Everyone needs a pastor

Even people like Jerry Sandusky seek clergy in their hour of need

By Norris Burkes

Florida Today

Published: Saturday, Dec. 24 2011 5:00 a.m. MST

Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State assistant football coach charged with sexually abusing boys, needs a chaplain like everyone else.

Associated Press

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The pastor or the faith group leader will often be called upon to play one of two roles, either priest or prophet.

A biblical example of the latter role is Nathan who discovered that King David slept with a married woman and then had the woman's husband killed. Davy figured he'd pulled a fast one until Nate appeared complaining about a local rancher who stole a poor farmer's lamb and had it slaughtered for a party.

Dave demanded to know the thief's identity so that he could be executed.

In one of the most famous of biblical comebacks, the prophet Nathaniel equates the theft of a wife to the theft of a sheep and says to Dave, "Thou art the man!"

This is the I-told-you-so moment most clergy secretly cherish when we get to point our fingers at someone and say, "You're the dude and you gotta pay!"

The other side, the priestly role, is much harder to practice, as I discovered years ago when a father brought his 3-year-old blond-haired boy to our Houston hospital. The dad told us that he had been "horsing around" with his son when the boy suddenly began vomiting. A few minutes after their arrival, doctors pronounced the boy dead.

The police came and the questions followed. Dad and Mom were in the same profession: stripping. While she'd been dancing at the club, dad says he gave his son a playful stomach punch.

In the midst of that, I was his chaplain; the guy that sat with a tearful dad when the mother bolted through our automatic door, echoing my thoughts with her words, "You son of a ...! What have you done?"

Over the next few hours, I escorted each of the family members into the room where the little boy lay. They don't get much cuter than this kid and I supported the grandparents as they grieved over the loss of a grandson and the mom over the loss of her child.

But when the dad straightened his grief-bent frame and asked me to take him to his son, I had to ask myself how in God's name could I support an animal that did this to his own son? What was he grieving?

I took him anyway. As he stood at the gurney, confronted with the results of his "play," he wept. He was sorry in his own depraved way — sorry he didn't have a son anymore, sorry he ruined so many lives, and no doubt, sorry he was going to prison.

He needed a chaplain at that moment. And while I definitely did not feel like being that chaplain, God didn't ask me how I felt about it.

Neither did God ask Edwin Zeiders, pastor of St. Paul's Methodist Church at State College, Pa., when he sat in court this month with his parishioner of 30 years, former Penn State coach and accused child molester, Jerry Sandusky.

Zeiders put words to his role last week when he appeared before reporters to say, "We continue to define the local congregation as a people of love and restoration, while giving witness and an endless stream of mercy from our Lord and the forgiveness that opens the doorway to new life."

There's a time to rage against injustice, but there's also a moment when God calls us to see all the victims. Both the father I met in the hospital and Sandusky blame their predicament on harmless horseplay, which tells me that they are victims of self-deception. These men need a pastor and their victims need our prayers.

Norris Burkes is a syndicated columnist, national speaker and the author of "No Small Miracles."

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