Last night I was home from church by 8:30. I was watching cable news, and Bill O’Reilly was not anywhere on the television. He will not be back.
The Washington Post reports why,
Fox News on Wednesday ended its association with Bill O’Reilly, the combative TV host and commentator who has ruled cable-news ratings for nearly two decades and was the signature figure in the network’s rise as a powerful political player.
The conservative-leaning host’s downfall was swift and steep, set in motion less than three weeks ago by revelations of a string of sexual harassment complaints against him.
O’Reilly first came to prominence when I was a teenager, and has ruled cable news almost since that time. He was one of the most successful anchors in the history of broadcasting, and wielded enormous influence. Now he will slink off the scene in disgrace. There will be no retirement party. No sentimental retrospectives on his career. No farewell special with a who’s who of political leaders.
As Christians observe the pitiful end to all this success we can learn several crucial lessons.
First, sexual sin cannot be contained. Every person in the history of the universe who has ever committed sexual sin did so thinking they were in control. This is what Bill O’Reilly did. News reports paint a sordid picture of a man sauntering through the halls of a news conglomerate saying and doing terrible things to women. He engaged in grotesque flirtations and issued threats to ensure silence with the notion that he was in control. But he was wrong. He did not understand that it is the nature of sexual sin—in fact, it is the nature of all sin—to take control of us.
The Proverbs, in speaking of engaging in sexual sin, warn, “Can a man take fire in his lap and his clothes not be burned? Or can a man walk on hot coals and his feet not be scorched?” (Prov 6:27-28). The rhetorical questions serve to make the point that you cannot contain sexual sin any more than you can play with fire and avoid burns.
Second, sin finds you out. One of the driving pieces of logic behind Mr. O’Reilly’s despicable behavior was the misplaced promise that his sins would remain a secret. Sexual sin grows in an environment that promises secrecy (Prov 7:18-20). But it is all a lie.
Christians need to remember the words of Numbers 32:23, “Be sure your sin will find you out.” No person—not even a powerful news personality—can ever ultimately outrun this reality.
Third, the messenger matters, not just the message. Christians should offer clear and vocal support of the termination of Bill O’Reilly from Fox News. This is because we believe the biblical teaching that ultimately the life of the messenger is inextricably linked to the message they offer.
I’ve watched over the years as O’Reilly called out corrupt people for mistreatment of “the folks.” I was thankful for all the times he called out oppression against the weak. The problem is not that he engaged in such advocacy. The problem is that as soon as the cameras were off he was, apparently, preying on women who depended on his good graces for employment and career advancement. This is what Christians know as hypocrisy. We must remember that it is right that a messenger lose his microphone for undermining his message with the life he lives.
Fourth, Christians should be people who put principle first. One of the most disgusting realities about this corruption is that the leadership at Fox News knew about this behavior for years before they removed O’Reilly from his post. According to various news reports they paid out many millions of dollars in an effort to make numerous allegations disappear into thin air. That hush money created a situation where more women could be victimized by Mr. O’Reilly.
O’Reilly was ultimately removed only after the allegations created such a stir that Fox News was hemorrhaging money and needed to stop the bleeding.
Christians are called to a higher standard than this. The call to protect the weak does not fluctuate based on the ability of perpetrators to earn big bucks (Ps. 82:3-4). We must pray for a more just society where those who victimize women are given no quarter. Those of us who are leaders must commit ourselves that such behavior will never happen on our watch
Finally, Christians can be encouraged about biblical values in the public square. We Christians have witnessed a disturbing trend in the last few years of public pressure leading to the acceptance of immorality. Just one example is the political and economic pressure that was brought to bear in the state of North Carolina trying to force the citizens of that state to embrace LGBT morality. Christians have been rightly concerned about this trend.
The O’Reilly debacle shows that there are at least some instances where public pressure can lead to an advancement of biblical morality. Before Mr. O’Reilly’s sin was brought into daylight he was allowed to continue his corruption. Once it was known—and once the details were sufficiently brought to the attention of the advertisers who paid his salary—there was a public outcry leading to his ouster.
I don’t interpret these events as a culture-wide return to biblical sexual morality. But it is encouraging that, for some sexual sin at least, our culture still has a conscience—for now.
The lesson for Christians in all this is that the Bible tells the truth about sexual sin. God wrote the Bible to warn us in advance about the way sin works, and the disaster it brings into every life it touches. As Christians we should pray for Mr. O’Reilly to know real repentance and find God’s forgiveness from this sin. We should pray for his victims, that they would encounter the comforting grace of Jesus in the midst of much pain. And we should pray that we would heed yet another warning of the dangers of sexual sin.