“Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,
Is the immediate jewel of their souls.
Who steals my purse steals trash; 'tis something, nothing;
'Twas mine, 'tis his, and has been slave to thousands;
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him,
And makes me poor indeed.”
William Shakespeare – From Othello
How exceedingly painstaking it is to build a good name, yet how amazingly effortless it is to destroy it! When one’s good name is stolen it is indeed a tragedy, but how painfully pitiful when we ourselves are the thieves! As one witnesses the colossal implosion of Bill Cosby’s reputation and the name he built over the years based on the appearance he has given of champion of the family, model integrity and paragon of goodness, it leaves one with a hollow, sickening feeling. It also serves as a reminder that we must “abstain from every appearance of evil” knowing that appearances become reality to those who witness behavior that seems questionable, let alone behavior that is outright wrong. Mr. Cosby’s situation demonstrates that anyone in leadership or at the forefront of public notice must protect themselves from their own weaknesses, and from situations that create a distance from accountability.
I happen to serve in a profession that is rife with examples of fallen heroes. From biblical examples to present day ministers, people who have been called as spiritual leaders often begin with strong reputations, noble intentions and sterling records of doing good, only to fall on their faces later with the exposure of some moral lapse or unnoticed weakness in their personal character. These failures are painful, shameful and always set back the cause for good a few degrees as skeptical observers ask pertinent and understandable questions regarding the falls from grace that have taken place. What is our reaction to such a fall and how do protect ourselves from similar destruction?
The first reaction should be acknowledgment. I, Samuel D. Jackson, acknowledge that left to myself, without accountability or responsibility, I can do everything that Bill Cosby, Woody Allen, Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker, or anyone else who has fallen has done. Left to my own devices, thinking I’m “good to go” and have no need of others to call me out, ask me questions, or speak into my life to keep me on track, I am bound to certain moral and spiritual failure. The second I fail to acknowledge this, is the second I draw dangerously near to falling on my face.
The second reaction should be humble reliance on trusted friends in light of my recognition of my own vulnerability to keep me in line. I need people in my life to speak to my heart, soul and mind. Those who can tell me where I am, without varnish, and who will “go upside my head” asking me, “Are you out of your mind?” if I wander into "Stupidville" undeterred.
These reactions should be bound together by a commitment to good. For me as a Christian this means a commitment to the Lord, trusting Him and His Word to keep me on the path, rather than veering into my own direction where I can rationalize stupidity, immorality and evil in my life. The Bible says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death!” I need to walk with God and His people in such a way, that the ways of death are clearly marked and the Way of life never departs from my view.
These are some very basic, foundational principles of living to avoid the traps of moral failure that surround us all. I hope that in this sad development regarding the iconic Mr. Cosby, the truth will be found, repentance enjoined, forgiveness extended and received and healing achieved. I also pray that each one of us will self-inspect, aggressively correct and with humility and trembling press onward with the recognition that truly, “There but for the Grace of God, go I.”