This is a quote from 2 Samuel 1:19 written by David upon the occasion of the death of King Saul and his son, Prince Jonathan: “Your glory, O Israel, is slain on your high places! How the mighty have fallen!”
In a more modern context, I think this expresses the sadness and foreboding that I have felt watching the “fall” of one of the most powerful political figures in the last 20 yrs. Dennis Hastert, a graduate of Wheaton College, an elected representative from Illinois, and the longest serving Speaker of the House (1999-2007)– second in line to the Presidency.
I got to know Denny when he was Mr. Speaker and used to make the trip every year from Washington to the Wheaton Invitational Wrestling Tournament held at the college. He had graduated the same year I started at Wheaton and I had replaced him as the Heavyweight on the wrestling team. (For those who are not familiar with wrestling jargon, each wrestler is matched with someone of his own weight, and Heavyweight is weight class of guys who [at that time] weighed over 190 lbs., and were usually the smartest and best looking guys on the team- just kidding about that last part.)
After Wheaton and a Masters in Education from Northern Illinois, Denny became a teacher and wrestling coach at Yorkville HS from 1965 to 1981. He entered politics in 1987. It was at Yorkville where he followed my wrestling career and would sometimes bring his team to our matches and tourneys. Sadly, it was also at Yorkville where he (by his own admission) sexually abused 3 of his wrestlers.
The last time I saw him at Wheaton was in February of 2015, just a few months before his indictment on federal charges of “structuring” bank withdrawals in order to pay off certain of these individuals in return for their silence. He was charged with a felony because of his paying of the hush money (1.7 million), not for sexual abuse, because of the statute of limitation. However, he admitted to the abuse and the judge referred to him as a “serial child molester.”
On Wednesday Denny was sentenced to 15 months in jail. The Washington Post reported, For his part, Hastert told the judge that he was ‘deeply ashamed’ to be in court and was still ‘struggling to come to terms with events that occurred four decades ago.’ He said that he ‘mistreated some of my athletes that I coached. ‘The thing I want to do today is say I’m sorry to those I have hurt and misled,’ he said. ‘They looked to me, and I took advantage of them.’”
However, the quote that is so deeply disturbing to me was the one by U.S. District Attorney Zachary T. Fardon. He said, We followed the case where it led. We brought the charges we could bring, And through that, Mr. Hastert’s legend and legacy are gone, and in its place, are a broken, humiliated man. That is as it should be.
While it confuses me, I do not question Denny’s faith in Jesus. As a pastor, it never ceases to grieve me that so many of us Christians are still capable of such great sin and the ability to dishonor the gospel. I will continue to pray for my friend, Denny; that his repentance will run deep and he will continue to cast himself on the mercy and forgiveness of the cross. I will also pray for his family, his victims and their families; that they would find God’s comfort and strength in their pain and suffering.
I will also take away these lessons: Those who are most “mighty” fall the hardest. “To whom much is given, much will be required.” No one can atone for his own sin. And once that sin is committed, no amount of “legend and legacy” can make up for it. They are gone, just as if they never existed. “A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” The gospel will not save our reputations, but it will save our souls!