Archive for the 'character' Category

Cosby,Character, Congruence, Christ

“‘As surely as God lives’ [David]  said to Nathan, ‘the man who did this ought to be lynched!’… ‘You’re the man!’ said Nathan.“ –2 Samuel 12:5, 7 MSG


I didn’t want to believe the ugly stories  about Bill Cosby. He’s one of my all-time favorite comedians. I’ve liked what I’ve known of his offstage life. He’s supported his alma mater Temple University. He’s stood up for civil rights when that stance was costly. He’s worked toward increased opportunity for African Americans and other minorities. He’s spoken with no-holds-barred honesty about the need for black people (especially young men) to take responsibility for themselves and their actions.

I’ve hoped that the ugliness would somehow be explained away. But the evidence continues to accumulate. I have to admit that at least some of the charges have credibility. I’ve looked for honesty, if not apology, from Cosby. But he and his advisors have thus far chosen not to address these matters except with denials and as required to in court.


This longtime Cosby fan struggles with the chasm separating Cosby’s highly-regarded reputation and the dramatically different revelations regarding his character. Reputation is our public image. We (and/or our PR staff) craft our “reputation” with the vast array of tools available to 21st-century image-smiths. Reputation may be crafted to suit ourselves. Character, on the other hand, is lasting, authentic, and not subject to manipulation. .

Suddenly Bill Cosby’s character and his long-time reputation seem to belong to two different people. Of course he’s hardly the first public figure whose character and reputation contradict each other. As the Watergate affair came to light, President Richard Nixon tried to do business as usual. To his credit, he ended the Vietnam conflict and opened up US-China relations during that time. But the deteriorating cover-up revealed the widening gap between Nixon’s well-publicized reputation and his increasingly dubious character. He’s hardly the only president who was sometimes less than “presidential”. Extramarital affairs marred the reputations of Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Clinton. Beyond the White House, General David Petraeus resigned after his affair not only crossed the line of marital fidelity but raised national security issues. And beloved (at least in Cincinnati) baseball player Pete Rose’s reputation suffered severely when his betting on his own team’s games came to light.

We expect national leaders and other public figures to be the same person privately and publicly. But my “let’s-get-real” side says let’s stop kidding ourselves. Consistently congruent lives are increasingly rare commodities.


Two geometric figures are “congruent” when they are exactly the same size and shape.  You can lay one on top of the other and they fit perfectly. I worked hard in high school geometry learning to prove the congruence of various geometric figures. Living a congruent life means our life is one seamless piece. Our walk and our talk match perfectly.  We are the same person at work, at school, at home, driving, playing, in church and out. We thought Bill Cosby’s life showed reasonable congruence. But he’s as fallible a human being as the rest of us.

David was Israel’s greatest king politically, militarily, and spiritually. One day David looked out from his balcony, saw a beautiful woman bathing on her balcony. He wanted her. Kings got what they wanted back around 1000 BCE. David had Bathsheba brought to his palace. Her husband Uriah was away fighting in King David’s army. David had his way with Bathsheba and sent her back home. A few weeks later she sent him this message: “I’m carrying your child.” Actions have consequences—even for the King!

David went into full cover-up mode. He brought Uriah home on leave. David welcomed him at the palace and urged him to go home and see his wife. Uriah refused. He would not enjoy the comforts of home while his men were in harm’s way. He slept in the palace with the king’s servants. Plan A failed miserably. So David initiated Plan B. The king sent Uriah back with sealed orders for his commander: “Place Uriah at the front of the fiercest battle, and then pull back from him so that he will be struck down and die.”  (2 Samuel  11:15 CEB).

Sometime after that fatal battle the prophet Nathan dropped by the palace. He told David a story about a rich man’s outrageous treatment of a very poor man. David exploded with outrage– “…the man who has done this deserves to die…” “You are the man!” Nathan replied. (2 Samuel 12:5, 7) Nathan shined a million-candlepower spotlight on David’s congruence failure. Psalm 51  is the song of repentance David may have written after his encounter with Nathan—and Nathan’s God.


I don’t presume to know Bill Cosby’s spiritual state of affairs. I have no desire to preach to him or judge him. I do believe this word might well shape our perspective on Cosby, ourselves, and whoever happens to be the media’s Sinner of the Week :“This saying is reliable and deserves full acceptance: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I’m the biggest sinner of all.” (1 Timothy 1:15 CEB) Paul claims the title for himself based on his pre-Christ persecution of Jesus’ followers. All of us who follow Jesus have had our moments. We’ve all laid claim to that title: “I’m the biggest sinner of all!” We seldom made headlines or video clips with our wrongdoing. But Bill Cosby’s globally-proclaimed sins are no less deadly than our less public misdeeds.

While we condemn Cosby’s sexual misconduct, we who are people of faith also affirm that we are equally “Congruence-challenged”. Even more important, we dare to claim that “biggest sinner of all” is not the end of the story. The last word—for Paul, for you and me, Bill Cosby, for every human being–is the limitless love described in Paul’s previous statement: “Grace mixed with faith and love poured over me and into me. And all because of Jesus.” (1 Timothy 1:14 MSG)