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Weighing the spiritual cost when saints turn out to be scoundrels

Bill Hybels, from left, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and Tariq Ramadan. (AP Photos)

(RNS) — When Sarah Joy Hays learned in the summer of 2016 that her pastor in Baton Rouge, La., had been having an affair with another woman in their church — a woman who had been her spiritual mentor for many years — she was angry and confused.

“I got pregnant out of wedlock, and she was one of the first people I told,” Hays recalled. “She kind of pastored and mentored me through it.

“To find out she was actively involved in this affair throughout that — that’s where I had the hardest time, figuring out how to react to that. I was going through something that was very obvious, an ‘external sin.’ And she was in the same situation, essentially, but nobody knew.”

Both the pastor and the woman with whom he had an affair were disciplined by their denomination, and he was removed from the pastorate, Hays said.

Two years later, the small congregation has a new pastor, many members have taken advantage of periodic one-on-one and group counseling provided by their denomination, and some measure of healing has been achieved.

But Hays said she is still guarded spiritually. “It causes you to question any amount of wisdom and discernment from then on,” Hays said. “It helps determine trust and how you give away trust.”

Bill Hybels. Theodore McCarrick. Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche. Tariq Ramadan. Andy Savage. Paul Pressler. Retired Mormon missions president Joseph L. Bishop. Creation Festival founder Harry Thomas. Rabbi Haskel Lookstein. Stanley Rosenfeld.

The shameful roster of spiritual leaders who have been accused of committing acts of sexual misconduct and abuse, or enabling others to commit such acts, or both has left many souls who looked to them for instruction, discernment and direction to sift through the wreckage wrought by their malfeasance.

What do we do when we learn that the person we trusted as an intermediary for God, or to teach us about all things eternal, is actually a predator? What if the faith leader we’ve admired all our lives turns out to be more a scoundrel than saint?

“Part of what happens to us, on a much deeper level than the initial shock, disbelief, disappointment or outrage, is that our sense of ourselves is affected negatively,” said Lallene Rector, president of Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Illinois, where she has been an associate professor of psychology of religion and pastoral psychotherapy since 1986.

“To the extent that we have felt enhanced in our own self-esteem by our affiliation with these leaders, part of what we may experience (often unawares) is a deflation of our own self-worth,” said Rector.

“The failure of these idealized figures can strike at the very heart of our own longing for a kind of perfection,” left over from our disappointments in our parents and other adults in childhood, said Rector. “Add God to that mix — the clergy as a role representative of God — and it’s psychologically intoxicating.”

The Bible can be instructive to some believers when it comes to spiritual leaders falling from grace — but perhaps not in the way some people might think it is.

Take King David, for instance — at best a morally complicated man who was nevertheless, Scripture says, “the apple of God’s eye.” It’s a paradox often invoked to defend faith (and other) leaders who behave badly.

“David is like these pastors in that he is lionized for the things that he did, like expanding boundaries and whatnot, and a tradition of overlooking” the bad things he did, said the Rev. Wil Gafney, associate professor of Hebrew Bible at Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth, Texas.

But Gafney said the biblical king’s story is not meant to be a prescription for how anyone should behave. “Just because God did something wonderful with (David) doesn’t mean we should do all the things he did.”

From her reading of the biblical account, Gafney believes David raped Bathsheba. “The text says he sent men to get her. That evaporates consent,” Gafney said.

“I think we need to be able to not hang a thing around someone’s neck forever,” Gafney said, “but be honest and not sweep it under the rug. That means allowing brokenness to be broken.”

Because David’s story is about “how we deal with a beloved leader,” Gafney said, “some have chosen to say, ‘Well, it was all worth it.’ Some have said, ‘Let’s leave his bygones in the past.’ But others choose to say, ‘Let’s be real about this person and this is part of that legacy that doesn’t go away.’ And it doesn’t go away, because when we don’t hold him accountable for it in our telling, we then give other people permission.

“Christians have evolved into this understanding of repentance that is not biblical — that it’s about saying, ‘I’m sorry,’ and hopefully not doing the thing again.”

But that’s only the first layer of repentance, said Gafney. “From the Hebrew Bible forward, reparation is at the heart of repentance. … Yes, your profound sorrow, your turning your life around — that’s part of it — but you’ve still never made it right,” she said.

