Monday, March 7, 2011

Casting Stones?

Recently, a woman from Serdang, Malaysia, was exposed on the internet for being an abuser of animals. She had killed a mother cat and its two kittens. Her acts of cruelty were caught on CCTV and the video posting went viral on the internet. The acquaintances of this woman recognized her from the video and posted her personal information online. This cat abuser began to receive threatening messages on her phone and Facebook account.
Some well-meaning Christians posted admonitions such as ‘not to cast stones’ at this woman. They were, of course referring to John 8:2-11 about an account of a woman accused of adultery. The people had captured her with the intention of killing her by stoning. Jesus prevented the lynching by saying, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone!”

This scripture is often cited by Christians who consider any criticisms or corrections on the perpetrators of a crime or sin to be wrong. The gist of the misapplication is: “How can you point out my sin when you are a sinner yourself”. In short, “Who are you to judge me?” In this instance, the perpetrators would turn the table on the accusers and thus cover up their sins or crimes. 

This is a total abuse of the Word of God because the vilest criminals can continue their criminal activities or sinful actions under the supposed protection of this scripture. Did our Lord actually forbid any corrections? Was He against justice being done? Are we forbidden from pointing out acts of injustice, murders, cruelty, sins and crimes that are committed by others simply because we are all sinners?

Paul gave this advice to his son in the faith, “Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that others may take warning” (1 Timothy 5:20). As for fellow believers, Paul was clear about the importance of correction when he wrote: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom.”

Paul had no problem in rebuking erring Christians and churches and often he did so sternly. I believe the Lord allowed the Bible to record an incident where Paul rebuked Peter for hypocrisy. Peter was eating with the Gentiles and had enjoyed their fellowship until some Jewish brethren arrived. Peter then avoided eating with the Gentile brethren totally (Galatians 2:11-14).

Was Paul without sins, when he used very strong words against Peter? Paul actually wrote this incident as an example for other Christians to follow:

When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.” (Galatians 2:11).
When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all…” (Galatians 2:14).

Why was Paul so harsh in rebuking Peter publicly? Why did he not follow his own advice to counsel and restore Peter privately? Why was there no apparent humility and gentleness in the use of words against this ‘chief’ apostle?

In my observation, Peter’s hypocrisy was similar to that of the Pharisees and Sadducees whom Jesus rebuked publicly. Peter’s action contradicted that of the teachings of Jesus and thus Paul said that Peter “stood condemned”. Peter had the highest responsibility when he was appointed to lead the early believers and by publicly behaving hypocritically, he influenced others to behave likewise. 

“The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.” (Galatians 2:13).

Since this hypocrisy was publicly displayed, Paul therefore did not privately admonish Peter but made the rebuke a public one. In fact, Paul’s rebuke was of similar intensity as that of the Lord’s against the Pharisees for hypocrisy (Matthew 23:25).

Was Paul sinless like Jesus? Obviously not! Paul was clear that he was a sinner and even considered himself as the “worst of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15-16). By rebuking Peter, was Paul “casting stones” at this very important apostle? So, are we “casting stones” when we point out the sins of our brethren or expose the injustices, prejudices and crimes of society?

It is thus important for us to understand the distinction between speaking out against sins, crimes, injustices and prejudices and “casting stones”. If we were to blur this distinction and seek to become ‘politically correct’, then we, the believers, will no longer be able to call people to confession and repentance of their sins. Jesus had no problem in identifying sins and named them as such. Today, the Church has to do the same. The purpose is not to condemn the sinners or criminals because they are already condemned in their present states. The purpose is to call these people to repentance and turn away from their wicked ways. 

What is the meaning of “casting stones”? During the time of Christ (and even today, in some extreme societies), women who were caught in adultery were not let off with admonitions, fines or imprisonments. They were killed! People at that time were most happy to implement the ancient laws of killing the perpetrator by stones and rocks. It often became a carnival of sheer lust for blood and murder. 

The “casting stones” approach is the carrying out of punishment that would end up in the death of the perpetrator. Therefore this story is not against pointing out the sins and crimes of others but about giving them a chance for redemption and restoration. Condemnation or passing the final judgement upon a person’s life is therefore the privilege of God alone. He is the only One who is without sins. Exposing sins and crimes by calling these by their names does not constitute ‘casting stones’.

What happened to this cat abuser from Malaysia? Because of the massive public response on internet and in the media, this girl was caught. She was forced to face the music and finally issued a statement of public apology. Christine Lai, the president of a non-governmental organization, Malaysian Dogs Deserve Better (MDDB), represented the feelings of most animal lovers when she expressed shock. Even though, she was appalled by this woman’s cruel action, her organization was willing to help this cat abuser if she were to be truly repentant. 

Christine said, “We are willing to sponsor her to get proper psychiatric treatment at the University Malaya Medical Centre. We urge the authorities to help her, but at the same time take proper and immediate action on her, as a reminder of her cruel act. We told her that she would be monitored by us and she should perform community works.”

Charges were filed against this woman for animal cruelty, under Section 44 of the Animals Act 1953. If she was found guilty, the authorities would fine her RM200 or imprison her for six months or both. This approach is not only redemptive but it serves as a warning to the potential animal abusers or those are still abusing animals.

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