Problems at Penn State Start with a Picture

Unless you have spent the last two weeks in a cave, under a rock, or on a deserted island, you have heard about the scandal involving Jerry Sandusky. In fact, you probably know about this unless you’ve spent the last YEAR doing an imitation of Tom Hanks in Castaway.

But last week is when things really fell apart for Penn State.  University trustees commissioned former FBI chief and judge Louis Freeh to investigate the Sandusky issue.  He issued a scathing report last week about the scandal that allowed a former football coach to regularly molest young boys on the Penn State campus for at least 12 years.;

And the late, legendary coach, Joe Paterno, was heavily implicated for allowing Sandusky’s crimes to continue beyond 2001. Paterno didn’t do anything…and that’s the problem. His inaction was, at worst, criminal. At best, it was immoral, unethical, and completely selfish and insensitive.

In the midst of all this, ESPN and other news outlets have made quite a big deal out of a very small act by an artist. This man had painted a mural of Paterno some years ago, and added a halo to it after Paterno’s death in January.

On Saturday, artist Michael Pilato removed a halo he had added to Paterno’s image on a large mural in State College after the coach died in January. He said he usually puts a halo over one of his subjects when they die, but felt after the release of the report it should be removed in Paterno’s case.

The problem is that the halo should never have been there in the first place. That picture with the halo points out a huge problem that we have.  We worship human beings above the God who is revealed to us in the human being of Jesus Christ. He was the only human being worthy of that status.

The Penn State/Sandusky scandal is a picture-perfect case study of what happens when we put HUMAN BEINGS on a pedestal. It may be nice up there, but the fall from it is hard and painful.

And inevitable.

Paterno had become a godlike figure in college football, and certainly in State College, PA.  He was the biggest sheriff in town, and he made a terrible choice to cover the scandal rather than end it.  And if he had decided to end it, he could have.

The Athletic Director, School President, Campus Security, and the trustees were all at fault. But Paterno held all the power, and he chose to exercise that in the wrong way.  When people assign that kind of status to other people, it almost always ends in terrible disappointment of some kind.

The problem is that this type of idol-worship is not limited to Penn State, or even sports. This happens with movie stars, teen/child stars, politicians, philanthropists, businessmen, etc. And yes, it happens with pastors and churches.

We are in a somewhat dangerous time when Christian ministers, speakers, writers, etc. can generate followers and revenue at alarming rates. It’s not that all, or even most, ministers are sinister people.

But when human beings start following a person who is called to preach about Christ rather than Christ alone, there is a problem. All that hero-worship is bound to go to the head of even the most humble preacher.

As we watch the events unfold around Penn State, we need to remember that we don’t have the right to give out “halos” to anyone. That’s a right that belongs to God alone.

At their best, human beings—pastors and ministers included—are flawed, fallible, and unworthy to bear a halo of any kind until God says otherwise. They would be wise to turn it down even if it is offered, mainly because that is the example set by Christ.

I don’t care how many books, speaking engagements, church members, or satellite campuses a minister has. The likes of Tony Jones, Billy Graham, Rachel Held Evans, Joyce Meyer, Joel Osteen, Perry Noble, Beth Moore and Brian McLaren are no more deserving of that halo than anyone else.

They are all very good ministers. But they are people, and we are not called to worship human beings.

We would also be wise not to let our admiration for someone grow into something that is going to contribute to a dramatic fall. If ministers are doing what they are called to do, then they are pointing you towards Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ alone.

Don’t let the mirage of a halo on someone’s head ever pull your eyes away from that. If you don’t put one on someone’s head in the first place, then it will never have to be removed.


One thought on “Problems at Penn State Start with a Picture

  1. Wow do I agree! And yes Joe Paterno did have the power! They gave him so much power, not just in Pennsylvania but all over the United States. He was THE coach! It upsets me so badly to think of those poor boys and what happened to them and how no one helped them and in many cases no one believed them. I am so glad it is all finally coming to light and punishment is being handed down.

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