The horrifying allegations and fallout continue to surface in the Penn State University child sex abuse scandal, now in its third week. The sordid details of the alleged crimes are so reprehensible that I can hardly bear to read the news reports. One cannot fathom the darkness of a heart that would do such vile things to children. Almost as disturbing to our souls is the apparent failure of other men to protect the victims and come forward.
The common denominator at the very core of the story is the sin of lust. Lust is defined as a strong or excessive desire, a yearning or craving. One party, the former assistant coach, is accused of lusting for and carrying out illicit sex with children while some of the key leadership at Penn State apparently lusted to preserve the money and prestige of its vaunted football program. What else could explain their decade of silence on the matter?
It now seems this lust will dearly cost not only the accused, his family, the victims and their families, but also those guilty of looking the other way.
The Wake of Devastation
The financial impact of this scandal at Penn State will be enormous.
- Joe Paterno, revered head football coach of the famed Nittany Lions and highest paid employee at Penn State University, reportedly earning $1 million annually: Fired. Reputation badly tarnished. Lucrative Paterno brand in leadership books, tapes and other materials, gone.
- Graham Spanier, University President, earning a reported $800,000 annually: Fired.
- Tim Curley, Athletic Director, estimated annual salary near $500,000: Fired. Charged with perjury.
- Gary Schultz, acting Senior VP for Finance and Business, who previously had retired with a one-time pension payment of $422,000 and $331,000 of annual income: Fired. Charged with perjury.
- Penn State endowment of over $1.8 billion, annual revenue near $200 million: Seriously threatened.
It’s estimated that the university will incur legal costs and settlements to victims reaching as high as $100 million.
Fundraising will suffer. The backlash of shocked and disillusioned alumni and fans will hurt Penn State in two ways:
1. The Nittany Lion Club, the booster organization for university athletics, raised $27 million in 20091 and is critical to the success of the entire athletic program.
The university’s current $2 billion capital fundraising, for which Coach Paterno served as honorary chairman, will also be at risk. JoePa, as he is affectionately known, was a key fundraiser in earlier campaigns, but it seems certain he will never perform that function again at Penn State. For every 1% drop in contributions to the capital campaign, the university loses $20 million.
2. In addition, the reputation of Penn State has been seriously damaged, which likely will hurt the school’s ability to recruit top students, at least in the near future.
In all, the financial hit to Penn State could top $200 million2.
This, of course, does not take into account the spiritual, emotional and psychological toll on all involved.
What lessons can Christians take from this tragedy?
Put Lust to Death
The allegations against the former coach are truly heinous. Still, I can’t get past the revelation that others, men seen as leaders, failed to contact authorities and, as a result, potentially endangered even more innocent boys. Edmund Burke wrote, “All that is required for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing.”
We will wonder for years how these men could stand by silently, or worse, cover up these alleged crimes. The answer, however, is probably quite simple—fear that the Penn State football program and the enormous funds it produces for the university would be threatened if the scandal became public.
If the reports turn out to be true, I believe we will learn that the men in leadership were paralyzed from taking action by their own lust for money, power and prestige. They placed greater value on protecting their personal and corporate assets than on protecting innocent victims.
This unrighteous and flawed decision-making may seem inconceivable to us; but we should not be so quick to judge. A similar trade-off happens whenever we compromise our integrity for personal gain. The Bible says many turn their back on God due to a lust for the things of this world. The Penn State debacle stands out only for the shock of the nature of the sin and the vast amount of personal and financial currency lost—it is hardly unique.
Christians need reminding to guard against lust of the flesh. The bystanders at Penn State had nine years to report the alleged sins of a former coach but did nothing. By looking the other way, they now find themselves covered in shame, for the Bible promises, “…you may be sure that your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23 niv).
Paul gave a clear solution to the problems caused by the corruption of our heart. “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming” (Colossians 3:5-6 niv).
We should pray for healing for the victims. We should also pray that the Spirit would guard our hearts and put to the death the lusts that dwell within each of us. Far better to bring death to the personal lusts of the flesh than allow them to bring death to so many others.
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