How to mourn a sinner?

mcnairCan you imagine learning that your spouse, the father of your four children, was cheating on you? Can you imagine learning that little tidbit because his mistress killed him? It's just horrifying and my heart goes out to the family of Tennessee Titan great Steve McNair. One of the themes that's emerging in the coverage is that the image of this man in death is in great conflict with the image he held in life. His family, fans and friends, it seems, viewed him as an upstanding and honorable man.

This disparity provokes so many interesting religious themes. As a pastor's kid, I've been to many funerals. Some stay with you. I will never forget, for instance, the funeral for the man who killed himself after murdering his wife. How do you mourn someone who sinned so visibly in death?

ESPN has a story that asks that question:

It's a moral dilemma in Nashville, a town that worships its sports heroes and believed, for the better part of 10 years, that Steve McNair was its most perfect role model: How do you mourn a man whose imperfections were exposed in his shocking death?

This is the question that Bishop Joseph Walker will try to answer in the next couple of days. Walker is the pastor at Mount Zion Baptist Church, the place where thousands will gather Thursday for a memorial service. He was there at the McNair house on Saturday afternoon, when police told Mechelle McNair that her husband was dead. Walker says he has talked to her at least five times a day since the ordeal started, and the picture of McNair's affair with Sahel Kazemi came into focus on national TV.

"This situation has hit Mechelle like Katrina hit New Orleans," Walker says. "It's like someone comes home and their house is on fire. It's something you don't expect to happen to that magnitude.

"But Mechelle is not a scorned woman. She's a woman of integrity and character. She has held her head up. She will get through this."

Nashville will get through this, Walker says, because it's a loving community. They'll get through it, he believes, because 36 years can't be defined by a few final mistakes.

These are great questions and some interesting beginnings of answers. Unfortunately, that's the sum total of the religious exploration on display in the story. I was left wanting a lot more.

Why was Walker at the McNair house when the police notified Mechelle of her husband's death? Why will the funeral be at Mt. Zion? Is it because the Walkers are members there? And what's the doctrinal understanding that underlies these various statements Walker is making?

McNair's family is not the first family to learn terrible secrets upon the death of a loved one. I have a friend whose grandfather died in a car accident with his mistress. Another friend's father announced his infidelity in his suicide note. These are Shakespearean dramas here that reporters should be anxious to cover. And when they do, they should not avoid the religious implications, answers and themes that crop up as well.

And another thing. As commenters in yesterday's look at McNair media coverage have noted, the proper word to describe the woman who you're cheating on your wife with is not girlfriend. And what you're doing is not dating. Somehow those are the words being used to describe the apparent infidelity McNair was engaged in. We have words to help us distinguish between relationships and I'd go ahead and suggest "mistress" and "affair."

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