busy!
I am praying for Cosby, his accusers, those who admire him and are effected by his influence. I do not claim to know him personally; and would like to give him the benefit of the doubt, as I do the same for these accusers. But let us also consider the spiritual underpinnings of how this connects to the church and how we respond to someone who is accused, guilty, innocent or all of the above.
Ultimately, God’s grace extends toward us all. What are your thoughts?