This Washington Post report about Bill Cosby is profoundly disturbing. We have to acknowledge that he has yet to be tried in a court of law. Still, this story stirs up in me two feelings that I suspect are common among those who have been Cosby fans for a long time, as I have been.
There is the sense of profound sadness over the revelation that a revered icon may be a serial fraud. Cosby is so gifted at making us laugh, so representative of a father figure we wish everyone could have, so emblematic, in his sitcoms, of the kind of wholesome two-parent family we believe is God’s best design for human flourishing. And yet it seems that everything he portrayed on TV is the exact opposite to the kind of man he is reported to be.
This is the kind of deep and terrible disappointment that comes when someone we admire is not even close to what we thought they were. In the last few years we’ve seen too many mighty men fall by the weight of their own sins. One by one institutions and people we’ve come to trust are proving no longer trustworthy. This is bad for our culture, but also reminds us that all men—even revered public figures—are tainted by sin and that there is only one real, perfect example in Christ upon whom we can truly project our longings.
But there is another feeling that moves beyond disappointment to rage. There is a morally justifiable anger at a powerful and connected man who is alleged to have used his position to systematically prey upon vulnerable young women. Even if only a fraction of the allegations are true—and with over twenty women coming forward, it’s hard to escape the overwhelming circumstantial evidence—it’s a scandal that Cosby wasn’t prosecuted long ago.
I’m a father of three girls. I consider it one of my life missions to protect and defend my girls against men who behave as Cosby is alleged to have behaved; predators who rob young girls of their innocence.
What’s even more disturbing is that it seems everyone in Cosby’s circle protected him, the perpetrator and continues to protect him, even those who knew this was happening—reporters, law enforcement—kind of did a “wink and nod” and looked the other way on this injustice.
As followers of Christ, we hold two ideas in tension. First is the recognition that as fallen sinners, we are capable of the very crimes Bill Cosby is alleged to have perpetrated. Only Christ can redeem us and replace hearts of stone with hearts of love, made possible by the blood of his cross and his triumphant resurrection.
The other idea we hold is that, as Christ’s ambassadors of reconciliation, we fight for justice in the world. This means fighting against injustice. The gospel doesn’t just make us nice people. It makes us warriors and healers.
It is this prophetic voice the world needs to hear when it comes to alleged predators like Bill Cosby. There is a tendency to want to ignore or even protect him because he portrayed, on the screen, a kind of family structure we know is good for society. But there is no defense of Bill Cosby’s alleged actions.
The Church, specifically Christian men, have to speak out loudly against assault against women. We must be a refuge for the voiceless, the vulnerable, and the violated in a Fallen world. They must hear of a God who loves them and a Christ who came to set them free. They must find in us an advocate for justice, their justice.
It’s sad that we’ll never remember Bill Cosby as we once knew him. But his fall from grace is not the real tragedy here. Not even close. The real tragedy is the lost innocence of the many female victims, who’ve had to live scarred lives because of this predatory behavior.
Let’s make sure we don't preach a partial gospel that only preaches forgiveness for the worst sinners; let’s preach a gospel that also offers healing and hope for those victimized by the Fall.