A Philosophical Conundrum regarding a 20-year Issue in Volleyball

Before this begins–you have to understand a term: devil’s advocate.  Within the Catholic Church, it is known as ‘promotor fidei’, the Promoter of the Faith.  His job is to play the skeptic, to cast doubt on the canonization of an individual.  Did events/miracles ascribed to the person truly exist?  Are they as wonderful as everyone makes them out to be?

Also remember, I used to teach composition and rhetoric.  I was trained to look at multiple sides of an issue.  Want an argument for Hitler or Stalin being a force for good–I can make it for you.  Give me enough time, you’ll vote for him (I mean, after all, 49% of voters supported the Russian candidate in the US 2016 presidential election…)

So now you have a combination of me being willing to make arguments on either side and me thinking about the role of devil’s advocate…which invariably also made me consider the philosophies of Jesus and the New Testament.  You’ll see why that’s important in a bit.  Bear with me.

A large part of the ‘Me Too’ movement has been outing predators, predominantly men, who have accosted young women (and some boys, too).**  Most recently that’s included team doctors at Ohio State and Michigan State, some swim coaches, and the one I saw today–a diving coach at Ohio State as well.  Those are all recent developments.  The first story I heard was nearly twenty years ago–the case of volleyball guru Rick Butler.  Rather than go into details, I’ll just put a link here to the start of the Chicago Sun-Times’ investigative story.

As a volleyball coach, I know people who defend Butler and I know many who despise him.  I understand the arguments on both sides and I also realize nothing will ever  reconcile the views of the two groups.  Where do I stand?  That is irrelevant for this blog–I’m here to offer something outside the box if possible (that’s the blog title, right?).

So back to religion.  The Old Testament and New Testament are radically different entities.  Read them.  The God of the Old Testament is angry and throws smack down on cities, regions, individuals, sometimes for reasons that seem nothing more than capricious spite.  God of the New Testament?  Apparently, he’s changed his mind on things.  OT God wants payback and delivers it with hellacious fury; NT God turns the other cheek, counselling forgiveness.

I’ve seen people comment on the situation in various forums (hiding and reading forums…it’s always tempting to appear from the shadows and take part…)–and I know from their posts in non-volleyball subjects that they attend church regularly, that they claim to be Christian (meaning that they go along with the New Testament as the primary Holy Book rather than the Old Testament).

So back to Butler.  Butler is accused and has a substantial amount of evidence*** weighing against him, ranging from accuser statements to love letters he wrote to at least one victim.  For purposes of this blog, I declare him 100% guilty.  I’ll go further.  I’ll hypothetically say there are another 20 victims from 30+ years ago out there who are too scared or traumatized to ever come forward.

And now back to the New Testament.  It teaches forgiveness, right?  It doesn’t talk about vengeance or smiting wrong-doers.   Forgiveness is different than forgetting, by the way.  Never forget–but we’re talking about modern Christianity now, not the Old Testament.

Did you know ‘forgiveness’ is used more than 100 times in the New Testament.  It’s one of the most common nouns in the Good Book.

  • Luke 6:37 “Judge not and you shall not be judged.  Do not condemn and you will not be condemned yourself.”  To receive forgiveness from God,  a man must first be willing to forgive his fellow man, regardless of what the sin or trespass may be.

There’s a large part of theological theory that discusses this in relation to punishment.  Forgiveness is not absolving someone of their sin or crime–it is more like a commutation of the punishment.  If you go back to the Reformation, look at what Martin Luther talked about (never mind his downside and problems, such as his virulent anti-Semitism), he discusses forgiveness regularly–that forgiveness is the only way to heal, to be able to enjoy a blessed life.

So then, if you take Jesus’ healing of the palsied man as a metaphor (rather than fact), Jesus is ‘forgiving a sin’, thus restoring the other man to full life, giving him that ‘blessed life’.

Forgiveness is a divine act, releasing the forgiver AND the sinner from past actions.

And back to Butler.  In my role of devil’s advocate/promotor fidei, I’m not interested in those proclaiming his innocence.   Like I said–I’m presuming 100% guilt and more acts that are publicly unknown.  No, I’m interested in the “Christians” who believe him guilty and want him punished.  Shouldn’t there be forgiveness by Christians?  Time has passed–shouldn’t those involved forgive?  Again, not forget–forgive.

