This week, the New England Patriots come to play the Buffalo Bills.  It's a huge rivalry.  Emotions are high.  And, of course, the chat is heated with controversy.  

I do not know of any team in modern day sports that is more disliked by everyone (except their fans) than the New England Patriots.  Can you say "Spygate" or "Deflategate" in a crowded room without getting an angry reaction from someone?

Patriot fans, of course, are head over heels in love with their team, no matter the controversy.  And they have good reason.  They have been in the Super Bowl eight times and have won four of those times.   Tom Brady is one of the greatest quarterbacks all time.  You can't argue with that.  Their coach, Bill Belichick, is the winningest coach of all time.  The two of them have combined to form the most successful quarterback-coach tandem in NFL history, winning 160 regular season games and 21 postseason games, and they’ve appeared in six Super Bowls together. All of these statistics are NFL records.  (By the way, all of this might account for some of that "hatred" out there.)

The Patriots could also lead the competition as the most controversial sports teams in modern day history.  So much so that when anything looks suspicious they are automatically deemed guilty of cheating.  No trial. No jury.  They're guilty!  For instance, look at last week's episode in the first game of the season playing at home against the Pittsburgh Steelers.  At game time, on the sidelines, the Steelers’ coaches' headsets were filled with a local Patriots’ radio sports program announcing the play-by-play while the coaches were trying to communicate with each other.  Of course, it was likely a mere technical problem with the equipment.  We've had that happen even in our church services.  But the Patriots’ plight with the two "gates" controversies were already the hot media topic of the week.  The possibility of this new incident being orchestrated by the Patriots to purposefully confuse the opponent, not to mention the possibility of a brazen "in your face" to the NFL, only re-inflated "Deflategate." The immediate reaction was... "Of course they did it! That's who they are!"

Why is that?  Were they guilty?  How do you know?  Why do you doubt their explanations?  And does it really matter?  It's just a game, right? (A game worth multiple billions, by the way).

In many ways what is happening here is not unlike what happens in a business, a church, in politics, or even at home.  The principles of life are the same, no matter the venue.  

So what is to be learned here?  

I would like to propose a few things to think about when you finding yourself in the middle of chaotic controversy.   Here is advice for the accused, the accuser, and the observer.  You can relate it to this story or any incident involving accusations - including your own.
 

The Accused:

1) Guilty or not guilty, choose one or several qualified, trustworthy, respected people to give you advice and wisdom on how to handle the situation with honesty, integrity and grace.  If needed, allow them to verify the truth to those who need to know.

2) If guilty, or anywhere close, admit to what you have done in clear terms.  Be forthright about facts and truth.  Sincerely apologize.  Create a plan with accountability that will insure that it does not happen again.  As hard as this may be, you will save yourself further pain and agony.  It will more quickly be over.  This is not our nature, mind you, but you will find that people will become quicker to forgive.  And God will honor a fresh beginning.

3) If guilty, accept reasonable consequences.  Don't fight against authority if at all possible.  If needed, then do so with much grace and explanation.  When you buck authority, your intentions and sincerity, and therefore your trust, will be suspect.

4) Now develop a plan for genuinely re-building trust with both the accuser and with the observer.  If not, you will easily be accused again and again.  Your long-term integrity and trustworthiness are at stake.  Include your trustworthy advisers in the loop.

5)  If you are innocent, say it clearly and with detail.  But know you may not be able to just say you are innocent.  You may have to show why and how.  Saying without showing, especially in the public eye, will always leave room for suspicion.  If you are innocent, proving you are innocent is usually not that difficult (though not always).  Cooperating with an independent investigation with nothing to hide will usually clear your name quickly.  If accused, whenever possible, go the extra mile to verify your innocence.  Nip it in the bud!


The Accuser:

1) Don't accuse unless you have proof, including if at all possible, at least one other witness.  Make sure that your accusation is founded on facts and is worthy of exposure.   If you are the authority in the relationship and you convict without proof, then you become the distrusted, mean-spirited bully.  You're the one who now has to rebuild trust.  

2) First, go to the accused and try to gracefully work it out personally between you and them in an effort to maintain dignity for all involved.  If you are not satisfied, take someone with you; if needed, the authority figure over the accused.  Be discrete, again attempting to stay private.  If you are not satisfied with how that worked out, then other measures may be necessary, especially if it impacts third party victims.  You may need to bring charges and/or lawyers to help bring resolve, depending on the issue at hand.  But that should be a last resort measure.  

3) Check your motives.  Political or financial gain, or just plain jealousy and pride are not good motives for accusing someone of wrongdoing.  First of all, you will also be in the wrong.  Secondly, those motives will come back to bite.  If your motives are right, proceed with caution.  If you are personally wronged, forgive before you accuse or confront.  Getting your motive right and resolving your personal bitterness first is the proper way to confront and judge.   It also leads to a clear head and heart, availing deeper wisdom and avoiding unnecessary future emotional burden.  
 

The Observer:

1) Unless you are impacted by it, stay out of it, shut up, and pray!  Your knowledge of the truth is limited.  You don't need the burden of wasted mental garbage.  Find something more redemptive to think and talk about.

2) Don't believe everything you hear or read, especially in the current media culture where everything is treated as the truth just because someone said it was true, even if it's not true.  The damage is now done and difficult to retract.  You do not want to be guilty by association with those helping to promote things that are not accurate.  

3) Avoid involvement with other parties who are at odds with each another.  There is a proverb about grabbing the ears of a dog...  something about getting bit.  :)
 

Everyone involved:

1) Overall, think before you act!  What may be a simple overreaction at first could end up drawing you into weeks, months, and even years of frustration, heartache, and misery.  

2)  Remember that love covers a multitude of sins.  Seeking to help someone gracefully overcome an issue and be restored can save a soul and win a lifetime friend.  

3) Lastly, God is watching.  You might need the favor of His mercy and grace some day.  I wouldn't give Him reason to hesitate.


And just to clarify my loyalties...

GO BILLS!!!

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