If the ramifications of one person’s failure can seem endless, the failure of an institution means restitution on another scale. A moral catastrophe like the systemic cover-up by bishops and other Catholic leaders cataloged in the landmark, 1,300-page Pennsylvania grand jury report released in August “demands public and sincere lamentation from every segment of the Body of Christ,” said Richard Rohr, the Franciscan priest and founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, N.M., in a recent statement. “Only then can deep healing begin.”

But Rohr points out that the Catholic Church has more than just sinful behavior to account for. “It also demands public ownership, repentance, and reform of our very immature teaching in regard to sexuality in general, male power issues in particular, and our ‘enforced’ understanding of celibacy, which will predictably produce this kind of result.

“This shadowy material will keep emerging unless we own it and hold it fully accountable,” he said.

And while leaders do their work, we have our own to do. “In the meantime,” he wrote, “let’s all pray and try to live more authentic sexual and spiritual lives ourselves.”

About the author

Cathleen Falsani

Cathleen Falsani is a veteran religion journalist and author, specializing in the intersection of spirituality and culture. She lives in Southern California.

56 Comments

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  • If God loved a scumbag like David, what does that tell us about God? Maybe it does not tell us anything about God. Maybe that is the wrong question.

    If Christian leaders tell us that God loved a scumbag like David, what does that tell us about the Christian leaders? Maybe it tells us that they are lying about God. David was a lecherous scumbag. Is there a pattern here?

  • If God loved a scumbag like David, it tells us that God might well love you.

    If it does not tell you anything about God, maybe you don’t understand the answer.

    If Christian leaders tell us – and they would be relying on their Jewish predecessors to do so – that God loved a scumbag like David, it would seem to tell us that they believe their Jewish predecessors.

    Maybe they are not telling us that God loved a scumbag like David, or maybe David was not a lecherous scumbag.

    The pattern here seems to be that someone who would write:

    https://disqus.com/home/discussion/www-aggiornamento-net/orgasms_transcendence/

    “Interestingly, freely given sexual intimacy might be construed as the ultimate ‘do unto others’. That is extreme, of course. But the hierarchy’s obsession with the sexual activity of others is at the opposite extreme, and borders on some sort of mental pathology.”

    is probably the wrong person to ask the questions or to understand the answers.

  • Don’t folks just love it when another anti-Catholic wades in with her personal assessment of a canonized Catholic saint?

    It is everything we expected at National unCatholic Reporter Comments, and less.

  • Anyone looking for an example of repentance by a public man caught in scandal need search no further than John Profumo.

  • Rohr: “ “It also demands public ownership, repentance, and reform of our very immature teaching in regard to sexuality in general, male power issues in particular, and our ‘enforced’ understanding of celibacy, which will predictably produce this kind of result.”
    NO. Sexual predatation has nothing to do with one‘s relationship status. Stop pushing that lie. Criminals and sociopaths prey on the defenseless . Normal emotionally mature ppl do not. Get it straight

  • Goodness gracious, BobBob. Does your therapist know you are a cyberstalker, bless your precious little heart?

  • Still with the “BobBob” and “precious little heart”, Hiawatha?

    You do understand that when you’re in a Disqus Discussion EVERY comment made can be read by the public, right?

    You do realize that if you have a track record of attacking deeply held religious beliefs – and you do – that public record may come back to haunt you, yes?

    I’ll give you high marks for attitude, very low marks for content, and no credit for “cyberstalker”, endlesslydiscombobulated.

    If I ever misquote you, then I’d be interested in hearing about it.

  • Goodness gracious, BobBob. Your usual hissy fit is turning into a conniption fit. Better have your caretaker call your therapist’s emergency hot line, bless your precious little heart.

  • Even the best of leaders will fail. Great spiritual accomplishments and horribly embarrassing failures. The article cited King David as an example of both. Even with the “Born Again” experience of the Holy Spirit changing your life towards more Christ-like, there is still the “flesh,” the selfish nature, to battle with (Romans 8:4-5). Every one of us will fail sometimes. When we fail, we confess our sins, repent, and recommit our lives to Jesus Christ. We constantly point people to Jesus, not to ourselves. Church leaders need to be accountable to other leaders in the church, and to other leaders outside of the church (Galatians 6:1).

  • Also the Patron Saint of the Banco Ambrosiano/IOR bank corruption/Mafia/embezzlement/laundering/bribery/murder.

