She said, "You won’t ever guess who I talked with this afternoon." She and her husband told me this as I stood in their living room.
She was right. I had no idea. I did think she had probably talked with her young son who was in a federal prison. Her son had been convicted and was serving time for drug-related charges.
This mother, a member of our church, tried to keep me abreast on how her son seemed to be doing in prison. She regularly asked me to pray for him. Since his imprisonment, he seemed to be making some good decisions and was trying to stay out of trouble. Anyway, her son had called that day and said that he and a new friend had just taken a walk through the prison yard. The son and this friend had some very encouraging conversations as they talked about their lives and God.
Finally, he told his mother that his new friend would like to talk with her. The voice on the other end said, "Mrs. Smith? This is Jim Bakker." (This took place in the late 80s. Most everyone who kept up with the national news was familiar with that name.)
As she told me that story, I couldn’t believe what I had just heard.
Yes, that Jim Bakker. Again, his name was well-known throughout the world after a very public scandal. He had been convicted and sentenced to prison for allegedly defrauding (24 counts of fraud) his listeners of $158 million. When she said his name, I thought of the trial and the conviction. I thought of the prosperity gospel he had preached on television through what was then "PTL." On one occasion, while in Charlotte, North Carolina, I actually drove to the Heritage USA theme park that he and his wife, Tammy, owned. I walked through the luxurious hotel and then through the mall connected to that hotel. All of this built by the supporters of their ministry. I had a very negative impression of this man, his wife, and their ministry.
So when she mentioned Jim Bakker, her son, and this telephone conversation, I listened with great concern.
She went on to tell me the rest of the brief conversation. Bakker told her that she really did have a fine son. He said that he and her son would take long walks through the prison yard, talking about God, life, and the Bible. She said that at one point Bakker said to her, "I just want you to know that your son is doing OK. He really is."
As we stood in the living room and talked, she went on to tell me how thankful she was for the kindness of Jim Bakker during that telephone conversation. He seemed to genuinely want to reassure her that her son was OK. She then said to me, "You know, he didn’t have to do that."
I thought about this conversation. There was no press around. This conversation did not take place behind microphones. No cameras. No one knew about this conversation except for this mother and the man on the other end of the telephone.
I began to realize that I had taken an either/or approach to Bakker and so many other people. My attitude was, "Since you are doing all of these things that are wrong, since you have swindled these people, etc., then you really are incapable of any good thing." Period.
What I realized on that day was that Jim Bakker had done a very kind thing for this woman in our church. And, it was OK to acknowledge that this was a good deed. Of course, I am not suggesting that a good deed lessens the pain caused by someone’s past wrongs. I am not saying that one ought to forget another’s misdeeds if that person does a good deed. I am simply saying that it is OK to acknowledge what is. It is OK to acknowledge a good deed.
Since then I have tried to learn from this incident. It is so easy to differ with someone over their behavior or beliefs, etc. and then completely demonize them as incapable of any good thing. We see this in public discourse on a regular basis. Some who identify with one political party (it doesn’t matter which party) may find it difficult to believe that someone of another political party might do or say something good, noble or honorable. On a personal level, we sometimes can be so upset with a person that we completely dismiss any good that person might otherwise do or say. The truth is that it is OK to acknowledge what is. It is OK to acknowledge a good deed wherever you may find it.
On a personal level, do you ever find yourself becoming so angry with another person that you can’t imagine that person doing anything good? Have you ever found yourself so frustrated with a fellow worker or perhaps someone at church that you will not acknowledge a good deed?