MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: It’s Friday, July 31st, 2020. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. A warm welcome to those watching the broadcast live here in Charlottesville, Virginia, I’m Megan Basham.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Eight months after leaving the national spotlight due to a sexual scandal, Christian comedian John Crist returned last week on Instagram. He delivered a personal statement. We’ll listen to a bit of it here as he talked about the process that’s moving him toward what he called healing.
CRIST: Let me just say how hopeful and encouraging that was to be working on my own mental health and my recovery and healing. And have a bunch of people rooting for me and supported me, meant the world.
He would go on to refer to some poor choices in his personal life, decisions that caused hurt and embarrassment and consequences. “I can look you in the eye” he said, and “own that.” Now a little over a week after he delivered his statement, he posted his first new comedy video.
BASHAM: Well it’s culture Friday, and we’re happy now to welcome Katie McCoy, assistant professor of theology and women’s studies at Southwestern seminary. Katie, thanks for being here.
KATIE MCCOY, GUEST: Always great to be with you guys.
BASHAM: So to start out with, I want to explain that we don’t bring up Crist to dip into anything salacious. Obviously that’s not our intention here, but his statement does seem to illustrate some trends we’re seeing overall and how we talk within the church about sin, and really how we address it.
So we just played that short clip. That was just a minute out of about four minutes total, probably actually about 30 seconds. He repeatedly mentioned poor decisions in his personal life and how he blames no one but himself. He confesses to hypocrisy, but I want to mention what I didn’t hear. I didn’t hear the word sin. I didn’t hear repentance. So that language felt really more therapeutic to me. Now you viewed the video, Katie, what did you see?
MCCOY: Well, I think you’re exactly right, Megan. He described how he had a problem and needed to get some help. He talked about his mental health and healing and the recovery process. And on one side note, it’s not really about the issue, but I think about people who actually do have struggles with mental health and healing and recovery process. And it’s horribly unfair to somehow equate the two struggles between his choices and those who carry that burden.
When he talks about fixing the broken pieces of himself—and, I appreciate that he acknowledged his own hypocrisy, but this is a perfect example of how we have to recover the language of the Bible. When we’re talking about the Christian life, we have to have words like sin and repentance and holiness and sanctification. Now, I appreciate that he made a statement. I can’t imagine how difficult that would be. But at the same time, he certainly could have been speaking about this in terms of sin and repentance and life change.
And, frankly, the way he was describing it was almost like he was a victim of his own sin. Like he was somehow this passive participant who was sort of—he’s living the effects of his own choices instead of one who was actively making them. I can’t judge his heart. And certainly this is an opportunity for all of us to examine ourselves and where we have areas of our lives, where we have just a little bit of repentance, as scripture describes it, so therefore a little bit of healing. And so it was disappointing to hear, but at the same time, I hope that perhaps it represents the beginning of some real life change and a genuine change in direction.
REICHARD: Katie, this is Mary Reichard. Hi.
MCCOY: Hey Mary.
REICHARD: One of the things that bothers me about stories like this—sometimes, not always—but sometimes it’s not about the power differential or the celebrity status or anything like that. Yet I hear this in social media, right after Crist posted that video, I heard a lot of criticism about the dynamics of abuse and how abusers operate, but adult women have agency too, don’t they? I mean, they could be predatory and they may want to be seen with someone they perceive as having power or celebrity. Am I off base here?
MCCOY: Well, I don’t know the specific situations of each of the women involved. So I really can’t comment on that. I will say, based on what I read about the John Crist situation, he seemed to be very good at manipulating people and was very skilled at winning their trust, using his platform and his personality to his advantage. To gain the trust of women who, perhaps they wanted to learn something of his business, they wanted to enjoy the benefits socially of having a friend who was a celebrity. But in terms of how he used that, it’s not exactly like Harvey Weinstein of saying that his advances meant the woman is to comply or else she’ll never work again in that industry, or she’ll end up having some deleterious consequences to her job or her career, very different type of power dynamic.
But then at the same time, you know Mary, there’s an aspect of it where, certainly without negating personal agency of a woman and choices, because this is part of what it means to be in the image of God, we have personal agency, we have moral culpability of our own. I think we need to also recognize how God created that dynamic of a man pursuing a woman, and with sin comes the distortion of that and comes the manipulation of that and comes the corruption of that. So a man who might be showing some positive attention to a young woman, she’s going, “Oh, well maybe this is something that is a positive thing in my life” only to find out that his motives are corrupt. And that seems to be what happened in the case of John Crist is that he had sexual addiction. He was using his platform in a way that gained the trust of young women and he manipulated it out of his own lust.
BASHAM: Well, and I guess I just want to press a little more on this question. Maybe it’s a question of how we define abuse, Katie, because you brought up mental illness and when we apply that to questions where we’re not certain that there’s a mental illness problem, I guess from my point of view, I go, at what point do we delineate that something is sin? Perhaps one party is more sinful in this joint act than the other party, but how do we define when it is abuse?
MCCOY: That’s a great question. I would not say that I am qualified to answer that. That’s something that I would have to myself consult Christian counselors, certainly pastoral counselors and even some sociologists to understand the full dynamics of that.
My broad definition would be someone who takes any type of power dynamic and uses it to their advantage to exploit the weakness of another person, whether that is physical, emotional, spiritual, psychological, or mental, and then certainly sexual as well. So in terms of, is what John Crist did abusive? I think I’d have to give that some thought. He certainly certainly took advantage of his platform in a way that was exploitative. And what I read of one young woman and how she described a new friendship, it quickly became exploitative. But again, this isn’t the same thing that we can put this on par with some of these executives or media moguls who use their position to coerce women into sexual favors at the expense of their career.
BASHAM: One more question. A pastor I know brought up church discipline, not as punishment, but as a process. Now we don’t know whether that’s going on out of the spotlight in this particular situation, but it does seem like something that we’ve lost. It seems like something we don’t talk about very frequently. From a theological standpoint. Do you feel like church discipline is something we need to recapture?
MCCOY: Oh my goodness, yes. In fact, it was the Protestant Reformation fathers who told us that the substance of a church is the word of God preached, the ordinances rightly administered, and they—I believe it was Calvin, who coupled church discipline in that. And it is good, godly, righteous, biblical church, discipline that we’re missing from the church today.
I think you were alluding to this. It’s never to hurt. It’s always to reconcile and to restore. And with that, the more openness that there is, there’s greater accountability. There can be greater healing. And then also it causes fear, the good kind of holy awe in fear among the people of God that be sure your sin will find you out. So confess it now while it’s hidden, before it’s exposed. These are things that we have to recover. We don’t need another church program. We don’t need another church conference. We simply need to be doing the very simple things of the word. And that does include church discipline.
BASHAM: Katie McCoy is assistant professor of theology and women’s studies at Southwestern seminary. Enjoyed talking with you as always Katie.
MCCOY: Always great to be with you. Thank you.