Friday, July 19, 2013

Thoughts on raising dead politicians. . .

A particularly astute blogger, Jake Meador, has posted a thoughtful piece on the rehabilitation of disgraced politicians.  These once mighty people saw their political futures go up in smoke when moral failure forced them from office and from the public eye.  But not for long.  Many of them are back in the news claiming to be reborn, reformed, and ready to be recycled as public servants.  

The title of the blog is On substitutionary atonement and disgraced politicians and the piece is posted on Mere Orthothoxy.  Let me quote:

In one of the great skewerings of both the Washington political establishment and modern language, George Carlin destroyed politicians–here you should think of Mark Sanford and Anthony Weiner–who are caught in a major scandal, but don’t see why that should disqualify them from future “public service.”
“And we know [he must be guilty] because the next thing we hear from him is, ‘I just want to put this thing behind me and get on with my life.’ That’s an expression we hear a lot these days from people in all walks of life. Usually the person in question has committed some unspeakable act: ‘Yes, it’s true that I strangled my wife, shot the triplets, set fire to the house, and sold my young son to an old man on the train… but now I just want to put this thing behind me and get on with my life.’ That’s the problem in this country… too many people getting on with their lives. I think what we really need more of is ritual suicide. Never mind the big press conferences, get the big knife out of the drawer.”
David Petraeus, Mark Sanford, and the unfortunately named Anthony Weiner,are all seeking restoration.  Some of them have wrapped themselves in the righteous clothing of faith -- as if it were your Christian duty not only to forgive but to elect Mark Sanford.  Some have apologized and sought to put the failure in their past as they ascend to the corporate heights of the finance world (Petraeus).  Some simply tell us to remember them not for their screw ups but for what they did right (Weiner).  Some insist that their failure was not immorality but the refusal to accept the person they were (remember former straight man and New Jersey Governor James McGreevey).  The real question is whether forgiveness requires us to restore them to positions of leadership, power, and influence.  My answer is no.

Ross Douthat, always a thoughtful commentator, thinks similarly.  “I’m a John Profumo man in a Mark Sanford world,” alluding to a former British politician caught in scandal who, rather than pursuing further power after the scandal had faded from public view, spent the next four decades of his life working for a local charity, washing dishes, collecting rent, and eventually became the president of the charitable organization, transforming it into a national institution that served the common good...

Forgiveness does not erase the consequences of our sins.  You can be sorry all day long and that will not make the consequences of your sin disappear.  This is not due to the failing of those forgiving.  It goes to the nature of sin.  But that is entirely the problem.  Most of those caught in public disgrace see their actions less as sins than mistakes.  They acted out of a lack of information, lack of  prudence, lack of will, lack of virtue, but never acted deliberately or intended to hurt anyone.  They simply made a mistake.  They screwed up.  So they apologized.  They worked to make up for it.  They sought to put it behind them.  They leaned from it.  They are better people for having gone through this flaw in character and working through it all.  So they need less to repent than to be given a second chance at virtue.  My point is this.  Since they are not confessing sin and manifesting repentance, it would be presumptuous of us to forgive them (forgiveness is the divine remedy for sin confessed and not for mistakes excused or justified away).  When you make a mistake and try to fix it, the burden is shifted from the guilty to the offended.  It becomes their problem.  I am not ready to accept the burden for the moral mistakes of failed politicians.  However, if they confessed their sin and sought through repentance to be forgiven, I am inclined to forgive them.  Where humility replaces arrogance and pride, I am also ready to give them a second chance.  They dare not offend even more, however, by seeking to pick up where they left off.  It would be better to begin at the bottom again and let their light shine in real service.  Maybe I am a hypocrite but that is where I come down...

1 comment:

Dr.D said...

Douthat sums it up very nicely, and I agree, “I’m a John Profumo man in a Mark Sanford world,”

All of the once powerful but no longer who Pastor Peters mentioned in his blog post, and many more as well, should simply fade from the public view. We cannot trust them; they have demonstrated their moral weakness. They should no longer seek to lead; they are unfit.

Fr. D+
Anglican Priest