Cliff is not the last, just the latest. How do we respond?

Sir Cliff Richard is the latest celebrity to be accused of an historic sex-crime. He has yet to be formally charged with anything but an accusation has been made and the police have begun their investigations. Although unconnected to Operation Yew Tree – the police investigation into child sex offences following the Jimmy Saville revelations – it marks yet another chapter in the seemingly endless slew of accusations following just about every celebrity that was famous pre-1990.

What is especially disheartening about this particular accusation is that Cliff Richard is a Christian. He has suffered professionally for his religious stance. Upon his conversion, he planned to quit music altogether but, deciding against this, changed his act, which had been labelled “too sexy for TV”. In later years, he lost credibility within the music world seemingly for no other reason than his Christian stance. This is supported by the fact that he released a number of tracks in the 1990s under the pseudonym Blacknight, receiving widespread airtime and critical acclaim until his true identity was revealed as the artist. There have been plenty of people waiting for Cliff to fall in the most public of ways and, certainly until now, he did not oblige. Whilst no Christian is beyond any form of sin, it is astounding to think it possible, after such a long-standing and clear Christian witness, that this might be true.

What are we to draw from this latest saga? 

We should presume innocence until proven otherwise

It is a well establish principle of law that one is presumed innocent until proven guilty. Many of us let the phrase trip off the tongue so easily. Yet, in the emotive case of child sex offences, this principle is rarely applied outside the court room. Trial by tabloid seems to be the order of the day. Phrases like “he looks like one” and “I always knew he was a bit weird” belie claims to impartiality. Very few people acknowledge that many accused celebrities, even those formally charged, have ultimately been found innocent. William Roach, Michael Le Vell, Jim Davidson and, long before the floodgates opened, Matthew Kelly have all been found innocent following charges. In this case, as yet, Sir Cliff has not even been formally charged. Let us call off the dogs and hold our fire until a trial has taken place and a verdict been reached.

We should see Moral Relativism for what it is

We have seen plenty of celebrities charged with offences. In the cases of Stuart Hall, Rolf Harris and Max Clifford the charges have been upheld and prison sentences given out. Others have been charged and find cases ongoing, recurring or new cases arising. The defence that seems to crop up time and again is that the culture was different back then, nobody really thought these things wrong. 

Aside from the fact such offences were against the law even in the 1970s, showing the authorities evidently thought these things wrong, the victims themselves clearly don’t share that view either. The problem we have is that a moving moral compass opens the door to such nonsense. Today, we believe we have advanced so far that previous social mores simply do not hold. If such is the case, then existing social mores cannot be pressed retroactively. If morality is ever-changing, we cannot hold people to account historically for things that were not deemed amoral when they were committed. If we want to see justice done in historical cases, moral relativism simply makes it impossible to do so consistently.

We should recognise why we have an appetite for these stories

What is it that makes us buy tabloid papers screaming about these things? Can we honestly say that it is nothing more than a desire to keep informed? More likely, it is because we enjoy feeling superior. We feel good when we see others fail and that is not because we particularly enjoy watching heinous acts of sin. Rather, it is because in judging others worse than ourselves we make ourselves relatively good. An unchanging moral compass means that the sin of another does nothing to effect the value of my own sin. Moral relativism allows me to look at those committing worse acts than me and justify my own shortcomings by arguing I’m not as bad as that.

Knowing a number of people involved in prison outreach, it may surprise you to know that moral relativism is as alive in gaol as it is on the outside. Murderers, though guilty by their own admission, justify themselves as not as bad as the paedophiles. Paedophiles have their own sliding scale. The barrenness of this view is evident. it leads us to conclude, despite the Biblical claim “there is none who does good, not even one”, that all do good, except one… the one who is the worst person in society. Really, our agenda is driven by counting ourselves good and doing so by deeming all those worse than us as bad.

We should acknowledge Christians are not beyond sin, even of this magnitude

Even a cursory reading of the Bible will show that none of us are beyond the reach sin. Christians, like everyone else, may fall in public and disgraceful ways. Any reading of Paul or John that does not lead us to understand our inherent propensity to sin shows we haven’t understood either the Bible or the gospel. 

Bearing in mind the point above, I do not want to accuse Cliff Richard of anything here. Yet, we cannot pretend that Christian people are beyond even gross acts of sin. A common perception is that “sin” is what Christians talk about when they point the finger at unbelievers. Such a view misunderstands the Biblical position. Far from pointing the finger, Christians know all too well how sinful they are and take both Romans 3:23 and 1 John 1:8 very seriously indeed. The wonder shouldn’t be that people do such heinous things, the wonder should be that less of us do. God’s grace holds back the tide of sin.

We should remember, though some escape justice, none escape justice

The spark that ignited the fire was the Jimmy Saville revelations. Many are frustrated and angry that Saville not only indulged in this grotesque behaviour for so long but was never brought to justice. For many, Saville simply got away with it. The Bible tells us we have a loving and merciful God. Yet, the Bible is also clear that God is just. All will have to stand before him and give and account of our life, both Christian and non-Christian alike. Though justice may not have been done on Earth we can rest assured that it will be done by Almighty God.

We should not be fooled. Judgment is not only for those who have committed the most heinous crimes. If moral relativism is flawed, God’s justice cannot only extend to the worst of all criminals. Indeed, his justice must simply extend to all those who have fallen short of his glory. If scripture is to be believed, none of us have lived up to that exacting standard.

We should rejoice that God welcomes those who repent, even repentant celebrities

The God of justice is not only concerned with what is just. Though his justice demands satisfaction, his love and mercy demand a means of escape. In Jesus Christ, God simultaneously satisfied his justice and mercy. The central message of the Bible is not that all are sinners. The central message is that Jesus Christ welcomes sinners who repent. Moral relativism keeps us from recognising that we have all fallen short of God’s perfect morality. Yet, if we acknowledge our shortcomings and look to Jesus in repentance, the just wrath of God that we deserve can be laid upon Jesus Christ.

It is sad that there was no evidence of repentance on the part of Jimmy Saville. In the cases of Stuart Hall and Rolf Harris, the same seems to apply. They seem sorry at having been caught but not all that sorry for what they have done. Whatever views one has on the British prison system, they will ultimately have to answer to the Lord and face the real punishment for their crimes and not just those for which they have been sent to prison.

But God does welcome repentant sinners. The apostle Paul states “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of which I am foremost” (1 Tim 1:15). And that was not moral relativism at play or false modesty, Paul had well documented reason to think of himself as the chief of all sinners. Yet, Paul – who was a murdering, religious persecutor not unlike IS, formerly ISIS – repented of even this heinous sin and the Lord Jesus Christ welcome him. Likewise, he offers forgiveness to you and I if we turn in repentance to him. If he can save a repentant Paul, he can save any of us!