Since the VMA’s, my Facebook newsfeed has exploded with reactions to Miley Cyrus’s performance. Using words like “perverse,” “degrading,” “whore,” and other such descriptive terminology, Christians have lashed out against former Hannah Montana child superstar with the iron fist of judgement and self-righteousness. Blog posts have been written, articles have been published, and the general moral opinion amongst Christians is one of disgust. I read comments stating how offended they were, how they would have never done something like that, and that they are certainly never going to let their child end up like this. In fact, this sentiment has been passed around through a recent blog post entitled “Dear Daughter, let Miley Cyrus be a lesson to you.” The post addresses Miley simply as someone who desires sexual attention, who has never been disciplined, and who has always been told that she is awesome (read: she was never taught how to be a good girl). Miley has been reduced to a list of her sins, and nothing more. Thus, the writer justifies her parental tactics (which may or may not be just fine, I don’t know her personally) because they will ensure that her daughter will never end up like Miley. She goes so far as to state:
Dear daughter, I am going to fight or die trying to keep you from becoming like the Miley Cyruses of the world.
You can thank me later.
Don’t hear what I’m not saying. This mother’s sentiment is sincere and proper. She desires for her daughter to respect herself, to not feel as if she must reach celebrity status to be worthwhile, and that she does not need men complimenting her body in order to be beautiful. This is exactly right.
Here’s the issue (and not just with this particular blogger, but Christians in general): are we so naive to think that Miley’s performance was simply due to the fact that she doesn’t know how to behave? Do we really think that by simply putting Miley on the moral chopping block that the youth of our nation will suddenly lose any desire to do the same? Do we honestly think that we are immune to act the same way simply because we believe our morals are in order?
First, Miley Cyrus is a human being, formed in the image of God in her mother’s womb. God knows her, he knit her together fearfully and wonderfully. He longs for her, sends his grace to her, and has gifted her in wonderful ways. This gives Miley value and worth– worth that our judgement and condemnation cannot take away. It is much easier for us to begin by pointing out another person’s flaws. As soon as we can find a sin that someone else struggles with that we ourselves don’t, we begin to build a staircase of self-righteousness that we might tower over them.
We say things like, “Oh, I don’t do that, and never would.” How many times have we told ourselves this about something someone else does? Or we say, “I promise I will never do that again,” to something we do over and over again. Do you see the connection here? If we are unable to resist the things that we view as “lesser sins,” what makes us think that if we were in the same situation as Miley that we would not do the same?
Scripture is clear. All human hearts apart from the grace of God would do the same, and much worse. Our first response to things like this is usually, “Her parents should have/have not done x, y, and z.” “If only she had done this or that she would have learned what it means to be a proper young lady.” We create a list of rules and regulations which tell us how not to be. This is why you hear parents say “Don’t be like Miley.” Don’t twerk. Don’t be a celebrity. Don’t don’t don’t.
We tell our youth what to turn away from, but, then what? If we are unable on our own to resist our own struggles, what makes us think that by simply putting an example of what not to be in front of them with the threat that the parent “will run up and twerk so you will see how ridiculous twerking looks” will somehow give our youth the ability to do otherwise?
The answer is not law, but grace. The answer is not about our behavior, but the obedience of another. We don’t need any help from Miley Cyrus to act the same way and desire the same things. We are good enough at sinning on our own. What we need is a savior, not a self-righteous measuring stick. Finding another’s sin more appalling than our own is the surest way to guarantee that you are indeed exactly the same as or worse than the person you are condemning. As Jesus tells us in Luke 18:10-14,
“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Here’s the point: we don’t need to just be pointed away from bad behavior. We don’t need examples of “what not to be” placed in front of us. When we do this, we are saying, “Sin is out THERE! Don’t let it sneak in!” The truth is, I am Miley Cyrus, and so are you. When we point the finger of condemnation at her sin, we must at the same time condemn ourselves for our own sin. This is why Jesus says,
For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. (Matt 7:2)
This is the nature of grace: that, through Christ’s obedience, he was made perfect to be our substitute, that he might bear the wrath of God in our place. When we realize that in our universal wretchedness Christ died that we might not be condemned, how then can we turn around and condemn others? If our sin sent the God-man Christ to die a sinner’s death, how then can we stand in superiority to any other person? The grace of God alone is the only sufficient means by which hearts are changed, not just to obedience, but to humility and love for sinners. In our judgement, we do two things: 1) we believe that we are incapable of the same sin or worse, and 2) we treat Miley as if she is outside of the reach of grace. Neither of these things are true. Grace says “it’s not about what you do, it’s about what has already been done.” This is a claim we like to be true ourselves, but not for others.
So, to the parents out there who feel they have failed because their children aren’t living up to perfect behavioral standards: Don’t just point them away from certain behaviors, but point your child to the grace of God, who loves them, pursues them, and will gladly except them as his own.
To those who hear the condemnation of Christians and feel marginalized from the Church: Take heart. The grace of God is immense enough to cover all your sin, just as it has covered theirs. You are not alone in your struggles.
And to the mother of the blog mentioned above: You don’t have to die for your daughter to save her from becoming like Miley Cyrus. Christ already died to save her from herself.