Brandon Davies and Grace

April 15th, 2011

Earlier this year, Brigham Young University—the most prominent institution affiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and home of the Brigham Young Cougars basketball team—announced that starting power forward and leading rebounder Brandon Davies had been suspended for the rest of the season for violating the school’s Honor Code.

We know now that Brandon Davies confessed to having sex with his girlfriend. Premarital sex—along with alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, obscene language, and dishonestly—is forbidden according to the Honor Code, which strives to create an environment that is consistent with Latter Day Saints principles. Activities that are common on most college campuses are cause for punishment at BYU. Davies is still enrolled at the university, pending an Honor Code Office review of his situation, and he may be allowed to return to the team next year.

This situation involving the Cougars’ star forward and his violation of the school’s Honor Code should raise questions for all people of faith about discipline and the role of discipline in spiritual formation.

For Christians, any discussion of discipline must involve grace and accountability. We serve a God of grace who lived among us and died for the forgiveness of our sins. Jesus told a parable about a servant who owed a debt that would take several lifetimes to pay back. The servant went to the king, begging for mercy, and the king forgave the debt. This servant then came across a peer who owed him a debt of several months’ wages. Rather than showing his fellow servant the same mercy that the king had shown him, the servant had his debtor thrown in jail. The king, upon learning what had happened, punished the servant severely.

Through the gift of grace, we know that sin doesn’t have the last word. We can always repent and be restored. But as Jesus illustrates in this parable, because we are recipients of God’s incredible grace, we have a responsibility to extend this grace to our neighbors—to offer love, forgiveness, and compassion even when people do things that seem unlovable and unforgivable.

But grace does not immunize us against punishment and consequences. We learn this lesson in the Bible’s opening chapters. When Cain murders his brother, God punishes him, making him a “fugitive and a wanderer on the earth” (Genesis 4:12). Life on the run, without the protection of a family or community, would leave Cain vulnerable to attack. So God, in an act of grace, places a mark on Cain so that no one will kill him.

We see this interplay of grace and accountability throughout Scripture. God corrects and punishes Abraham and Sarah, Moses, David, Peter, and the entire kingdoms of Israel and Judah; but God never gives up on these people and continues to work in them, among them, and through them. God understands that we are imperfect and weak and is patient with us. But God also desires that we be holy and urges us to “go on toward perfection” (Hebrews 6:1). As God’s people we must likewise hold one another accountable, offering correction when necessary, so that we don’t lose sight of God’s will.

Brandon Davies sat on the team’s bench, in street clothes, during Brigham Young’s 102-78 win over Wyoming on March 5. Coach Dave Rose and all the Cougars players still consider Davies a part of the team. That is grace. My hope is that he will eventually be allowed to return to the team. But Davies, along with his coach and teammates, understands that he violated the school’s Honor Code and must accept the consequences. That is accountability.

I’m not suggesting that churches and church-affiliated schools should emulate Brigham Young’s Honor Code, only that we—as God’s people—respond to indiscretions with both grace and accountability. We must forgive but not excuse; we must love but also correct; we must move on while learning from past mistakes.

Josh Tinley is a curriculum editor for Abingdon Press and the author of Kneeling in the End Zone: Spiritual Lessons From the World of Sports. Follow him on Twitter.

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