    Check-out Roberto Calvi & London’s Blackfrier Bridge.

    JPII spoke Lithuanian & IOR chief Marcinkus spoke Polish.

    And, of course, they both were quite fluent in $$$$

  • I have met many, many good, kind, generous, helpful, positive people in my life. Some of them were religious people, some of them were not.

    I have met many, many bad, unkind, mean, selfish, destructive, negative people in my life. Some of them were religious people, some of them were not.

    I have met a lot of people who claimed to be religious and claimed to be good, but were clearly only religious. Some of them appear frequently on these very pages. So Maybe religion just has nothing to do with being good or bad at all.

    The vast majority of people I have met in my life were an admixture of both good and bad, the end products of a long line of people who were an admixture of both good and bad. Maybe the mixture of good or bad is just the result of being human, and religion really doesn’t have much to do with it at all, but is itself yet another product of the mixture of good in bad in all people.

  • Randy Engel’s blockbuster 1282-page book “The Rite of Sodomy,” published in 2006 and now available in several separate volumes, reveals that John Paul II knew about pedophile priests and bishops and did not remove them. The rot goes to the top and has for some time.

  • Amen! Preach it sister.

    If I’m recalling correctly, a person under consideration for sainthood must be shown to have performed at least one miracle.

    I’d sure love to see the church’s formal definition of the word “miracle”.

    I saw a miracle once, decades ago: a friend fell through the ice and drowned. But he was later revived–and in the years following that event, it was shown that in fact that was not a “miracle” at all, and that a person who “died” in that manner could be revived, at least if efforts were quick enough..

  • Right, Bob: any criticism of any kind of the Catholic church is a form of anti-Catholicism. Because the Catholic church is perfect.

    Sheesh….can’t you reason better than this?

  • I remember him! What was it that they said about him or his partner–something about “caught under a Peer”?

  • Re: “So Maybe religion just has nothing to do with being good or bad at all.” 

    Well, yeah. That seems obvious. The problem is, that’s not always how it’s taken. Religious folk often play a game with this and try to have it both ways. 

    1. When one of their own misbehaves, they’ll eagerly make this admission. “S/he’s only human,” they’ll say, “and we all mess up.” They go along with your observation, no problem! So the moral failures of believers don’t reflect badly on a religion, you see. 

    2. Otherwise, however, they stomp around trumpeting how morally and ethically superior they are, because of their religion. They’ll often say the only way to be moral is to belong to their faith … and everyone who’s not part of it must, therefore, be an amoral creature who’s just itching to commit all sorts of horrible crimes. 

    The problem, of course, is that admission #1, that everyone messes up, contradicts assertion #2, that a religion makes people morally upright. These two notions don’t agree logically … but that little detail doesn’t matter to them. It’s hypocritical, of course, to claim a faith makes its followers morally upright but it’s not discredited when they prove less-than-upright — still, they do it nonetheless, and with their heads held high. What a freaking joke. 

  • The whole cult of automatically canonizing popes is spiritually dangerous. Why didn’t the Cevil’s Advocate do his job in regard to JPII? That office is now just rubber stamp for Vatican insiders.. Professional lay people outside Rome should be appointed the Devil’s Advocate,

  • The book made a brief splash and then disappeared.

    Randy Engel’s background hardly suited her to the topic.

    In any case, I do not think “John Paul II knew about pedophile priests and bishops and did not remove them” fairly summarizes the content.

    The real culprit in the USA, according to the book, was Cardinal Bernadin.

  • Richard Rohr is part of the touchy-feely-psychology stuff that advocates of the Faith for the 21st Century use in lieu of theology.

  • Jonas Salk sacrificed himself & his family to prove the safety of polio vaccine – and eliminated the scourge of polio from the face of the earth.

    That was/is a miracle – writ large !

    Why wasn’t he canonized a saint ?
    What did JPII ever do….

  • “So maybe religion just has nothing to do with being good or bad at all.”

    Like that thought. A lot of emotional energy seems to come out of it, and also be directed toward it, some for good some for bad…Maybe it is the lighting rod rather than the source of the lighting?

  • Well, yes!

    As far as I can tell, that’s exactly what people who use their religion as a club do.

    But free will! And fallen man! And free will some more if it wasn’t enough the first time!and redeemed! And…and..and..

