A few days ago, I posted the following in Twitter:
It was meant as a pithy commentary on what’s happening in our society at the moment. Last year, it seemed as if every time you pulled up the news, some major celebrity had died. This year, it’s major celebrities being outed as sexual predators, or guilty of sexual misconduct.
Don’t misunderstand. I don’t lament the fact that women are finding the courage to stand up and tell their stories. Some have waited years for this moment, not out of opportunism, wanting to cash in on a trend, but because others have gone before and demonstrated that, at long last, they will be taken seriously, and not be punished for speaking up.
But this raises an important question: What of the work these shamed, and in many cases now jobless, celebrities leave behind? Should it be shunned along with them? Should we never watch another episode of the Cosby Show? Or House of Cards? Or watch another Dustin Hoffman movie? Can we separate the bad men from their good work? To what extent are they “dead to me”?
Before offering thoughts on this, let me make clear that I come to this from a Christian worldview. According to that worldview, no-one measures up to the only objective standard of goodness there is: God’s. We are all sinners, standing guilty before Him, and it’s only by God’s grace that we all don’t sink to the worst depths of depravity. This demands of me the utmost humility, recognizing that I have no grounds within myself to judge someone else’s moral failing. However, God has spoken to these issues, so it is to His judgment I appeal when I make any moral pronouncement with regard to anyone’s misconduct. And while there is forgiveness of sin available in Christ, which puts us in a right standing with God, this does not absolve us from the moral and legal consequences of our actions. And anyone who claims the name of Christian should be willing to own those consequences, knowing that God is glorified when we repent of, and take responsibility for, our sin.
There’s a lot of theology summed up in that last paragraph. If you have questions, or want chapter-and-verse, let me know in the comments.
With all that said, is it an endorsement of these people’s sin to enjoy the fruit of their talent? I think the answer is no, and I don’t think it inappropriate to enjoy a Charlie Rose interview, or a tale from Lake Woebegon. While Charlie Rose and Garrison Keillor have been accused of sexual misconduct, this was not a part of their work. Claude Debussy was a moral reprobate, and if the #MeToo movement had been around in his lifetime, he would no doubt have a long line of accusers. And yet his is some of the most beautiful piano music on the planet. I would not commend Debussy as a person, but I cannot deny his musical genius.
It pains me to see Dustin Hoffman added to the list of those accused of sexual misconduct. I’m a fan, and still enjoy his movies. I might try to absolve him by saying the allegations are over things he did thirty years ago. But that means his victim has been suffering in silence for thirty years, and only now, in light of the changed atmosphere in Hollywood, does she feel comfortable coming forward. What he did was wrong, and he should be held to account. His protestations over the allegations only make things worse. His response should be unqualified repentance, and a desire to submit the consequences of his actions. But I’ll still watch “All the President’s Men” because it’s a great movie.
I do think that, while these abusers are still alive, out of respect to their victims, it’s good to have a public moratorium on their work, at least for a season. Let those who have been wronged seek justice. Let the accused be held to account for what they’ve done. Where there’s true repentance, let there be forgiveness, bearing in mind that true repentance accepts the temporal penalty for the crime (loss of job, jail time, etc.), and forgiveness does not nullify the need for that temporal penalty.
After that, though, I don’t think it in bad taste to return to those people’s work, and enjoy it for what it is, even while we grieve over those who created it. Just as we might enjoy Debussy’s music, or Anne Perry’s novels. After all, if we only ever enjoyed the art of the morally pure, there would be little left to enjoy.
What do you think? Feel free to disagree with me, but please disagree agreeably. 🙂