When Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of All Saint’s Church in Wittenburg, the first thesis said, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent,’ he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”
I just read the ESPN article about my alma mater that says they are going to fire Coach Art Briles surrounding the school’s poor handling of rape allegations against football players. Perhaps only Penn State fans can understand how sad Baylor fans are to see their beloved coach be disgraced. Art Briles had a 65-37 record in eight seasons, but more than that, he made Baylor fans proud to be Bears, and he gave small schools everywhere hope that they could compete, and even dominate, in football against the traditional powers like Texas and Oklahoma.
Now, let me be clear, I have no insider knowledge about what happened at Baylor. But, if Coach Briles did indeed participate in the cover up of sexual violence by his players, or discourage victims from coming forward, he was wrong. And he needs to repent. And Baylor needs to repent, and make restitution, and change. And, as the world watches what goes down in Waco in coming weeks, I believe this is a great opportunity for Christians, as individuals and as a community, to display biblical repentance.
Certainly no one expects every student, nor student-athlete, at Baylor to be a Christian. I knew plenty of students who would not have identified themselves as Christians during my time there in the early ‘90’s (not to mention the guys in my dorm who woke up at noon and Sunday and put on their dress clothes so the ladies in the cafeteria would think they had gone to church). There is no requirement to follow Christ in attending a Christian school. But if the school is going to identify itself as a Christian school with the mission “Pro Ecclesia, Pro Texana” (‘For Church, for Texas’), its leadership must be serious about obeying God and His Word.
In Matthew 7, Jesus says, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?… You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” The Apostle James makes Jesus’ log metaphor clear, “Confess your sins to one another.” The amazing thing about confession for a Christian is that, while there are always natural consequences for sin, there is no condemnation from God. That’s because God has already placed all of my sin on Jesus on the cross, and given me Jesus’ righteousness. That’s why the Apostle Paul can say, “Therefore there is now no condemnation for all who are in Christ.” Confession doesn’t get us into the principal’s office for our punishment, it gets us face to face with our Father who loves us no matter what and wants to work on our relationship and our sanctification.
This is a time for Baylor to own up to what it has done, and find rest in the mercy and atoning, costly love of God. This is not a time for saving face. When David was confronted by the prophet Nathan in 2 Samuel 12 about his murder and adultery, he immediately repented. With no excuses or defense mechanisms he simply said, “I have sinned against the Lord.” It goes without saying that blame-shifting is the opposite of repentance. To blame ESPN, or UT, or Title IX, or (heaven forbid) the victims for the sins of Baylor leadership would be a repudiation of the gospel that Jesus Christ saves sinners, of whom I am the worst.Now, certainly, if the accusations are not true, it would be appropriate for Baylor leadership to correct the facts and speak truth. To confess to something that you have not done is not repentance, it’s lying. But, there can be no place for media spin here. I’m sure if it were my job to keep enrollment up at Baylor, I would be tempted to try to put Baylor in the best light possible and downplay any negative publicity. But, this is a time when honesty needs to trump enrollment and endowment numbers. Scapegoating is inadequate. To fire a few people and say, ‘We’ve dealt with the problem’ is, at best, to misunderstand corporate sin and corporate accountability. You can’t say ‘We won the Big 12 in football last year’ and then say ‘Well, that bad stuff was those guys.”
There are encouraging signs of repentance. Richard Willis, chair of the Baylor Board of Regents, said the following in a statement, “We were horrified by the extent of these acts of sexual violence on our campus. This investigation revealed the University’s mishandling of reports in what should have been a supportive, responsive and caring environment for students… The depth to which these acts occurred shocked and outraged us. Our students and their families deserve more, and we have committed our full attention to improving our processes, establishing accountability and ensuring appropriate actions are taken to support former, current and future students. [We will seek to restore] a tone of accountability within the football program, to effective oversight and controls of the Athletics Department, and to critically needed changes that will re-align the Athletics program with the University mission.”
But, true repentance is often a long process. Every alcoholic in AA knows that it’s one thing to say you’re sorry, and another thing to quit drinking and hurting the people around you. Every pastor knows the difference between an adulterer who says, “Yeah, but…” and one who says, “Yes, I sinned and I’ll do whatever it takes to make things better for those I hurt.” Repentance is more than a quick acknowledgement of guilt. It’s a commitment to turn away from sin to the mercy and love of the Father, and it often involves earning back people’s trust.
I pray Baylor will honestly continue in repentance before God first, and then before any victims, and that the world might see the faith of Christians in the public sphere and give glory to the Father in heaven.