The Cosby show is recorded before a live audience.
You know this, not because the voice of “Rudy” told you so… but because of all the new coverage and social media chatter about the iconic comedian Bill Cosby. Multiple women have come forth after decades of silence to make claims of sexual assault and drug-induced rendezvous against their will.
I’ve been processing all of this awkwardness like many of you have… not just because he’s been one of my favorite comedians over the years, or even my thirteen-year old son’s recent discovery online of the old 80’s show.
The real “Cosby show” that I’m interested in is how this all relates to you, me and the Church.
Consider the sports commentators on my local radio station who were discussing how athlete Ben Tate was let go from the Cleveland Browns. They noted how after talking about it for an hour, no one called in or sent a message to the station in defense of this player whose firing seemed more related to locker room antics than his skills on the field.
Perhaps because of that filter, I’ve been wondering about if anyone will publicly come to Cosby’s defense. It could arguably be career suicide for such a fellow celebrity, for even Cosby’s own legacy is now in jeopardy. According to Variety newspaper:
Given what a public figure Cosby has been throughout his life, and the likelihood many will believe his accusers no matter what he says, this sets up significant dilemma. Cosby can seek to address the situation head-on, with no assurance that will allow him to rehabilitate his reputation; or choose to stay quiet, which would very likely entail living out his days as a pariah – someone with whom no network, streaming service or sponsor would understandably want to be associated.
The media are hardly known for long attention spans, and if Cosby opts for the latter path, the drip, drip, drip of accusations will inevitably begin to subside. Yet he will no longer be able to perform – or certainly do interviews to promote any of his appearances – without inviting a new round of uncomfortable questions.
All of this highlights for me our own controversies within Christendom, between the latest megachurch pastor resignation to the ways smaller, extreme radicals of the faith become mountains out of molehills in the local press. Consider that in light of this quote from Ta-Nehisi Coates:
The heart of the matter is this: A defender of Bill Cosby must, effectively, conjure a vast conspiracy, created to bring down one man, seemingly just out of spite. And people will do this work of conjuration, because it is hard to accept that people we love in one arena can commit great evil in another.
It is hard to believe that Bill Cosby is a serial rapist because the belief doesn’t just indict Cosby, it indicts us. It damns us for drawing intimate conclusions about people based on pudding-pop commercials and popular TV shows. It destroys our ability to lean on icons for our morality. And it forces us back into a world where seemingly good men do unspeakably evil things, and this is just the chaos of human history.
What might be your response to this if it happened in your arena of life?
- Imagine someone leveled harsh accusations against someone in your church that everyone loved. How would you handle it, especially if you loved this person? Someone recently told me, “I don’t care what people say about Bill Cosby. I love that guy.” Ever felt that same sentiment from someone who thought someone in the church could do no wrong?
- What is in your past that could be brought up and addressed in a crowd of embarrassment? Maybe the accusations by themselves are slim, but if you got four or five people in a room together sharing stories of your shortsightedness or sin… what would happen next? Should you navigate that ahead of time and confess the situations – whether they’re actual or perceived – or hope that no one notices?
- How would you feel if your internet search history was published within your church? What would you hope no one would notice or see? How does this affect how you are practicing cover up… or are you practicing transformation?
The character of Cliff Huxtable was ranked first in TV Guide’s list of the “50 Greatest TV Dads of All Time.” None of that seems to matter in all of these allegations against Cosby, unless you consider how it seems that much more sad if this all pans out to be true. Some argue no one wanted to talk about the allegations back then because he made so many white Americans feel so good about race.
Should there be an opportunity for restoration?
What about if we’re not just talking about Cosby, but among people within the church?
What if you were the “Cosby” individual and the allegations start flying?
Where is the consistency and the hypocrisy in how we should deal with this in our own circles?
Are you confused by your “Cliff Huxtable” reputation and assuming all the flubs in your life can be solved by “going to commercial break” or making a silly face when they come up?
How should prayer and confession guide any of that?
Your life and ministry, after all, are being recorded before a live audience.