    And all of those child molesting, seminarian molesting, adult molesting catholic priests who are called to the priesthood by god, and certified as called by god. They have free will too.

    And Judas. Don’t forget Judas. No Judas, no crucifixion, no redemption. But Judas was evil and not a patsy.

  • Despite some removals, JP II was ineffective against the homosexual scourge. He defended the bisexual predator Fr. Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legionaries of Christ (Engel, pp. 973, 976). JP Il’s Vatican enabled Cardinal Law to flee from the justicial process in Boston to a safe haven in Rome. JP II also disregarded information prejudicial to his appointment of homosexual bishops (see Engel, p. 861).

    Engel’s book has not “diappeared”; it is available in several volumes from Amazon.com, and Engel continues to be intereviewed and to write on the homosexual crisis today. Engel’s long career as an investigative journalist enables her to write on this topic.

    To summarize the book’s message as, Bernardin was the “real culprit” is completely inadequate. Engel documents that the rot goes back at least to the 1950s with Cardinal Spellman, Cardinal Wright, and Cardinal William O’Connell. She devotes one chapter to Bernardin and notes that he became more of a “kingmaker” than Spellman, due to the formation of the USCCB and his role in it.

    Here is a random list of some of the culprits, all bishops or Cardinals: Emerson Moore, Rigali, McHugh, Rausch, Weakland, Wuerl, Mugavero, Hubbard, Levada, Dearden, Mahony, Timlin, Bootkowski, Niederauer. Engel exposes Uncle Ted McCarrick, but 12 years ago she was unaware of Sean O’Malley’s role in the growing homosexual scandal.

  • Re: “But free will! And fallen man! And free will some more if it wasn’t enough the first time!and redeemed! And…and..and..” 

    Yeah, what a joke! 

    Re: “But Judas was evil and not a patsy.” 

    Hmm. Maybe, or maybe not. The Bible actually suggests he was possessed, or in some other way directed, by Satan to betray Jesus (emphasis mine): 

    “During supper, the devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, to betray Him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God, got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself.” (Jn 13:2-4

  • His parents were Ashkenazi Jewish.

    Salk injected 43 children on July 2, 1952, at the D.T. Watson Home for Crippled Children, not himself, not his children.

    That should explain why he was not canonized.

  • Engel’s Catholic bona-fides are minimal.

    Since her book other books have come out explaining in some detail the phalanx surrounding Pius XII, John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI filtering information, feeding false information, and otherwise manipulating.

    EVERY Pontiff since WWII has been ineffective against the homosexual scourge.

    John Paul II, IMHO, would never knowingly facilitate homosexuals.

    While I understand that Bernadin was the ringmaster in a ring, he was in fact the ringmaster.

    I have heard the same stories from clergy in North Carolina, Cincinnati, Chicago, and DC over and over. One of that clergy is now a bishop himself.

    Bernardin was priming the pump for a move to “regularize” homosexuality when the Creator arranged for his exit.

  • Randy Engel’s bona fides as a Catholic are not “minimal” That’s just your “humble opinion.” She has also been active in the pro-life movement since the 1970s.

    I couldn’t agree more that “EVERY Pontiff since WWII has been ineffective against the homosexual scourge.” JP II must have been incredibly naive in regard to clerical predators from his record. Harm was the result.

    I agree about Bernardin’s evil intentions and actions. While he was removed by his Maker, many more perverts remain to advance his vile agenda and have yet to removed. Oh, I forgot to mention Dolan in the list above.

  • Does that citation even make any sense? All it seems to say to me is that Satan was also doing god’s bidding, and thus was also a patsy. The book of job, of course, paints quite a different picture, assuming that the devil and Satan are one and the same.

    Of course, what I really think happened- because I don’t buy all of the magicking and mything pieces- is that everyone was expecting jesus to be the promised messiah, the priest king, descended from Joseph (the male descendant and king), and Mary (the priestess) who would lead Israel to greatness. The iscaria were zealots, and purely political. Judas was disappointed.

  • “Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings.” (Psalm 17:8) Does not say that David was “the apple of God’s eye.”

  • “In addition to administering the vaccine to children at two Pittsburgh-area institutions, Salk injected himself, his wife and his three sons in his kitchen after boiling the needles and syringes on his stovetop. ”
    https://www.history.com/news/8-things-you-may-not-know-about-jonas-salk-and-the-polio-vaccine

    Not only can’t the Hydrocephalus-Humonoculus-Hack, RCC/Apopogist get his ” facts ” straight – he also shows signs of being an anti-Semite or is acknowledging that the RCC is anti-Semitic.

