Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.—Philippians 2:3

You must understand this, that in the last days distressing times will come. For people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, brutes, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to the outward form of godliness but denying its power. Avoid them!—2 Timothy 3:1-5

God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are in anything contrary to his Word, or beside it, in matters of faith or worship.—historic Presbyterian principle

I have been disturbed recently by some stories I have either read or heard that point to the selfishness of people who think they are entitled to foist their beliefs on others, no matter how hurtful the consequences. I suppose I shouldn’t be shocked or dismayed that folks act this way in our day of “my” this and “personal” that, niche marketing and customization to make sure you or I have exactly what we want. But these stories particularly struck me because they all involve people in positions of authority and responsibility who have abused those positions to promote their view of reality.

This one was on the national news. A justice of the peace in Louisiana refused to issue a marriage license or peform a wedding ceremony for an interracial couple. Such marriages are legal in Louisiana, but the JP substituted his personal belief for the law. He said that he felt such marriages were bad for children, and he would not apologize for what he knew in his heart was right. The couple got married by another JP, but not before the bride was reduced to tears by the insensitivity and outrageous behavior of the official whom they had asked first to help them.

Another story I read in the local paper. Students at a high school were having their pictures taken for the yearbook, as is common. A lesbian student who always wore masculine clothes wanted to appear wearing a tuxedo, like the guys, rather than in a “drape,” like the girls traditionally wore for photos. There was nothing in the school regulations that prohibited this young woman from doing so. However, the school administrator did not permit the girl to appear in the publication in a tuxedo, citing his “conviction” that she wouldn’t be in the yearbook so dressed. A lawsuit is in progress over the matter.

Finally, a friend told me this one. A little girl’s cat died. The family buried the animal in the back yard, saying appropriate kitty cat funeral words. The girl went to her “Christian” school the next day and told her teacher about the funeral, and how glad she was her beloved pet was in heaven. The teacher replied: “Cats don’t have souls. Your pet isn’t in heaven.” The little girl was reduced to tears and deeply hurt.

What sort of cold, insensitive teacher lectures a child on theology instead of acknowledging her pain and comforting her? What kind of school permits such behavior from its faculty? What possible secular educational purpose is served by an official forcing a girl to deny her developing gender identity because of his “conviction”? How much time and energy has been and will be spent on this issue that could have been better used on helping students acquire marketable skills? And even if the official in Louisiana felt it violated his conscience to marry people from different races, could he not at least have acknowledged that his actions caused pain? Or did he not believe these people worthy of such consideration?

If by their fruits you shall know them, then those officials and that teacher were all selfish. Without egos or self-esteem of their own, selfish people have to feed off the feelings, especially the hurt, of others to be sustained. They suck the life from their neighbors’ egos in order to feel good about themselves. They always have to be right; they never back down unless forced to do so. I would say they are a species of emotional predator.

This sort of behavior is bad enough when encountered on the street in the driver who blocks two lanes turning left out of a parking lot or the boss who eats all the Christmas cheese ball. But when we find it in public officials and those who teach children, we need to be particularly alarmed. My tradition says that wrongs committed by those in authority are “aggravated” by their public position (see Larger Catechism Q&A 151 for a full list of such “aggravations”). Such people should be held accountable and required to make whatever reparation may be possible.

That’s my conviction.

© 2009 Tom Cheatham

PS I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if the kitty cat that little girl grieves for is even now being cared for by the Lion of Judah.