Has Butler changed from the man he was in the 1970s and 1980s?  I have no idea.  Should this even matter for another individual’s views?  It is not his faith/beliefs in question, but those of Christians.  The argument is from the religious standpoint.  Presuming guilt, if you are a Christian, shouldn’t you offer forgiveness to him?  Isn’t that your responsibility to your faith?

I’d love to hear what people think in terms of the theology.  It’s easy to be Christian sitting in a big, clean church or a gated community.  It’s easy when everything in your life is going well….but you read your Bible and you see Jesus among the lepers, working with the poor and downtrodden, even washing the feet of a prostitute.  He’s not there in a mega-church or a cathedral.  He’s in the trenches with those who suffer–and those who cause the suffering.

Can this be a civil conversation?  I’d like that, but I’m skeptical.  Civility withers on the vine of social media.  It becomes right vs. wrong, a fundamentalist, polarized world, and yet…the world is never so black and white.  We live in gray tones with every decision.  Thus, how does a person of faith reconcile the requirement of forgiveness with the alleged (or proven) acts of men such as Butler, Nasser, or Pryor?

Have you forgiven Butler?  As a Christian, there are two possibilities:

  1. Butler is innocent, thus there is no need for forgiveness.
  2. Butler is guilty in which case the Christian faith mandates forgiveness.

Other faiths?  They carry a similar message.  Buddhism does not mandate forgiveness, but extols forgiveness for the required integrity and strength of the act, that forgiveness prevents bitterness–it cleanses the spirit.  Islam permits revenge in an Old Testament sort of fashion, but also extols forgiveness–that he who forgives will be rewarded commensurately by Allah.  In Hinduism, forgiving someone who does not repent is seen as an act of the highest nobility.

So again–if he is guilty, have you forgiven him?


**The Me Too movement has also sought to eliminate more subtle forms of discrimination.  I note that here, though as a word of caution, be aware that some radicals within that group have publicly declared that they do not care if innocent men are hurt along the way if it advances the cause of ‘equality’ (whatever that’s supposed to mean)…I’d caution the advice of the Founding Fathers–it is better that a hundred guilty men go free than see a single innocent man wrongly punished.

***Much of this evidence is public record, mentioned in the Sun-Times article, or has been posted in certain coaching forums such as Facebook’s Volleyball Coaches and Trainers or the Women’s forum of Volleytalk.


9 thoughts on “A Philosophical Conundrum regarding a 20-year Issue in Volleyball

  1. Isn’t it a basic tenant of the Catholic Church that you must first confess, seek forgiveness, and promise not to repeat the sin in order to be forgiven?


  2. I know this is your blog- completely topics you choose, so take this as a continuation and not argument against.
    What about forgiveness on a larger scale- to the organizations that were complicit, to the groups that were dismissive, to the systems that failed to protect. What does that Christian forgiveness look like, how is it apparoached? I think that’s a far more interesting and nuanced conversation to have. I would also gently point out that maybe prioritizing Rick Butler’s forgiveness is contributing to this culture, that in itself also needs to be forgiven?


    1. Boy, that’s a good question! Rather than organizations–perhaps we be more specific and say “the people” in those groups? When we can blame non-entities–it creates distance, makes it easier to be detached from things that are uncomfortable.

      I’ll disagree about prioritizing Butler’s forgiveness as an interpretation of what I said…it is no more nor less important than other forgiveness. I rarely have answers for things–mainly I have questions. I try and look at things from ‘different’ points of view as sometimes that makes me a better person or gives me insight I didn’t have.


  3. Good thought starters for sure. I am not sure on who’s behalf I have standing to forgive. Judge? Condemn? Punish? I have to agree that my Catholic/Christian values dont really align with vengeance. So perhaps I need to create some space for love in my heart – while protecting the game and players from Butler and the sexual predators that flow through the cracks he has created.


    1. I just want people to think–it’s all I ever ask. I know a lot of people who are “Christian” but have never opened the Bible–just know the verses they’ve been told to know…without context, etc. (Same with all religions, not just Christians, by the way)


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