How to mourn a sinner?

mcnairCan you imagine learning that your spouse, the father of your four children, was cheating on you? Can you imagine learning that little tidbit because his mistress killed him? It’s just horrifying and my heart goes out to the family of Tennessee Titan great Steve McNair.

One of the themes that’s emerging in the coverage is that the image of this man in death is in great conflict with the image he held in life. His family, fans and friends, it seems, viewed him as an upstanding and honorable man.

This disparity provokes so many interesting religious themes. As a pastor’s kid, I’ve been to many funerals. Some stay with you. I will never forget, for instance, the funeral for the man who killed himself after murdering his wife. How do you mourn someone who sinned so visibly in death?

ESPN has a story that asks that question:

It’s a moral dilemma in Nashville, a town that worships its sports heroes and believed, for the better part of 10 years, that Steve McNair was its most perfect role model: How do you mourn a man whose imperfections were exposed in his shocking death?

This is the question that Bishop Joseph Walker will try to answer in the next couple of days. Walker is the pastor at Mount Zion Baptist Church, the place where thousands will gather Thursday for a memorial service. He was there at the McNair house on Saturday afternoon, when police told Mechelle McNair that her husband was dead. Walker says he has talked to her at least five times a day since the ordeal started, and the picture of McNair’s affair with Sahel Kazemi came into focus on national TV.

“This situation has hit Mechelle like Katrina hit New Orleans,” Walker says. “It’s like someone comes home and their house is on fire. It’s something you don’t expect to happen to that magnitude.

“But Mechelle is not a scorned woman. She’s a woman of integrity and character. She has held her head up. She will get through this.”

Nashville will get through this, Walker says, because it’s a loving community. They’ll get through it, he believes, because 36 years can’t be defined by a few final mistakes.

These are great questions and some interesting beginnings of answers. Unfortunately, that’s the sum total of the religious exploration on display in the story. I was left wanting a lot more.

Why was Walker at the McNair house when the police notified Mechelle of her husband’s death? Why will the funeral be at Mt. Zion? Is it because the Walkers are members there? And what’s the doctrinal understanding that underlies these various statements Walker is making?

McNair’s family is not the first family to learn terrible secrets upon the death of a loved one. I have a friend whose grandfather died in a car accident with his mistress. Another friend’s father announced his infidelity in his suicide note. These are Shakespearean dramas here that reporters should be anxious to cover. And when they do, they should not avoid the religious implications, answers and themes that crop up as well.

And another thing. As commenters in yesterday’s look at McNair media coverage have noted, the proper word to describe the woman who you’re cheating on your wife with is not girlfriend. And what you’re doing is not dating. Somehow those are the words being used to describe the apparent infidelity McNair was engaged in. We have words to help us distinguish between relationships and I’d go ahead and suggest “mistress” and “affair.”

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  • Daniel C.

    I understand the reluctance to speak ill of the dead, who can’t plead their case or ask forgiveness, but it seems like a trivialization of adultery to refer to it as a “mistake” or “imperfection”, especially in cases where there are multiple affairs going on for years. That is far more than a mistake, but a deep and abiding contempt for faithful marriage. The “nobody’s perfect” excuse wouldn’t cut it with my wife, nor should it with anyone else who takes marriage seriously.

    I think the proper approach at any funeral service, instead of inflating the praises of the deceased, is to ask humbly for mercy and eternal rest, not as one demanding wages due, but as one receiving a gift.

  • Bob Smietana

    Shakespearean is the right word.
    A couple of factoids from our coverage at the Tennessean.
    The McNairs had been members of Mt. Zion for sometime, and Mechelle McNair was a friend of Bishop Walker’s first wife, Diane, who died of cancer. So they’ve been down this road of grief before.

    Walker did take on the issue of adultery in his sermon.
    First using the story of Lazarus:

    The text says that when Jesus first received the news about Lazarus, the report was, “Listen, the one whom you love is sick.”
    Let’s take a moment and reflect on this, because Lazarus was sick, but his sickness did not disqualify him from being of being a friend of Jesus. Sickness manifests itself in a variety of ways. It doesn’t matter how long you have been in church or how long you have been saying you love God, all of us in this place have some sicknesses in our lives.”

