I have a job to do. I am the arbiter of truth. At least I decide the truth that certain people get to hear. I decide who is in and who is out. It is a condition of my employment. Somebody needs to do the job and they selected me. I have my detractors, but I'm pretty confident I do a good job. Others aren't so sure.
He stood in the pulpit and thundered at the men. They loved him especially when he got into that rock and roll sing song and hammered home the repeated phrase that was thematic to his sermon. They would clap and Amen along with
the pastor's wife who sat on the piano bench ready to launch into a verse or three of "Just As I Am Without One Plea" should the situation arise. He had a deep love for the men at the rehab and I would see him weeping and praying
with them and urging them on to Jesus. If anyone knows about being loved it is the unloved and when the preacher reached out, love was palpable to the unlovely.
Some didn't clap. They sat in sullen silence in the back of the room. His calls to them to repent only deepened their resolve to never say they were sorry. I always sit with the back row folks. They are the people God has called me to and I love them. So I wept the day he told his parishioners that all Catholics were going to hell. That the pope was the anti-Christ. The next week a few more men joined the back row. One had previously asked
me if he could pray the rosary. Now he sat motionless and stared straight ahead as the pastor asked who had brought their Bibles to chapel. Excitedly those who had remembered held them aloft. The preacher began to inspect them. He told the ones who had copies of the NIV that they weren't reading God's Word. He told them to take their Devil Bibles and exchange them for real ones. He talked about how the writer's of the NIV had taken verses out and that the penalty for that would be eternal damnation. The next week some NIV readers joined the back row. When he started telling us that if we didn't speak in tongues, we were outside the kingdom, I exercised my prerogative as arbiter of the truth. I sent him packing. Told him we didn't need him anymore. He assured me I was a liberal and that liberals were headed for hell. He told me how much he loved the guys and how wrong I was to judge him instead of judging them. But I'm the arbiter of truth and he was gone.
She came every Sunday. She loved her son. No doubt about it. She would bring him McDonalds. He loved McDonalds and she made sure that he got two patties on that sesame seed bun and those golden fries every Sunday. She worried about her baby even though her baby was now in his thirties. She
fretted over whether he was sleeping well and whether he was eating right. She asked me about how he did with the classwork and if he was following the rules. She chided him on the Sunday when he wore the orange vest because of
a rule infraction. She was a good mom and she loved her kid. Other men were jealous of Joey and most of them wished they had a mom like her. She complained to me in my role as arbiter of truth that our rules were way too hard. That she should be able to see her son more than just once a week. I nodded sympathetically, but explained that all mothers weren't good mothers and all sons weren't like her son and that we had to be strict for the sake of others. She reluctantly agreed. After all, I'm the arbiter of who is in and who is out.
One Sunday we did a search after visiting hours were over. The search for contraband turned up some crack in Joey's McDonald's bag. Crack that his mother had brought in. When I told her she was no longer permitted to come and see Joey she went into a rant. She talked about how hard it was for Joey. How she was just giving him a little bit to help him because our rules of cold turkey abstinence were just too harsh. How if we loved him the way she loved him we would understand how to help him. But I am the arbiter of truth and I told her she was killing her son. The phone went dead.
The young man in my office was weeping. He was bone weary at 23 and had the look of a man too long on the streets. At a previous meeting he had knelt on the carpet and asked Jesus to take over his life. But that had been two weeks before and today he was expecting discipline for having been caught smoking. The man who had caught him smoking was him. He had turned himself in. He was weeping not for his loss, but because he had failed to live to the standards that Christians are expected to live to. He was deeply sorry about not being a good Christian and he was expecting an orange vest.
So I let him have it. I told him the truth. I told him that God loves smokers and non-smokers alike and that this incident had no bearing on his future with God. I told him that God doesn't let go of those he loves and that He erases our sin. I told him he was an amazing man of God and that I loved his courage and his integrity. I told him to go and sin no more. He asked me how I could just let this thing slide and I told him that confession and repentance is always met with grace. He wondered what God
would say and I told him I spoke for God. After all, I am the arbiter of truth. It is in my contract. I get paid to speak the truth in love. It is what I do.
Sadly, we don't have well defined standards and sometimes somebody has to decide.
That somebody is me.