When it comes to stories about "stones," we all know of the story of David who had five smooth stones in his possession, using only one to take out the giant, Goliath.
My favorite reference to stones is the song called "Pocket Full of Stones" by the rap group UGK. This song, full of expletives, heavy 808 beats, and stories about an inescapable drug life chronicles two rappers who keep their "stones" (crack rocks) in their pockets, waiting for the next addict to find them to make a purchase.
Don't judge me.
There's another story about stones in John 8 where Jesus reminds the crowd of men who set out to stone a woman accused of adultery that they should only cast a stone if they too were without sin.
This is the Scripture that is most often used when Christians talk about "judging" the actions of another Christian. We hear, "We all sin -- who are we to judge or cast a stone at someone else?"
We take John 8:7 and misinterpret it, water it down, wave it like a banner over the iniquities of others so that we can be removed from the microscope of judgment. We don't want people to see and judge our sins so we lean into this text in John 8 to excuse ourselves from being accountable for not just our sins, but how our sins impact the lives of others.
This week, Gospel recording artist James Fortune plead guilty to assaulting his wife in 2014 and was sentenced to "five years of probation plus five days in jail. He must also serve 175 hours of community service, complete a "batterer's intervention" program and stay away from his wife."
In 2002, Fortune was found guilty for "disciplining" his 4-year-old son by burning him with boiling hot water. The child had burns over 40 percent of his body.
For that case, Fortune was sentenced to six years probation.
Just days after his most recent sentencing, this flyer popped up on Facebook:
The event, hosted by New Hope Baptist Church in Los Angeles, is titled "Drop That Stone" and quotes the aforementioned John 8 scripture serving as its subtitle: "He without sin cast the first stone."
This isn't the first time a "benefit concert" was held in Fortunes' name; after news broke that he was charged with beating his wife in late 2014, a "Restoration" concert was held in his honor in January 2015.
So, a host of witnesses from the Gospel/Christian community have long supported Fortune during his times of self-imposed direst.
This most recent support, however, has a fatal flaw. An egregious misstep.
They're misquoting scripture.
Yes, Jesus was talking to a group of accusers and called them on their bull when they wanted to judge this adulteress for her sins. Yes, he literally used the stone as a mirror for the accusers to see their own sins, resulting in them dropping their accusations (and stones) and leaving the woman alone.
Yes. These things are true.
But, when you look at the original text and consider biblical commentary on verse 7, we learn something important.
"[Jesus] builds upon an uncontested maxim in morality, that it is very absurd for men to be zealous in punishing the offences [sic] of others, while they are every whit as guilty themselves, and they are not better than self-condemned who judge others, and yet themselves do the same thing: "If there be any of you who is without sin, without sin of this nature, that has not some time or other been guilty of fornication or adultery, let him cast the first stone at her." -- Matthew Henry Commentary
Major key here: If there be any of you who is without sin, without sin of this nature, that has not some time or other been guilty of fornication or adultery, let him cast the first stone at her."
This commentator (and others) note that it wasn't that these accusers could not judge the woman because, as we say, "everybody sins." Jesus said that if you too have not been guilty of THIS sin, cast your stone.
What does this mean?
1.In context, the accusers could not judge this woman for her sin of adultery because they too were adulterers. Sit with that.
2. That the "right" to judge someone for their sin is the responsibility of those who are not guilty of the sin at hand.
The request for us to "Drop That Stone" based on John 8:7 is misguided. The text is only singling out those who too are guilty of the same offense, in this case violence against women. Simply put: If you are guilty of violence against women, put your stone down.
Sadly, there may be some involved in this concert that actually need to put their stone down based on this text. Those who are guilty of the sin of physical abuse, put your stone down because you have your own stuff to work through.
What is the text telling the rest of us, though? If you have not been guilty of violence against women, physical, emotional, and domestic abuse, you have a responsibility to hold this person who has accountable.
This changes everything doesn't it?
John 8:7 is not a scapegoat text that allows us to not judge the actions of other believers -- especially (and this is most important), when our actions have a lasting negative impact on others.
John 8:7 is really about the ways we must hold people accountable for their actions.
But there's an even bigger violation of the faith happening here beyond church folks not knowing how to rightly divide the Word: how are we spending marketing and promotion money to rally around Fortune, a man who has been found guilty of abusing his wife and son, but do nothing for those who have been abused?
There's a benefit concert (I'm calling it that because that's what it feels like) for Fortune where he will earn money and have the support of many people who are, through their participation, saying that violence against women and children is okay. Every ticket sold, every song sung in the name of Jesus is a public declaration that the life of his wife and children are not as important as the one who abused them.
As the old saints say, "It's tight, but it's right."
Those who sing, preach, and proclaim the Gospel, sell albums, t-shirts, sold out concerts in the name of liberative Jesus will take the stage in support of a man who, through his own admission, abused both his wife and child.
This is an example of misplaced Christian responsibility and accountability.
It is not Fortune who needs to be rallied around. It's his wife and kids.
Where is the benefit concert for them?
Who will sing and pray unto God demanding for those who abuse and misuse their power and celebrity to be accountable for their actions beyond a slap on the wrist?
Who will use their platform to talk about and expose people who abuse and violate the rights of others? Who is willing to make people accountable?
Will there be public discussion that addresses these things? Will those who want to shout heaven down in the name of James (not Jesus!) do the hard work of holding him accountable because they are divinely required to do so by the same text they've taken out of context?
Why do we run to John 8:7 to excuse the actions of those who sin against others?
Here's the truth: It's because we don't want people to hold us accountable for the ways our sins have a negative impact on other people either. We don't want to own up and deal with that. We'd rather turn a blind eye to the ways our humanness clouds our ability to deal with our own demons and shortcomings. That work is too hard. It requires too much of us.
So instead, we print flyers that take scripture out of context to placate our fears of being held accountable for our own mess. And I get it: this is not to say that Fortune doesn't need someone to support him, walk with him as he gets the help he needs to deal with his issues. But this kind of public grandstanding in the name of guilt leaves out the voices and needs of the abused and broken.
Who will stand for them?
Alisha L. Gordon, M.Div. is a writer, teacher, and scholar activist. Learn more about her at www.alishagordon.com.