    Then he used the story of the woman caught in adultery–we’ve got excerpts from that portion of the sermon on our site

  • Greg

    Color me skeptic. Occam’s razor-wise, the family/friends knew or suspected, but are less than truthful now, in order to protect reputations, including theirs.

  • Bern

    How do you mourn a sinner? I thin the general Christian view is that we are all sinnrs. We are all children of God. The problem people seem to be having is reconciling this at the base. You an be a “good” man, that is, do good things, inspire others, shine at your career, and still do wrong, break the commandments, pay wth your life. It’s both/and not either/or. And regardless of what his friends and family knew and when they knew it, the man is dead and gone nd they hve to go on liing wth it al. Tragc.

  • muzzcha

    a sinner will always be a sinner . may God have mercy on him.

    like one blogger said” he would still be alive if he sleeps in his own bed.

  • Brian Walden

    I can’t believe the media is still using girlfriend and describing what they were doing for the past few months as dating. From a purely monetary perspective, wouldn’t it be advantageous for the media to sell the whole affair angle rather than downplay it? I guess the media really does have “morals” when it comes to certain issues.

    I don’t discount McNair’s athletic accomplishments – you judge an athlete by what they do on the field. Nor does this erase the good he did in the world, but neither can you just throw out the last few months of his life as if they never happened. When a man’s alive you have the luxury of being able to focus on his virtues and hope he’ll correct the vices in time, but when he dies you must look at his life as a whole. His purpose in this world was to be a husband and father and he turned away from it.

    I think the way this story has generally been reported is incredibly unfair to McNair’s family. There’s no need to demonize the guy, but there’s a way to remember the good times (football, his charity work, etc.) while still responsibly reporting the facts surrounding his death.

  • Bobo Mazyck

    What we all need to know and remember is: “A diamond does not shine in the dark.” And, believe me, I am not trying to discredit or downplay the essence of his life. His life is not totally defined by this irreparable incident that is forever singed in our minds. But, it does tarnish his image. As with football, once the ball is snapped, the play is officially in motion. He made the play and lossed the game. In this life, we aren’t always gauranteed “do overs.”

    At this juncture, we should be praying for the healing and forgiveness of his wife, children and the rest of his loved ones. And, as Mr. Daniel C. stated, and I don’t believe it could have been said any better. As for Mr. Steve McNair, we just need to “ask humbly for mercy and eternal rest, not as one demanding wages due, but as one receiving a gift.”

  • Daniel J. Dick

    This is a truly sad situation. Here is a young, handsome, healthy, strong man who has achieved a high level of success in his career at a young age. Yet he has chosen to act out in behavior that would place him in the category of the woman caught in adultery in the Bible. But Steve McNair did not have a chance to repent. Nor did his partner in adultery. The close of his life came suddenly and unexpectedly leaving him alive one second, and standing before Almighty God a liar, a coward, an adulterer, a betrayer of his beloved family to give an account. Was he saved? How can one have faith in Jesus Christ and live in continual disobedience of Him? Whatever religious ceremonies take place, and whatever words are said to soothe all this over, they will have no power to keep Mr. McNair from perishing eternally into the flames of hellfire-and-brimstone. And the sooner we mature and learn to accept this fact, the sooner we will reduce our own chances of going there.

    I know this is a very hard and difficult thing to say, and I only wish to find a way to comfort the family left behind. God is not hard and unloving. But, for God to give us the freedom to love, to hate, to make our own choices, He must also give us the consequences of our choices to allow us to intensify the communication of our choices. And in this case, it is a man choosing to show his willingness to go to hell for all eternity for the satisfaction of an affair. His soul did not mean enough to him, or he would have taken hold of the grace of God through Jesus and held onto that forgiveness and would have been living in God’s love and grace rather than living in adultery.

    His choice has been set for all eternity now, and the best we can do is pray that the rest of us left behind will learn from this not to take the same path in life.

    Most people in hell today did not expect to be there, and I think a great many of us would give our lives just to see one less person like Steve McNair perish this tragic way. But, whenever one of us is saved, it brings glory to God showing His mercy, love, forgiveness and sacrifice. Whenever one of us perishes, it shows God’s honesty and justice through the pain of infinite loss.

    I hope and pray we will live for the glory of God to show His love, mercy, and grace.