Casting the First Stone (John 8:7)

The other day I wrote a piece about the supporters of Rob Ford: Ford Nation, as they are often referred. I called them “conveniently religious” (Bowles, 2013) because they seem to enjoy using Biblical quotations out of context to support the antics of Mr. Ford… or at least to excuse them. I wanted to deal with each of those Biblical references (we all them “proof texts”) individually: I have served pastoral duties in several churches in the U.S., and graduated from Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, so I understand the complexity with which many texts from the Bible exist. In taking them “out of context”, they are often used to justify the status quo: which is exactly what Ford Nation is trying to do. Believe me, if you look at the rest of the New Testament, Jesus was not one to invest in things as they are (or were). He was all about change, especially when it came to corrupt leadership.

He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone (at her).” (John 8:7)

Sounds pretty easy to interpret. I’m not without sin (far from it: just ask my husband), so I guess I shouldn’t be the first to throw a stone at anyone. Problem is, if this was a general principle, would that mean Jesus doesn’t want us to react to any sin? Should everyone get away freely with any action? (What about city employees who allegedly fall asleep on the job? (National Post, 2013) Which is worse… smoking crack or falling asleep at work?)

There is a question as to whether this story was part of the original gospel, written by the inspired author (ReligiousTolerance.com). That being said, I’m going to treat it as though it was: it is not difficult to understand this verse as it is set in the rest of the Biblical narrative. My own feeling is that a more appropriate verse for Rob Ford is Matthew 23:27: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.” Mr. Ford has built his popularity on battling the “gravy train” in City Hall, and once elected became the worst of them all.

The verse in John is a specific situation: a woman (not her male counterpart, as required by O.T. Law: Leviticus 20:10) has just been found in adultery and was brought before the religious court and religious leaders for judgement. The Biblical response to adultery is death, usually assumed to be stoning. It is in this context that Jesus utters those famous words.

The situation with Rob Ford is completely different. The woman caught in adultery was one of the lowest status at the time, and she hurt only her family and those close to her: yet she was being taken before a religious court for public disgrace at the hands of those who had power over her. (And to “test” Jesus (John 8:6), but I don’t see that is really relevant to this application.) Jesus addressed his words to the “scribes and the Pharisees” (John 8:3) (not her family) in reference to “the Law [of] Moses” (John 8:5). The situation is completely reversed for Rob Ford. He is the most powerful man in the city: even stripped down we keep hearing him threaten “war” with those who oppose him. (CBC News, 2013) He would be the civil equivalent of a scribe or a pharisee, one of those in charge: who is usually casting judgement (firing staff willy nilly), not being judged. He has hurt not just those in power over the city, not just his staff, but every citizen: betraying those who voted for him, violating his pre-election promises, inviting ridicule on an international scale (as well as hurting his family). Jesus’ intent through his life was to release humanity from the burden of religious law, providing forgiveness from God. Thus the statement regarding the adulteress. But at the same time he emphasized even more strongly that we are still responsible to each other, we must take our civic responsibilities seriously, and moral/ethical demands are even more stringent (Matt. 5:28, “everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart”).

Properly interpreted, the words in John 8:7 can be used to discouraged extreme punishment: but at the same time recognizing the value of discipline. Actions have repercussions; partially physical results that follow directly from the things we do, but also social and civic implications. A person who cheats should pay back “four times” what he took (cf. Zaccheus, Luke 19:8), not as punishment but to discourage him ever trying it again. Similarly, a mayor who has broken the law and squandered the public trust should be removed from office, not as punishment but so that the citizens don’t lose confidence in their municipal government.

Ken Munro asks if Rob Ford is really “the bad guy”, and uses the above verse to justify his comment: “As for the mayor’s arrogance, stubbornness and bigotry, aren’t many of our politicians just as arrogant… How dare we turn a blind eye to other politicians’ greedy antics?” (Wondercafe.ca, 2013) Well, yes, Rob really is the bad guy (worse by the day); and at least our other politicians don’t flaunt their nastiness like Ford does. Just because everyone goes 10 km/h over the speed limit doesn’t mean I think the police shouldn’t charge a 150 km/hr joyrider. Furthermore, I’m not turning a “blind eye” to anything, or anyone’s sins. Some of our Councillors are even decent people. I’d need to know specifics before commenting: and Mr. Ford’s specifics are all over the airwaves. Right now his sins stand out from the crowd, and we need to respond: otherwise others will get the idea that they can publicly disgrace their positions as Ford has done without repercussions.

Right now Rob Ford is unique in the political history of Toronto. That’s why our municipal laws have no approach to this kind of situation (but hopefully not for long: Matt Elliott, 2013)). But he is not unique as a person; as we can see with Ford Nation, there are some (a vocal and energetic minority) who are just like him. If we, the rest of the citizenry, don’t demand that the Fords be curtailed and limited in what they can do to damage our municipal presence, Rob Ford will not be the last to abuse our leadership.

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