Lent 2: Tarnished Golden Rule

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This one was difficult to write, but I think that’s a good thing.

Last weekend, there was a news release that Jean Vanier is accused of some pretty awful abuse within the L’arche Community. Jean Vanier, up to his death last year, was spiritual mentor for millions. He founded L’arche to help the world’s most vulnerable – those with intellectual and cognitive disabilities – and I personally looked to him for spiritual guidance. Shortly after he died, I wrote “If you need someone to be a mentor for ethical behavior and service to community, look to Jean Vanier.” I kind of feel kicked in the stomach just reading that, knowing what he is accused of doing in the background, in the name of God. I’m pretty angry that this has happened. Again.

There are schools named after Jean Vanier who are now reconsidering ripping his now-tarnished legacy out of their community. Parents don’t want their kids attending a school honouring a sexual predator. No kidding, huh? In one article I read, Ryan Sikkes (the principal of Vanier Catholic Secondary School in Whitehorse) said, “It’s going to cause us out of necessity to have a bit of a reckoning about his reputation – as well as the dangers of creating cults of personality.”


Several years ago, after Billy Graham died, I struggled as well. I found him a mostly unsavoury character. He had some highly offensive rhetoric. But he also said something that speaks to me. Friends who aren’t religious find it ridiculous that there’s a bearded Sky Ghost who grants wishes if you chant often and sincerely enough. Then, Billy Graham, of all people, offered this soundbite:  “Can you see God? You haven’t seen him? I’ve never seen the wind. I see the effects of the wind, but I’ve never seen the wind. There’s a mystery to it.”

Mystery indeed. For something that speaks so completely to my thoughts on how to explain God to come from a mouth that also spewed such ugly things is… incongruous. What’s a girl to do?

Here’s Billy Graham. On the one hand, pastor of a significant percentage of Americans, and confidante of several American Presidents. On the other hand, offensive, racist blowhard. And he gives me a soundbite that totally hits the mark for me.

Here’s Jean Vanier. On the one hand, the founder of an international group who has vastly improved the lives of intellectually vulnerable people around the world. On the other, sexual predator who preys on women and uses their faith to abuse them.

I know, L’arche is more than it’s founder – it will continue the good work it does and it will distance itself from the Vanier name. Georges Vanier (the former Governor General, and Jean Vanier’s father) also gets caught in the splash zone because of their common surname. Anything named after George Vanier or the whole Vanier family is now tainted because of Jean’s actions. And those things are certainly a shame beyond the offenses that Jean Vanier committed.

I’ve also been thinking about a monologue by Sarah Silverman.  She was talking to her fans after Louis CK (her mentor and friend) had admitted to sexually harassing women. She didn’t make excuses for him. She didn’t defend him. She also  didn’t cut him out of her life. She struggled with how you reconcile your love for someone with the revelation that they have behaved badly. Terribly, even.

I certainly don’t love Billy Graham, and I no longer admire Jean Vanier. But I do struggle when something so perfect and something so offensive can be in the heart of the same person.

I spend a fair amount of time defending the worth of my religion. I see how some of my friends view my faith, and it disappoints me and makes me furious that people like Jean Vanier provide additional proof that they’re right and I’m wrong.  Most of us are pretty good people, doing good works as we go about our daily dailies. Most of us aren’t the zealous white-supremacist bigoted racist misogynist Christians who tend to get the most media airtime. I’m none of those things. There are issues, sure. The first time I took a stand against the faith I grew up with was when someone foisted a clipboard in my face at the door of my church to compel me to denounce homosexuals participation in our religious tradition. I declined the clipboard, and got a very stern look from the usher holding it. The next week, when my dad said it was time to leave for mass, I said I wasn’t going anymore.

My crisis of faith was mine to figure out. And I did.

Eventually I settled into my own brand of Catholicism. In the New Testament, Jesus said the new rule was “Love one another as I have loved you”. Sure, the 10 commandments of the old testament are decent guidelines to following that rule. Don’t punch people in the throat. Murder is bad. Don’t take things that aren’t yours. Be respectful. But if we have a new testament, and the rule is Love one another, then how’s about we do that?  And not in a creepy, predatory, abusive way. When I read back this paragraph, I see how things go off the rails. Cherry pick what seems appealing to your moral compass, and just hand-wave away the rest. That’s certainly not what I mean. There is a Golden Rule. If hurting someone else is part of what you can explain away, maybe the rule you’re following isn’t as golden as you’re trying to make it. All that glitters, and all that.

I’m not shy about curse words, and enjoy a little karma when it punches someone in the throat who needs to be taught some manners. I’ve got things that definitely go on the red side of the ledger. So I’d best not throw any stones, I guess.

This Lent, may I find strength through moments of crisis. May the effects of God’s influence be visible in me. May I accept where God’s influence is visible in others, and get over my anger when it’s not. And please, please, may the good my faith sews in the world far outweigh the damage we need to make up for.

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