Say it ain’t so, Joe…
It was 100 years ago this month – September 28, 1920 – that a Grand Jury was tasked with hearing testimony in what came to be known as the Black Sox Scandal.
In brief: the 1919 World Series matched the Cincinnati Reds with the Chicago White Sox. The allegations emerged after the Sox lost the series to the Reds: eight players on the White Sox team had been paid $5,000 each to “throw the Series,” allowing the Reds’ win. Shoeless Joe Jackson – hero to innumerable kids in Chicago – was one of those charged.
The Grand Jury acquitted the eight, but Kenesaw Mountain Landis – the new Commissioner of Baseball – banned them from baseball, for life. His declaration: “Regardless of the verdict of juries, no player that throws a ballgame; no player that undertakes or promises to throw a ballgame; no player that sits in a conference with a bunch of crooked players or gamblers where the ways and means of throwing games are planned and discussed and does not promptly tell his club about it will ever play professional baseball.”
The popular fable surrounding that tragic tale from America’s Pastime pictures a gaggle of boys standing by the exit of the White Sox clubhouse after the scandal broke. As Shoeless Joe Jackson emerged, one of the heartbroken min-fans verbalized his empty hope: “Say it ain’t so, Joe.” In fact, that was the headline in the Chicago Tribune over their coverage of the fall-from-fame suffered by Jackson and the others.
If the standards in professional sports are high, the expectations for Kingdom Leadership are higher yet: “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.” (James 3:1-2). Reminder: when the Bible references “perfect,” it is describing maturity, not sinlessness.
To recap: we started this Monday-morning miniseries reminded of Paul’s expressed intent to finish well. He wrote of his self-discipline: “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14). Even the great Apostle knew his lifetime impact could be compromised – and his own eternal rewards sacrificed – if a lack of integrity in his leadership was ever allowed.
Money, Sex and Power are the continuing challenges that are most likely to disrupt the leaders whose lives are works-in-progress. Prominence does not ensure sincerity: the allure of highly elevated positions can lead to attractions and allurements that can distract a leader from their mission.
The Bible is not a highly-edited Positive Thinking Manual featuring only the happy stories of lifetime achievement; packed into God’s account of history are stories of winners and losers, allowing us to find lessons in both: “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.” (Romans 15:4). We can learn from the leaders who stayed faithful, and from those who did not.
Israel’s first king was Saul: “… Saul, as handsome a young man as could be found anywhere in Israel, and he was a head taller than anyone else…” (1 Samuel 9:2). He looked the part… but his leadership was compromised by disobeying God: “Then the word of the Lord came to Samuel: ‘I regret that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions.” (1 Samuel 15:11). The story is 3,000 years old, but the sequels continue today.
Case in Point, from today’s news: Jerry Falwell, Jr., whose rise to fame as President of Liberty University made him one of modern culture’s most notable Christian leaders. Click here for the latest Ministry Watch account of his rise and fall.
If earthly success is measured in dollar signs, Falwell scored a “win” with his severance package. If eternal significance is demonstrated through Eternal Rewards, he has squandered his heavenly account through his willful acts of disqualification.
This mini-series is not a sensational celebration of fallen heroes; instead, my intent has been to caution us all against the arrogance of ascendency and to listen to Paul’s caution with the utmost clarity: “In everything set them an example by doing what is good… so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.” (Titus 2:6-8).
Next week: is a leader’s disqualification “the unpardonable sin?” Or, is there a way to get back on the pathway to “Well done, good and faithful servant?”