    After all – the RCC never excommunicated Hitler !

  • Re: “Does that citation even make any sense? All it seems to say to me is that Satan was also doing god’s bidding, and thus was also a patsy.” 

    No, John 13:2 doesn’t make much sense on its own. But it’s hardly the only place wherein people are forced, like puppets, to act in certain ways so that events play out in some way God desires. Exodus, for instance, has several mentions of God hardening Pharaoh’s heart with regard to letting the Hebrews go, while the plagues were afflicting Egypt. In other words, YHWH was putting on a show — predicated on Pharaoh not allowing them to leave — so at every point where Pharaoh might have relented, YHWH “hardened his heart” so as to keep the desired storyline going. 

    Call it “God theater” if you like. YHWH likes putting on a show — and he doesn’t tolerate his actors not playing out their parts the way he wants. 

    Re: “… everyone was expecting jesus to be the promised messiah …” 

    The gospels’ authors certainly seemed to allude to this by including a character named “Judas.” There had been a famous Judas, you see, active in the first few years of the first century. Judas of Galilee was part of what Flavius Josephus called “the fourth philosophy” or the Zealots (in fact, Josephus says he had founded that movement). It’s not certain he’d claimed to be the messiah, but his sons did later on, when they resumed their father’s campaign against the Romans, and were killed by Rome in the 40s. 

    Anyone reading the gospels, who was sufficiently educated, would immediately associate the character of “Judas” who supposedly betrayed Jesus with the Zealots and their movement. 

    Re: “The iscaria were zealots, and purely political. Judas was disappointed.” 

    I’m not sure the name “Iscariot” is a family name identifying Judas as a Zealot. The name “Judas” would, all by itself, have generated that impression. As far as is known, “Iscariot” is a name derived from a place (i.e. Kerioth, a town in Judea) and was used simply to differentiate him from other characters named “Judas.” 

    If in fact Judas was a Zealot, then yes, he’d have been profoundly disappointed in Jesus. Especially with him having taught, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” The Zealots’ primary goal was ending Roman taxation; they thought Jews should only pay taxes to YHWH or to his temple and priesthood, not to any human or agency thereof. 

    Still, Judas appears to have stayed with Jesus even though the latter had professed things no Zealot would have tolerated. Maybe this was another case of God forcing him to keep acting his part so the show could go on. 

  • The “god hardened pharaoh’s heart” thing played a big part in my abandonment of religion. Short version: In Sunday school, we were going through the relevant exodus chapters, and god kept hardening pharaoh’s heart. I raised my hand and said, “but that’s not fair.” Even a child could see that. The teacher said, “we are not to question god.” I said to myself, “ok, then I’ll question YOU!” There was one other incident, but basically, that’s when I stopped. I had my bad mitzvah, and went back just a few times thereafter.

    I remember reading a lot of about Judas the Galilean a few years ago, interesting stuff, and argues for the conflation of several characters to produce the modern jesus.

    I don’t remember very much of what I read about Judas, Iscaria/Siccarea (?), and the zealots. I did read a lot about it, though. Since the magic and the myths in the Bible hold no sway over me, I was trying to find the history that must be at the back of the story.

    As for the zealots and the tax money, there is always the famous scripture of James T. Kirk: “What does god need with a spaceship?”

  • Re: “I remember reading a lot of about Judas the Galilean a few years ago, interesting stuff, and argues for the conflation of several characters to produce the modern jesus.” 

    It’s possible there’s been some conflation, but where Judas of Galilee is concerned, it’s hard to see how he might have been rolled into the character of Jesus. There isn’t much about him that’s said, in the lead-up to the gospels or in the gospels themselves, that coincides with Judas of Galilee. As I said, the latter’s main contention was that Jews shouldn’t pay taxes to the Romans, only to the Hebrew priesthood and temple. Jesus as described in Paul’s “genuine” epistles says nothing of the sort — in fact, he’s as apolitical as could be — and in the gospels, he’s said to have explicitly told people to pay Rome’s taxes. Now, it may be that Judas of Galilee had claimed to be a messiah (we know his sons did, but are less sure about him) … and in that regard maybe there’s overlap with Jesus. But otherwise … there’s nothing there. 

