Friday, November 18, 2011

Of Statues, Reputations and Legacies

Most of us vividly recall news coverage of Saddam Hussein’s statue being knocked down in Baghdad, Iraq in 2003. For decades Saddam had ruled the Middle Eastern nation, and the statue had stood in silent homage to his exalted position. In the end, however, his status was reduced to images of gleeful Iraqi citizens destroying that icon.

In the now-defunct Soviet Union, statues and pictures of Lenin and Stalin were removed in similar rituals. Once dominant leaders disgraced, their most tangible images forever swept from public view.

So it seemed intriguing when a friend recently posted this question on Facebook: “Do you think the Joe Paterno statue in front of Beaver Stadium should come down?”

Not to equate former Penn State coach Paterno’s alleged wrongdoings with those of Saddam, Lenin or Stalin, but I do see some similarities.

In each case, the men were the face of their nation (in the case of “Joe Pa,” the “Nittany Lion Nation”). They all were strong individuals, always in control, deferring to no one. And in each case, they allowed loyal followers to violate one of God’s foremost commandments: “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath…” (Exodus 20:4) It could be argued that in the process, the first commandment was also broken: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3).

This statue in Charleston, S.C. pays
homage to South Carolina statesman
John C. Calhoun. Since he's been dead
more than 150 years, it's unlikely
his statue is in any danger of having
to be removed.
Humanity loves erecting statues to honor celebrated leaders and achievers. On our recent vacation trip to Charleston, S.C., we saw statues of numerous individuals that played key roles in the city’s history. It’s appropriate to recognize noble contributions of dedicated and gifted leaders, but when it comes to putting up statues in their honor, we tread unstable ground – especially if the honorees are still living.

Statues typically take months, even years, to create. Reputations – and legacies – require a lifetime. But sadly, they all can be destroyed in moments – through bad decisions, unethical or immoral conduct, poor choices, or dark secrets suddenly revealed.

Maybe that’s why we’re advised to “avoid even the appearance of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:22). Our reputations – and legacies – hang in the balance.

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