Julian Freeman

Freed to live through the death of another.

The First Stone

To Test Us

It still amazes me how little the church of Christ can sometimes actually look like Christ. And I say that as a leader of the church, myself bearing the brunt of the blame.

The hypocritical media and self-appointed moral police of our city have brought a man before us who has been caught (on video) in sin. Death threats, drunken stupors, and binges of crack-cocaine — all from a man who should be an example and a leader. They have set this man in our midst. They are testing us, as a society now. It’s clear how the majority of our city feel. As a church, how will we respond to Mayor Rob Ford?

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford speaks from the podium at the cenotaph during a Remembrance Day service in Toronto on Monday. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford speaks from the podium at the cenotaph during a Remembrance Day service in Toronto on Monday. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

The world knows that the righteous law of God condemns these things. They remind us of that and ask, ‘So what do you say?’ They say this to test us, that they might catch us in hypocrisy and discredit us. Are we a people of mercy or judgement? If we don’t draw a hard line now, how can we speak out against other moral issues facing our culture? But what are we to do when the matter is so clear that even the immoral are offended?

Leaked videos have proven it, blog commenters have spoken; can there be any doubt? What will we do with him?

Our Response to Date

Sadly, some Christians have prioritized politics over personal integrity. ‘He has good politics, even if his life is a disaster,’ we say. And we overlook how he has offended a Holy God and betrayed the City that vested trust in him.

Sadly, other Christians don’t look any different than the world. Here is a chance to stand with the world, rather than against it for a change. ‘We can show them that we’re not weird political conservatives with blinders on, we can see this is wrong too!’

But you know what’s missing in both of those responses? Jesus’ response.

The Response of Jesus

When the woman caught in adultery (John 7.53-8.11) was brought to Jesus, he used the opportunity to remind the crowd that they were no different. The church in Toronto, however, has failed to do that because frankly, it seems that we’ve forgotten that we’re no different. And if we see ourselves as fundamentally different or better than Rob Ford in any way, we’ve lost the opportunity to speak the voice and the heart of Jesus to our city in this moment.

When Christians cry out for justice, when we mock and belittle, when we post videos of the man’s sin and humiliation — forgetting that he is equal parts rebel and lost, tormented soul, in need of a merciful Saviour — we’ve lost our chance to speak with brokenness and passion to a city that has finally come face to face with something it is actually willing to call sin.

Here’s what I mean. If Rob Ford were brought before Jesus in the midst of the church and asked what we should do with him, I suggest that he’d say, ‘You who are without sin, cast the first stone.’

Would You Cast It?

Maybe some would be eager. But then they’d remember that Romans 13.1-7 demands that we pay not only taxes but also honour to those in authority over us, since they have been placed there by God. And they’d remember that they’ve shown this man anything but honour. And they’d lay down their stones, because they’re no different.

Maybe others would be ready to start. But then they’d remember that we’re to pray for those in authority over us (1 Tim 2.1-4). And then they’d remember that they haven’t actually prayed for Rob Ford half as much as they’ve condemned him in their hearts. And they’d lay down their stones, because they’re no different.

Maybe others would still be willing. After all, this man is different than the average citizen: he was appointed to the office to represent the people of Toronto! Ought he not to have handled himself with more class and dignity and propriety and restraint? But then they’d remember that we were created in the image of Almighty God, to represent him (Gen 1.26-27). And as much as they’ve been created and appointed for that purpose, they’ve spent their lives misrepresenting the one they are supposed to display with dignity. And isn’t it more important to represent the God of the Universe than the people of Toronto? And then they too would lay down their stones, because they’re no different.

I’m no different.

Here’s our problem: if we see ourselves as better, how can we tell our neighbours that they are no better? How can we tell them of their need for mercy — and Rob Ford’s need for mercy — if we’ve lost sight of our own continued need of ever-healing, ever-repairing, ever-forgiving mercy?

You’ve read the articles, seen the videos, and had the water-cooler talks about Rob Ford. But let me ask you honestly, as you consider your own life: are you willing to cast the first stone?

