‘We’re not the worst thing we’ve ever done in our lives’ — and yet sometimes distancing oneself is ethical


Today I un-friend-ed my Facebook connection Kirk Nesset, an English professor at Allegheny College and a well-known figure among academic writing programs.

Nesset is facing federal child pornography charges, which I learned about after Sandra Beasley, an award-winning poet, blogged her dismay with Nesset’s admitted behavior.

Beasley says:

As I write this, [Nesset and I] share 710 “friends” on Facebook, which essentially represents our overlap in the writing community. Many of those writers are parents who unhesitatingly post snapshots of their kids in various stages of dress. They deserve to know, and so I will link to this on Facebook.

She admirably has taken responsibility for her possible role in exposing anyone to risk. Compare that to the apparent irresponsibility of Sovereign Grace Ministries founder C.J. Mahaney and his own brother-in-law when another man’s sexual abuse of children was revealed.

Beasley goes on to write:

There’s been anxiety and anger in our community as of late because of transgressions–some alleged, some confirmed–of one writer against another, with accusations that a cloak of protective silence has come down around the perpetrator due to his or her popularity and/or influence. I’ve stayed out of it. That choice, I realize with some embarrassment, is a luxury of not knowing any of the parties involved. I have no such luxury here. I have implicitly endorsed Kirk by making friendly introductions over the years; I have offered explicit endorsements by sending students his way.

What an outstanding confession. I mean, of course Beasley had nothing to do with Nesset’s extremely harmful behavior. Yet she realizes that even unwittingly placing someone in harm’s way obligates her to speak out.

Compare Beasley’s approach to that of Pastor Mark Driscoll, the self-anointed moral authority who has verbally and emotionally abused people, in a sense becoming harm himself.

I noticed in comments on Warren Throckmorton’s blog people who were saying, in various forms, forgiveness is one thing, but trust and respect are other matters. Similarly, Beasley quotes former Sen. Bob Kerry, who recently told a reporter, “We’re not the worst thing we’ve ever done in our lives, and there’s a tendency to think we are.”

That, to me, is not the biggest issue when numerous other lives are damaged by an influential person. To me, the biggest issue is, as Beasley says, “a cloak of protective silence has come down around the perpetrator due to his or her popularity and/or influence.” She’s making a broad comment here, not referring specifically to Nesset, but she is explaining a tendency within social groups and professional groups to give leaders and high-profile banner-carriers special privilege.

With that in mind, I think this is one of Beasley’s most important points:

The eccentric good-ness of this writing community has seen me through many a dark night.

We owe it to each other to shepherd that goodness, and that means recognizing when something has gone very wrong.

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