By now, most folks have heard of Mel Gibson's arrest this past weekend for drunken driving. The mainstream media and the blogosphere have posted most of the details of his arrest and its aftermath, including reports of his vicious, misogynistic, anti-Semitic tirade directed at sheriff's deputies. It's an ugly episode, clearly, and one for which Gibson was right to apologize profusely.
This morning, while driving to work, I listened to the radio. The hosts of one program were positively gleeful about what might happen to Gibson, whom they called a "fake Christian" and a "hypocrite." "He'll never work in this town again", they said, and there was a note of hope in that prediction. Some bloggers I know (no names to be mentioned) have seemed filled with schadenfreude at what took place. Gibson is not well-loved on the left, particularly in the aftermath of Passion of the Christ. It's widely assumed that he is one of Hollywood's most influential cultural conservatives, and to have him humiliate himself in the fashion he did this weekend seems, well, too delicious a topic to resist.
I am not a Gibson fan. I wrote my doctoral dissertation on the Anglo-Scottish wars of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, and I can't ever remember being as offended by a movie as I was by "Braveheart", for which Gibson won an Oscar. The historical license he took was perhaps no worse than that taken by other directors who make epics, but it was about what was then my chosen field -- and I was angered and dismayed. I liked the "Passion", I'll admit, even as I struggled with the strong and unrelenting violence. I honored the craft behind the story-telling, even as I was troubled by many aspects of the film.
But this morning, I find myself in considerable sympathy with Mel Gibson. As someone who drank heavily and embarrassed himself many times as a result, I know this about alcohol: it lies. One of the great mistakes folks make about those of us who are addicts is that we are more honest when we're loaded -- that drugs or booze reveal our secret thoughts. Thinking back over my years of heavy drinking, I recall being told (after the fact) of dreadful things I had said while loaded. I said things I did not mean, and hadn't even thought. Sometimes, when drunk, anger poured out in every imaginable direction. My drunken words did not always reflect my real convictions; they reflected an inchoate rage at the world.
I have no idea if Mel Gibson is anti-Semitic or not. He may well be. But what he said when he was drunk doesn't count as evidence that he is. When I was drunk, I regularly told strangers on the street how much I loved them, and how grateful I was that they understood me. I once told a paramedic that I was sure he was Jesus, and I wanted him to wash my feet! Did those words reflect my innermost sober beliefs? Of course not. And I have no reason to think that the ugly things Gibson said while loaded in Malibu this past week reflect how he really feels.
I'm reacting protectively to this story because, of course, I recognize parts of myself in Mel Gibson. I'm not as handsome or as successful or as conservative, but I know what it is to be an addict who undergoes a profound religious conversion. I also know what it is to struggle with relapse, with shame, and with anger. If I were to relapse as Mel did, and my words while drunk were to become public, I would be deeply and profoundly shamed. My relatively small number of readers include a contingent of critics (most of whom are men's rights advocates), some of whom would no doubt be gleeful at what they would see as my comeuppance. In a very minor way, I know what it is like to suddenly be revealed as human and flawed!
Above all, I'm angered at those who question Gibson's faith. Those of us who walk with Christ are not instantly given the power to turn from all forms of sin. Though grace comes into our lives, our struggles will often remain with us for as long as we live in human flesh. Conversion is not an instant process, but rather a gradual, painful one filed with stories of temptations resisted -- and temptations not. Walter Wink was right:
Christians have never dealt well with the inner darkness of the redeemed.
When we come to Christ, we become a new creation. But that creation is still in an earthen vessel, in mortal flesh, still subject to sin and to darkness. One of the great realities of the Christian journey is that many of us stumble, post-conversion. It isn't all sweetness and light on the other side of being born-again. The inner darkness doesn't always vanish even after we embrace Christ as our Savior. For Mel Gibson, as for many of us, the struggle to live in to our redemption can be a day to day battle. By grace and will together, we win that daily struggle most of the time. But at one time or another, most of us, in one way or another, will fall. The measure of a person's faith is not whether she falls, but whether she repents in the aftermath of the fall, and redoubles the effort to live a Christian life.
I'm praying for Mel Gibson this morning. I may not think much of his movies, but he is my brother and does not deserve the calumny, the schadenfreude, and the scorn he is enduring this week.