I long for the Christians of this city to extend love and mercy and forgiveness to our Mayor, remembering our own weakness and need of mercy, even as we are frank about the heinousness of his sin. After all, don’t you think that the light of the gospel-mercy of Jesus might shine brightly into our Mayor’s dark world that is increasingly filled with the darkness of condemnation?

What if it was the ‘judgemental evangelical Christians’ who actually reached out to Mayor Ford as a real person in need of love right now? What if it was our response to him as a person first and a politician second that showed him (and the world) the scandalous nature of the love and mercy of Christ?

My prayer is that because of the love of Christians, our Mayor would hear the words: ‘Man, where are they? Has no one condemned you? Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on, sin no more.’

12 Comments

  1. Thank you for writing this Julian. As I hear the conversations daily, I was convicted about how to participate well, reflecting our Saviour's heart.

  2. I agree competely with the need to avoid casting stones. But I am curious to know what you think Christ's love needs to look like in this case. Personally, I do not believe it is loving to enable behaviour that is clearly damaging the individual him or herself, or others.

    • Julian

      13 November, 2013 at 2:18 pm

      Hi Mike,

      I agree about love and enabling. But honestly, I think those are categories that those closest to him personally and professionally need to be dealing in. I think that Christ's love from those who are close to him would definitely look like speaking hard and heavy words into his life and calling on him to repent and find help, strength, life, peace, and joy in Christ.

      • Fair enough. However I feel this contradicts your last three paragraphs above.

        If I had a relationship with Mr. Ford I would certainly be doing all I could to speak the truth of both holiness and grace into his life in a plea for his repentance and health.

        But my only relationship with him is as a politician who is a deceitful bully. So I will continue to pray for his soul, and for some way to mercifully remove him from office (until his soul does change). And I'll also continue to repent myself, of the inevitable feelings of self-righteousness that come with hearing the minute-by-minute news coverage.

  3. We've been praying for Mayor Ford as an office since the news broke. When you're at the end of yourself where can you look but to the only one who can give you hope in the middle if the mess! We have been given the ministry of reconciliation as the church–let's pray the God will bring the right words in the right time to restore this man to his proper image as a Son of God, and a priest in the kingdom!!

  4. Julian, this situation calls for leadership – spiritual and political. What do you propose "we" do? Allow Mr. Ford to carry on as is?

    • Julian

      13 November, 2013 at 2:21 pm

      I think that Canada has some great systems in place for dealing with health and criminal problems. Those systems need to be given complete latitude to do their work for the maintaining of a peaceful and orderly society. I don't know what political options there are for our leaders / city councillors, or how they should act. I'm clearly not a politician.

      All I know is that lambasting the man and posting humiliating videos of him all over the internet and plastering our newspapers with the most shameful pictures is probably not loving him or helping our city.

  5. Just a thought...

    14 November, 2013 at 12:57 am

    Your points are well-taken, Julian. However, I wonder if there's room to acknowledge a difference between judging Rob Ford as a person (which we as fellow sinners have no right to do, and in doing so, we'd be "casting the first stone," as you've said), and judging Rob Ford's competency and legitimacy to run Canada's largest city in light of the enormous number and variety of allegations relating to criminal activity and other kinds of behavior largely deemed to be unacceptable by our society. I also wonder if there's room to consider here how Jesus responded to the corruption he saw in the Pharisees, who, like Rob Ford (though clearly with some differences), held significant positions of leadership in their respective cultures?

    • Julian

      15 November, 2013 at 3:30 pm

      Thanks for the thoughts! I think you're on to something. The ability to distinguish between dealing with this man as a person and calling for political reform (even as it pertains to his fitness for the office) is crucial. I think it's a good distinction. We can, with class, honour, and respect (and in love!) call on our mayor to step aside. But, by all means, let's not forget that he is a human, like us. (All of which is, I think, what you're saying.)

      As for the Pharisee analogy, it's probably worth thinking through. Although I do see an important difference being that the Pharisees were setting themselves up as teachers of the law, guarding (and perverting!) the way to God. Probably a closer analogy would be the health & wealth teachers or works-righteousness teachers of our day. It seems that Jesus was less interested in politics ('give to Caesar…') than he was with religion ('Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees!').

  6. We try to pray for all of our Canadian leaders, regularly, both when in the news or not. I think this is the best posture.

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