    As I said, I think the way memories of Judas of Galilee were rolled into the gospels, was via the inclusion of a Zealot character with his name. This provided a way to show both Jesus’ affinity for Zealots (i.e. one of them was among his closest followers) and contrast with them (i.e. he explicitly taught something they rejected). 

    Re: “Since the magic and the myths in the Bible hold no sway over me, I was trying to find the history that must be at the back of the story.” 

    That’s been my approach, generally. However, even a historical study like this must take into account “the magic and the myths” because these things were included in Christians’ literature and legend for a reason; they meant something to them, and the reason they were included, further explain the history behind them. 

    Re: “As for the zealots and the tax money, there is always the famous scripture of James T. Kirk: ‘What does god need with a spaceship?'” 

    That’s a compelling question, even if it was almost a throwaway line from the movie. It’s certainly fair to wonder why a supposedly-omnipotent, omniscient, all-present, and infinite being should need something as lowly as money. The usual answer is that it’s not really the deity him/her/itself that needs money, it’s humans working for him/her/it who do, and it’s the job of his/her/its followers to provide it. 

    The real reason is more mundane: Ancient religions — which were all polytheistic at least to a degree — revolved around sacrifices, intended to two things: First, to appease them so they wouldn’t inflict disasters on people; and second, to coax them into doing people favors. 

    Over time, and in some places, systems of sacrifice became complicated and required particular people to manage them and carry them out (i.e. shamans, priests, etc.). That particular “profession” in turn sometimes became complicated, evolving into a full-time job, which required economic support for those doing it. 

    When that occurred, donations to support them (at first, in-kind, and later, monetary) were viewed as a kind of sacrifice to the deity or deities. This sacrificing-profession, after all, stood in for and did the work required of people by the deities. Thus, these “pious” donations became sacred, in and of themselves. In the case of the Hebrews, who in the Second Temple period just prior to Rome’s annexation of the Levant had a government and priestly class which were unified, taxation — i.e. donations to the government — became sacred, because they were the same thing. 

    So, does a deity need money? No, not directly. What’s more, that’s not how religious folk view it, and moreover, that’s not even how it evolved in the first place. It’s actually a kind of anachronistic way of looking at it — even if it’s pithy, and a wry observation revealing the true, underlying mundane-ness of the sacred realm. 

  • Of course being gay and finding out most Abrahmic religions considered certain activities naughty naughty might have played a tiny role in your decision.

  • Nahhhhh, bobobobobobobob! bob! The answer is obvious,

    It’s just that at twelve years old, right about the time you were born, I had far more of s moral sense than you have been able to develop in 55 years of being a catholic.

  • JPII did away with the position of Devil’s Advocate. The first beneficiary of this change was St Escriva, he who gave the world Opus Dei.

  • TY for this info. Outrageous and utterly corrupt. Buy your way to sainthood, No obstacles, ecept money. Confirms my low opinion of the “sainthood” of JPII.

  • Ben, ha Satan in the Hebrew Bible isn’t the Devil, he was a member of the celestial court, kind of like those FBI agents who go around testing Muslims in the US to see if they are terrorists. He was the tester. He was testing Job’s faithfulness. Job was found to be faithful, but he was Quilty of another issue later in the text.

    You have substituted Satan for the devil when speaking about the passage that you quoted

  • Sadly your teacher made the same mistake that sandinwindsor makes here all the time, she relied of a faulty English translation of the ancient Hebrew. The Hebrew translated “hardened” here is חזק (hazaq) and “heart” is לב (lev). But a more accurate translation is “strengthened” and “will”. The story isn’t about God forcing Pharaoh to do something. The story is about God strengthening Pharaoh’s will to do something that he had already made up his mind to do. With each mighty deed from God as a plague on the Egyptians, Pharaoh’s will became stronger about his decision not to free the slaves, until the last plague, the death of the first borns, crushed Pharaoh’s will.

  • I appreciate the explanation. Translations are always iffy in these ancient tongues, especially when there are an agenda and centuries of mistakes behind them.

    I’m not sure the clarification makes it a whole lot better, especially since a) god could have un-hazaq-ed pharoah’s heart, and b) he STILL murdered all of those children, many of whom were not slave owners.

  • Several sources indicate he was baptized Catholic. You can even find his baptismal certificate online – helps if you read German.

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